“I download my transactions from the bank, do I still need to reconcile?” That is a question I’m asked fairly regularly. With the popularity of QuickBooks Online growing, with FreshBooks arriving on the scene, and the download capabilities of the banks getting better and better, many small businesses and freelancers don’t enter their transactions in real time anymore. So, if your transactions are being automatically downloaded into your accounting software directly from the bank…do you need to reconcile?
The answer is “Yes, you still need to reconcile.”, and there are a few of reasons for that. First, the act of downloading from the banking institution, matching and categorizing each item is part of the reconciliation process. You’ve already started. You will want to do this at least monthly, if not more often. Really take a look at the transactions that are hitting your account. To make sure there are no duplicate charges, to make sure the recurring item you cancelled last month or last quarter isn’t billed to you again, to confirm that the check you wrote an employee or vendor doesn’t get cleared more than once (watch for a separate blog post on this one), and that no one is using your card fraudulently.
Second, whether or not you’re set up for an automatic download or you do it yourself, things can happen. There can be overlap. You download on the morning of the 7th for the 1st through the 7th, and the following week, when you download again, for the 7th through the 14th. Hopefully, you will catch your duplicates, but you may not, if one of the transactions was pending for one amount and cleared for another. This happens frequently with restaurants, the item is pending for the amount of the check, but clears with the tip added in. Or, there is a hiccup and you miss some transactions. You download the morning of the 7th for the 1st through the 7th, and the following week you download for the 8th through the 14th. Except other things cleared on the 7th after you downloaded. By not reconciling, you could miss these items, and work off a balance that is overstated.
Third, banks change their procedures and policies. Yes, they are required to notify us, but truthfully when was the last time you read one of those policy notices you got in the mail? They change programs, free accounts are no longer free…they now have fees attached, minimum balances change, clearing practices change. If you don’t reconcile you may not realize that you need to adjust your own banking practices (or even change banks) in order to not get hit with hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars in fees.
Lastly, it gives you the peace of mind that you and the bank agree that these items were for those amounts, and you don’t have to look at them again. Think of it as “locking” the transactions. These transactions have been completed, they’ve cleared my bank, I can mark them as done and put them away. Who doesn’t like to put away what has been completed so you don’t have to look at it anymore?
The best part is that if you are downloading your transactions from the bank, then reconciling once a week, twice a month or once a month takes nearly no time. You’ll just need to enter your ending balance and the ending balance date, maybe click off some transactions, and the majority of the time, it’ll balance the first time out and you’ll have spent 5 to maybe 10 minutes of your time. And, you’ll know that everything is clean and accurate and then you can go on about your day.