Why do Americans have to "balance their chequebook"?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by Mildredop, May 26, 2016.

  1. Mildredop macrumors 68020

    Oct 14, 2013
    It's a phrase I hear regularly on American TV shows and films, most recently on a Netflix thing where a woman was surrounded in paperwork balancing her chequebook.

    Assuming a chequebook is the same as that in the UK, why do they need "balancing" and what does that mean?!
  2. Tech198 macrumors G5

    Mar 21, 2011
    Australia, Perth
    I could do a snarky remark now such as "The world would tip otherwise"

    I reckon it would be to double check your balance with your statement..... Similar to figuring out if u'r statement has "doubled-up" charges, or missed ones... u could contact the bank and say they made a mistake.
  3. Zenithal macrumors 603

    Sep 10, 2009
    As @Tech198 stated, it's a method of making sure your numbers correspond with your statements at the end of each cycle. I'm not sure what show you were watching, but balancing one's checkbook fell out of favor with most people many years ago with the advent of online banking. Any double charge, outgoing expense or incoming money would show up. And if something's wrong, you call the bank and they'll investigate it. I check my bank accounts a few times a week each. Though I do know older people like my folks or my in-laws still balance their checkbooks out of habit, I'd guess. The last time I wrote a check was last year when I renewed my passport. Before that? I haven't got an idea.
  4. nebo1ss macrumors 68030

    Jun 2, 2010
    Have not written a check in many years and no longer have a check book. However, before everything could be done on line and with cards we should all have been balancing our checkbooks.
  5. monokakata macrumors 68000


    May 8, 2008
    Hilo, Hawai'i
    It has nothing to do with being American or any other nationality, although the term itself may be American. I've had chequing accounts in Australia and Papua New Guinea, but this was long ago and I can't remember what the process was called there. Perhaps "reconcile?"

    It has to do with the fundamental nature of checking accounts that involve paper checks.

    The bank -- any bank -- cannot know about checks you wrote before it prepared your statement, because those checks have not arrived at the bank or the bank's clearing house, either physically or electronically. Somebody or some entity has to handle those checks and either ship them out or scan them.

    Therefore, unless you wrote no checks during the month for which the bank prepared a statement, and all checks you did write have arrived at the bank, the bank's statement that you have X amount of money in your checking account will always be wrong.

    So what you do is take the bank's amount and subtract the checks you have written but the bank hasn't seen, and Bob's your uncle. Your checkbook and the bank's statement are "balanced."

    It's certainly true that online banking keeps your idea of how much money you have and the bank's idea much more closely synchronized. But it remains true, always true, that if you've written a check that hasn't been posted to your account at the bank, the balance you see on your screen will be wrong.
  6. bruinsrme macrumors 603


    Oct 26, 2008
    because when you wake up following morning after a night of drinking and you find 2 ATM receipts crumpled up in your pocket and you just paid your bills, on may panic.

    I usually keep enough in my checking account to pay bills and for regular everyday spending.
    With on line bill paying and account access, balancing for me is very rare.
  7. samiwas macrumors 68000

    Aug 26, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    Back when I used checks a lot (before heavy ATM card use), I balanced my checkbook. So, say you had $548.78 in your checking account. You'd write a check for $10.78. You'd write in the ledger that your wrote a check for $10.78, and the new balance was $538.00. You did this every time you wrote a check, if you were on top of it. If not, you had to go back, apparently surrounded by papers, trying to balance it so you know how much you had in the account.

    Nowadays, I still write a few checks, as some places don't have online portals, or they charge an $8 fee to process the online payment. But, I never, ever balance my checkbook any more. I simply go online and look at my account every few days. In fact, I would never know if a check made it somewhere unless the company contacted me. I think very few people actually balance their checkbooks these days.

    Was the show you were watching taking place years ago?
  8. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    Balancing one's checkbook is basically reconciling your records with the banks, i.e., we get bank statements and we ensure that what the bank has for deposits and expenditures are also recorded in our check register.
  9. MattG macrumors 68040


    May 27, 2003
    Asheville, NC
    I don't do any of that, in the traditional sense at least. Every so often I logon to my bank account and just verify that there isn't anything questionable on there, and if there's not, I'm good.
  10. Huntn, May 26, 2016
    Last edited: May 26, 2016

    Huntn macrumors P6


    May 5, 2008
    The Misty Mountains
    This American has not balanced his checking account in 20 years. :) A term the OP should understand is reconcile, an accounting term. :)
  11. JackieInCo Suspended

    Jul 18, 2013
    Haven't balanced mine in years either. I write maybe one check a year. I use my debit card and pay everything that I can online. I always have money in the account so I never have to worry about overdrafts or fees.
  12. Scepticalscribe Contributor


    Jul 29, 2008
    The Far Horizon
    Agreed; 'reconcile' - or 'reconcile' - explains the action described a bit better than 'balance' or 'balanced'.
  13. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    I'm surprised that you are hearing this term regularly on TV shows and films. Virtually nobody balances checkbooks any more, except perhaps seniors. The use of personal checks has dramatically fallen.

