How to Stop Balancing Your Checkbook

You don’t need to balance your checkbook anymore. The check register was useful, but there are faster and more accurate ways to track your money.

I wrote an article about why balancing your checkbook is dumb, and the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. Most people have learned to use online banking and apps, and they never learned to balance a checkbook.

Unfortunately, there are still times when writing a check is the only option. This article is about how to keep writing checks while never balancing a checkbook.

The Old Way

Without online banking, a check register is your best friend. Monthly bank statements are a great record of your account, but they are old news. The timing creates an information gap between you and the bank. The check register helps bridge that gap in three important ways.

1. Outstanding Checks

Checks make paying bills a safe option, but the bank has no idea you have written a check. Balancing your checkbook every month helps to keep track of these outstanding checks. That way you can avoid bounced checks and overdraft fees.

2. Deposits You Don’t Know About

With direct deposit, there are times your bank account has more money than you know about. More money is a good thing, and this is a problem I love to have. But if an upcoming bill is worrying you, this information gap can be stressful.

3. Withdrawals You Don’t Know About

There are some reasons why there is less money in your account than what you thought. A couple examples are fraudulent activity, surprise fees, and simple overspending. Without online banking, keeping an eye on your account is more arduous. Monthly statements are slow and going to the bank every day is tiresome.

The New Way

Online banking and apps make the check register obsolete. It is easier and faster to track your money and fix any issues. I use examples from Mint to explain how I use technology to stop balancing my checkbook. But the advice should work just as well with other budgeting apps.

1. Outstanding Checks

Most budgeting apps link to your online accounts and update transactions automatically. You can also add any transaction you want. When I write a check (or have the bank send a check through bill pay), I open Mint on my phone and add all the information. Instead of balancing my checkbook, my outstanding checks appear as pending transactions. When the payee cashes my check, Mint automatically changes the transaction to approved.

Looking at my checking account in Mint, there are two numbers at the top of the page. They are Balance and Available Cash (different apps may use different terms). The first amount, Balance, is what my bank knows about. Any money that has moved in or out of my checking account is included in this number.

The second amount, Available Cash, includes any pending transactions like outstanding checks. The old way to know how much money you could spend was to look at your check register. Now–using Mint or other apps–you can us the Available Cash amount.

2. Deposits You Don’t Know About

The best budgeting apps out there link to your online accounts. As soon as your bank posts a transaction online (pending or approved), your app knows it, too. This is helpful if you use an ATM to deposit checks.

3. Withdrawals You Don’t Know About

Fraudulent charges are easy to catch. I can see every transaction of every bank account in one spot. One evening I was checking Mint and noticed an extra sale at a gas station. I had bought gas earlier, but this was an extra charge and a different amount. I called my credit card company to dispute the extra charge and never went back to that gas station.

I didn’t have to wait for my bank to call me or for the monthly statement to arrive. I didn’t have to keep track of my receipt for weeks. Within a day, I caught a fraudulent transaction before it became a serious problem.

Next Steps

If you want to stop balancing your checkbook (or you never learned how), here are your next steps:

  • Sign up for a budgeting app. I suggest Mint, YNAB, Mvelopes, or EveryDollar.
  • Link your online bank accounts with the app.
  • If you write a check or use bill pay, learn how to add a pending transaction to your app.
  • In the app, make sure you can find the two amounts, Balance and Available Cash. Each app could call it something different.
  • When the check is cashed, make sure the pending transaction becomes approved. I know Mint does this automatically, but I can’t speak for every app.

That’s it! Now you can stop using your check register and stop balancing your checkbook.