4. Spend quality time with your account. Scanning's a good first step, but don't stop there.
"Go over the deposits and the checks," says Paula Wegner, vice president of the First Eagle National Bank in Chicago. "Check all checks from your bank statement against your check register. Check off all checks."
Wegner's emphasis on scrutinizing your posted checks is intentional. You need to see whether your payment records match what the bank has.
Most bank statements will give you several ways of doing this. For example, some allow you to see what checks have been posted by including a copy of the check. The advantage: it shows you who the check was written to. Even when canceled checks are part of your statement, your monthly accounting probably will also include a list by check number of your transactions. Here you'll see the check number, amount and when it posted, but not the payee.
Similar information will be listed on incoming cash to your account. For checks paid and deposits credited, make sure your records jibe with the bank's books.
5. Call your bank immediately if you find a problem. You'll be glad you closely followed your account's paper trail if you find yourself in a situation similar to one encountered by financial planner Zimmerman.
She got a notice from her bank saying that her youngest son's checking account was overdrawn by 56 cents. It wasn't much, but it didn't sound right. When Zimmerman called the bank, an officer there told her that the account wasn't in arrears and the bank wasn't sure how she had received the overdrawn notice.
Zimmerman's story had a happy ending (the bank acknowledged its mistake), in large part because she was paying attention and immediately acted on a discrepancy. If you report problems quickly, they're likely to be fixed quickly and not escalate. It's also easier to track things when they just happened vs. six months ago.
And by being prompt in your account reconciliation, you show the bank that you are trying to stay on top of your finances. That diligence could later pay off. For example, Zimmerman recommends that if you bounce a check, and it's the first time, ask for forgiveness including waiver of any fees.
"Lots of people don't realize that the rules can been waived and often a bank will do that for good will," Zimmerman says. Of course, don't expect to get off easy if you are a repeat offender.
6. Check daily balance summaries. First Eagle's Wegner says that most people don't need to analyze their daily balance summaries. However, there are exceptions: consumers with interest bearing accounts or those who must maintain a minimum average balance.
People who fall into these categories may want to keep closer tabs on daily balances to make sure their accounts are in compliance or to make sure they are paid the appropriate amount of interest.
7. Keep tabs on your account between statements. OK, maybe only truly obsessive people review their accounts daily via phone or the Internet.
But periodic checking on your account between printed statements does sometimes make sense. That's the case when you are expecting an out-of-the-ordinary transaction: Has that payment to the Internal Revenue Service been posted yet? Did that big freelance check clear?
Most of these tips don't take much time. And once they become a part of your financial routine, you'll find it's easy maintaining a healthy checking account.
Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.