    Perhaps you primarily watch older material?
  14. bunnspecial macrumors 603


    May 3, 2014
    When I order checks, they still come with a ledger that's intended for this.

    In any case, I still write a fair number of checks. In one of my hobbies(watch collecting) they're still a nearly universal and accepted form of payment.

    With that said, with the number of direct deposits, automatic withdrawals, and debit card purchases happening in my account keeping a paper ledger would drive me nuts. Instead, I just check my account every day or two. I keep the carbonless copies of all my checks, and mark those when they've cleared so that I know what's still "out there."
  15. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    Not for nothing, but my wife still uses those check registers.
  16. Gregg2 macrumors 603

    May 22, 2008
    Milwaukee, WI
    I was unaware that the act of balancing (or reconciling) one's checkbook had fallen out of favor, apparently. Now, this is a small sample size, but the consistency of it is eye-opening. Yeah, I still write checks and verify that my check register is on track with what the bank has. It's more to catch my own errors in recording things than anything else. I would venture a guess that I spend less time at this than those who check their accounts online several times a month.
  17. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    I don't see what check writing really has to do with it. Even with just using EFT and ATM and credit/debit cards all accounts should be reconciled to check for errors. I find a few every year.
  18. Khalanad75 macrumors 6502


    Jul 8, 2015
    land of confusion
    Because checks have a delay from when they are written and when they are cleared. Debit sometimes can, but generally not at the length of checks clearing.
  19. mw360 macrumors 65816


    Aug 15, 2010
    My current chequebook still has the 19 printed in the date field...

  20. A.Goldberg macrumors 68020


    Jan 31, 2015
    I suppose I still "balance my checkbook".

    Every time I write a check, which seems to be rarer and rarer now, I write it in my ledger. When the check finally clears I check off that it has cleared. That way I know how much money I actually have if the check hasn't been cashed. I feel like most people these days just run this in their head.

    I go through my bank statements usually once a week and verify all the charges are kosher. I have inherited this from my father who literally tracks every penny and lines up every single receipt.

    I have two checking accounts. One main one with a national chain. And a spare one with another national chain (to avoid ATM fees having if my main bank isn't around or if I loose my card). I prefer my main checking bank, but their online banking software is very limited in some ways. Whenever I cash a check from someone else, I always make a copy of it and write it on my ledger because otherwise I will NEVER be able to find it again online.

    I actually just switched to electronic billing for my utilities (yes I realize it's 2016 haha). I must say its a lot easier. I wish my landlord would get with the times with electronic payment. He's an okay guy but super unorganized and always saying I've paid too much or not enough or not at all. In college I had some slumlord who I literally started sending checks to using certified mail.
  21. Technarchy macrumors 604


    May 21, 2012
    Do you have a rabbit ears on top of your TV? How about a 56K modem?
  22. bunnspecial macrumors 603


    May 3, 2014
    With the excellent quality of HD prodcasts and the proliferation of stations in urban areas, this is becoming more and more common.

    I have "basic" cable but only because it's bundled with my internet. I can get almost every channel over the air as I can with basic cable, and the quality is as good if not better. The only real advantage to cable for me is that it's reliable during bad weather while the rabbit ears can be hit or miss.
  23. C DM macrumors Westmere

    Oct 17, 2011
    What is that in relation to?
  24. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

    Mar 25, 2009
    Folding space
    I keep a financial spreadsheet that serves as a ledger of sorts on my computer. I enter every penny I spend including debit, cash withdrawals and checks in it and maintain a running balance of actual cash on hand. On a regular basis I cross check (reconcile) this with my on-line bank statement. I do this because checks sent in the mail represent money spent but don't show on the bank statement for several days. It's picky but I haven't bounced a check in many years. Never under this system.

  25. rdowns macrumors Penryn


    Jul 11, 2003
    No need to balance my checkbook with bank statements. I get text notifications for every charge I make as well as a daily email summary.

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