When someone is first enter the world of finances, they will need to learn some new basic finance skills. Unfortunately, many teenagers and young adults get to college without having a clue about some basic personal finance tasks. You might make a lot of bad money choices, but if you have some basic financial knowledge, you can minimize your mistakes. After this article, first timers should know how to write a check, keep a checkbook register, and balance a checkbook.
How To Write A Check
To write a check, you have to fill out a few fields as follow:
- Date: This is the date that you actually write the check. It is possible to post-date a check and write it for a future date.
- Pay to the Order of: On this top line, write the name of the recipient or company.
- A box with an “$” in front: In this box, write the amount you want to give to the recipient (person or company). Use numbers like 49.00.
- On the blank line that ends with the word DOLLARS, write out the amount you want to pay the person or company. Here, however, you write long hand — i.e., “forty-nine dollars,” instead of $49.00. To be sure someone doesn’t add anything else, you can draw a straight line until you get to the word ‘DOLLARS’. If your amount ends in zero, you can just write xx/100 or 00/100. If it ends with some pennies, then write the number of pennies over 100. For example, 47 cents would be 47/100.
- For (or Memo): This is a memo for either yourself or the person/company. If you are paying a bill, always include an account number, invoice number, or something to identify this check with your bill.
- The blank line on the bottom right is where you write your signature. The person who signs the check must be an account owner.
How To Enter Transactions Into The Checkbook Register
When you start writing checks on your checking account, it is important that you keep an updated checkbook register. If you don’t, you might overdraw your account and be forced to pay fees to your bank. Some banks will charge outrageous fees for this type of error, so add your numbers carefully.
Anytime you write a check or make any type of withdrawal from the account or make a deposit, you must write that down in your checkbook register. Maintaining your checkbook register will require some discipline, but you cannot organize your finances if you do not keep good records.
Image from Somerset Trust: Your Checkbook Register
- Check Number: Include the check number or transition type (ATM, cash, etc) in the first column. Typical transaction type codes: Deposit: D, ATM Withdrawal: ATM, Check/Debit Card: CC, Electronic Payment: ET, Automatic Deposit: AD, Tax Deductible: T, Other: O.
- Date: date of the transaction
- Description of Transaction: This is just a note to help you identify the charge.
- Payment/Debit: If you took money out of the account, write the total here.
- Fees: If the charge was the result of some type of bank fee, just put a checkmark in this box. If your bank starts adding too many fees, you may need to change banks.
- Deposit/Credit: If you put money into the account, the total deposit amount goes in this space.
- Balance: Using the balance from the line above, add your most recent deposit or subtract your most recent withdrawal.
Your goal is to maintain a positive balance above required minimum balance so that you don’t bounce your check and avoid account maintenance fee.
How To Balance A Checkbook
Every month you will get a statement from your bank. When you receive the statement, get your checkbook and check off (either in transaction type box or balance box) each item that is on your statement and in your checkbook.
If there are items on your statement that are not in your checkbook, add them to your checkbook register on your next open line. If there are items on your checkbook register but not on the statement, this means the bank did not clear the charge yet. Follow your checkbook register as that represents the correct balance once the charge does clear.
To confirm your balance, you will need to (on a separate paper) withdraw any charges from the checkbook register balance that have not yet cleared. If the two balances match, your checkbook is balanced. However, if there are different numbers, you will need to do some more digging because you probably forgot to include a charge or considered something cleared that had not yet cleared.
Learning how to work with a checkbook is an essential financial skill, so be sure to follow these guides and learn how to properly manage your checking account.
Craig Ford is a fulltime missionary in Papua New Guinea who writes Money Help For Christians and Help Me Travel Cheap, a frugal family travel blog. He is the author of Money Wisdom From Proverbs, has a Masters of Divinity degree, and (most importantly) eats homemade pizza with his family every Friday night.