Checking account basics

Maintaining a Balanced Account

One of the first steps toward real freedom (and adulthood) is having a checking and savings account in your own name. These accounts allow you to save money, make purchases, and pay bills efficiently. Both, however, require you to take an active management role - so you can achieve your goals and avoid errors.

Where to open the accounts?
A good place to open your first account is a credit union. These not-for-profit financial institutions are owned by their members (account holders), so tend to have better loan rates and lower fees than banks, and many offer accounts specifically for teenagers.

A checking account is a contractual relationship between you and your financial institution, with each party having specific responsibilities:

The financial institution holds your money in a safe place and helps to facilitate your purchases. You are responsible for handling your account wisely by not writing checks for more money than you have in your account.

Overdraft Protection* - Many financial institutions will offer you overdraft protection through your credit card or savings account. When you write a check for more than is in your account, the overdraft protection will kick in and the check will be covered. There is usually a fee charged for this service.

Online Account Access - Many financial institutions now offer account access via the Internet. This service is usually free of charge, and is a convenient way to keep track of your transactions. The ability to transfer funds, receive and pay bills, place a stop payment on a check, and access financial managementso tools are also commonly available online services.

Keeping Track? - Keep track of your deposits (credits), checks you write, ATM withdrawals, and fees you are charged (debits) in a check register. Record the following information:

  • Check number (this alerts you if a check is missing in sequence)
  • Date you wrote the check or made the deposit
  • Who you wrote the check to
  • What you wrote the check for
  • The amount of the check

Balancing Your Statement - Each month your financial institution will send you a statement detailing the activity in your account. This includes all the checks you wrote, ATM withdrawals, deposits, charges, fees and any other activity on your account during the month. It is important that you carefully review this statement to make sure it agrees with your records. Mistakes can be very costly!

Steps to Maintaining a Balanced Account

  1. Mark off in your check register every item that appears on your statement. If there are items on your statement that are not listed in your check register, first determine if it is accurate. You may have forgotten to record something in your check register. If the item is correct, list it in your check register. If you believe the item is incorrect and you suspect an error was made, call the financial institution immediately to have it investigated. Your financial institution should provide you with a monthly reconciliation worksheet. Enter the ending balance shown on your statement.
  2. List the deposits and other credits that are in your check register but are not on your statement. Add these to your ending balance.
  3. List the checks, ATM withdrawals, fees and other debits that are on your check register but not listed on the statement. Subtract these from your balance in step 3 to get your new ending balance.
  4. Write down the balance in your checkbook.
  5. List deposits that are on the statement but are not in the check register. Add these to your checkbook balance. List the checks, ATM withdrawals, fees and other debits that are on your statement but are not listed in your check register. Subtract these from your balance in step 6 to get your new ending checkbook balance.
  6. These totals should now be the same. If they aren't, re-check everything again and again until you see the error. If all else fails re-add your checkbook. If you still can't find the error, ask for assistance from your credit union.


* Overdraft options should be evaluated and considered carefully. Please contact your credit union directly for more information including: 1) the fee or fees for the payment of each overdraft; 2) the categories of transactions for which a fee for paying and overdraft may be imposed; 3) the time period by which the member must repay or cover any overdraft; and 4) the circumstances under which the credit union will not pay an overdraft.

Source: Balance

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