A checking account is a deposit account held at a financial institution that allows withdrawals and deposits. Its purpose is to provide an easily accessible avenue for frequent transactions such as paying bills. As a tool in your money management kit, understanding how much money you should keep in your checking account is crucial for optimal financial health.
Factors to Consider When Determining How Much Money to Keep in Your Checking Account
Your checking account balance should reflect your exact living expenses, plus a little extra for safety. Monthly expenses vary for everyone. They can be divided into fixed expenses (like rent and utilities) and variable expenses (like groceries, entertainment, seasonal and occasional expenses).
Income Frequency and Stability
If you have a regular income and know exactly how much money you’re getting every pay period, you can plan to keep just enough to cover a couple months worth of expenses plus your extra safety net. If your income fluctuates, it might be prudent to keep a bit more.
Personal Comfort Level and Financial Goals
Everyone’s financial situation and goals are different. Some might feel comfortable with a larger buffer in their checking accounts, while others might prefer to invest or move their excess into savings accounts to earn interest.
Emergency Expenses and Financial Buffer
Life is unpredictable. Having an emergency fund in your checking account for unexpected expenses such as medical emergencies or urgent car repairs can save you from financial distress. A rule of thumb is to have 3–6 months’ worth of living expenses set aside in your emergency savings.
General Rules of Thumb for Checking Account Balances
Covering Monthly Bills
The balance in your checking account should always be able to cover your monthly bills without resorting to overdrafts. Overdraft fees can add up and end up being a significant drain on your finances.
It’s wise to keep a buffer against unanticipated expenses. This isn’t just an ATM transaction that went over your available balance, but also potentially a check that was cashed later than expected. An overdraft protection plan can prevent an empty or overstuffed checking account.
Even with all your expenses accounted for and a buffer for emergencies, it can be prudent to maintain an additional cushion. This can help cover seasonal and occasional expenses without the risk of an overdrawn account.
Benefits and Risks of Keeping Large Balances in Your Checking Account
There’s convenience and flexibility in having a robust checking account. It serves as overdraft protection and ensures you have enough money for just about anything. Moreover, having that much money at hand can feel comforting.
Having too much money in your checking account comes with risks, such as missed investment opportunities. Money in a checking account typically doesn’t earn interest, or if it does, the interest rates are often significantly lower than savings or money market accounts.
There’s also the risk of exposure to fraud and theft. While financial institutions do their best to protect your checking account numbers and other data, no system is completely foolproof.
Strategies to Optimize Checking Account Use
Regular Monitoring and Rebalancing
Understanding how much cash you’re spending and keeping track of your available checking account balance is key. It allows you to adjust your balance based on your spending habits and helps keep your checking account well-funded without being overstuffed.
Use of Budgeting Tools and Apps
Budgeting tools can help you understand your monthly spending better. They can automate the tracking process and give you a clear picture of how much money you need in your checking account each month.
Setting up automatic transfers to your savings account or emergency fund can help you grow those funds consistently. Just ensure that this doesn’t leave your checking account underfunded.
Splitting Direct Deposits
You can opt to split your direct deposit into different accounts. This can be a valuable tool for maintaining an adequate balance in your checking account while also ensuring your savings accounts and investment accounts are consistently growing.
Regularly Reviewing and Adjusting Based on Changing Financial Situations
Life changes can significantly affect how much money you need in your checking account. Regular reviews of your finances can help you adjust to changes like new monthly bills, increased living expenses, or changes in your income.
Alternatives to Keeping Excess Money in a Checking Account
Savings accounts typically offer higher interest rates than checking accounts. Transferring excess money into a savings account can help you earn more over time, making it a safer bet for your surplus funds.
Investing can offer higher returns than deposit accounts that pay interest at a bank, though it comes with more risk. If you find you have too much cash in your checking account regularly, it might be worth speaking with a financial advisor about investment opportunities.
Money Market Accounts and High-Yield Checking Accounts
Money market accounts and high-yield checking accounts can provide higher annual percentage yield than regular checking and savings accounts. These accounts can be a good place to keep excess money that’s still relatively accessible.
While the average checking account balance varies by individual, a rule of thumb is to keep enough to cover a month or two of expenses. In addition, keep a cushion for emergencies and any potential bank failures.
Maintaining a balance that is too high means your money isn’t working for you, and could be better used in a high yield savings account or investment. On the flip side, you don’t want to risk overdraft fees from an empty or overdrawn account.
Ultimately, the best way to determine how much money to keep in your checking account is to monitor your finances closely. Understand your monthly expenses and personal comfort level, and regularly review your situation.
The key is balance. An overstuffed checking account means missed opportunities elsewhere, but a checking account well funded enough to cover your bills, a buffer for emergencies, and a bit extra for unexpected expenses will keep your financial life running smoothly.
No matter what, it’s your money. Understanding the ins and outs of bank accounts, especially your checking account, is key to ensuring your money works best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can my bank account balance affect my credit score?
No, the amount of money in your checking or savings account doesn’t directly impact your credit score. However, good money management habits like avoiding overdrafts, paying bills on time, and maintaining a healthy balance can indirectly contribute to your overall financial health.
Is my money safe in a checking account?
Yes, your money is typically safe in a checking account. Most checking accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) up to a limit of $250,000. However, always verify that your bank is FDIC-insured.
What if my checking account balance goes negative?
If your account balance goes negative, you’ll likely face overdraft fees. Some banks offer overdraft protection programs that link your checking account to a savings account or credit card to cover the shortfall. However, these services often come with fees, so it’s better to avoid overdrawing your account whenever possible.
Should I have multiple checking accounts?
Having multiple checking accounts can be beneficial for managing different financial objectives or expenses. However, keep in mind that each account may have its own set of fees and minimum balance requirements.
What happens to the money in my checking account when I use my debit card?
When you use your debit card, the amount of the transaction is subtracted from your balance. So, it’s crucial to ensure that you have enough money in your account to cover any purchases made with your debit card.
What happens if I don’t meet the minimum balance requirement for my checking account?
If you don’t meet the required minimum balance, your bank may charge you a monthly maintenance fee. The specifics can vary widely from bank to bank, so it’s best to check with your financial institution about their policies.
How can I avoid monthly maintenance fees on my checking account?
Some ways to avoid monthly fees include meeting balance requirements, setting up direct deposit, or using your debit card a certain number of times per month. Each bank has different policies, so it’s important to understand what your bank requires to waive these fees.