Bank reconciliation

Bank Reconciliation Overview

A bank reconciliation is the process of matching the balances in an entity's accounting records for a cash account to the corresponding information on a bank statement. The goal of this process is to ascertain the differences between the two, and to book changes to the accounting records as appropriate. The information on the bank statement is the bank's record of all transactions impacting the entity's bank account during the past month.

A bank reconciliation should be completed at regular intervals for all bank accounts, to ensure that a company's cash records are correct. Otherwise, it may find that cash balances are much lower than expected, resulting in bounced checks or overdraft fees. A bank reconciliation will also detect some types of fraud after the fact; this information can be used to design better controls over the receipt and payment of cash.

If there is so little activity in a bank account that there really is no need for a periodic bank reconciliation, you should question why the account even exists. It may be better to terminate the account and roll any residual funds into a more active account. By doing so, it may be easier to invest the residual funds, as well as to monitor the status of the investment.

At a minimum, conduct a bank reconciliation shortly after the end of each month, when the bank sends the company a bank statement containing the bank's beginning cash balance, transactions during the month, and ending cash balance. It is even better to conduct a bank reconciliation every day, based on the bank's month-to-date information, which should be accessible on the bank's web site. By completing a bank reconciliation every day, you can spot and correct problems immediately. In particular, a daily reconciliation will highlight any ACH debits from the account that you did not authorize; you can then install a debit block on the account to prevent these ACH debits from being used to withdraw funds from the account without your permission.

It is extremely unlikely that a company's ending cash balance and the bank's ending cash balance will be identical, since there are probably multiple payments and deposits in transit at all times, as well as bank service fees (for accepting checks, recording deposits, and so forth), penalties (usually for overdrafts), and not sufficient funds deposits that the company has not yet recorded.

The essential process flow for a bank reconciliation is to start with the bank's ending cash balance, add to it any deposits in transit from the company to the bank, subtract any checks that have not yet cleared the bank, and either add or deduct any other items. Then, go to the company's ending cash balance and deduct from it any bank service fees, NSF checks and penalties, and add to it any interest earned. At the end of this process, the adjusted bank balance should equal the company's ending adjusted cash balance.

Bank Reconciliation Terminology

The key terms to be aware of when dealing with a bank reconciliation are:

  • Deposit in transit. Cash and/or checks that have been received and recorded by an entity, but which have not yet been recorded in the records of the bank where the entity deposits the funds. If this occurs at month-end, the deposit will not appear in the bank statement, and so becomes a reconciling item in the bank reconciliation. A deposit in transit occurs when a deposit arrives at the bank too late for it to be recorded that day, or if the entity mails the deposit to the bank (in which case a mail float of several days can cause a delay), or the entity has not yet sent the deposit to the bank at all.
  • Outstanding check. A check payment that has been recorded by the issuing entity, but which has not yet cleared its bank account as a deduction from cash. If it has not yet cleared the bank by the end of the month, it does not appear on the month-end bank statement, and so is a reconciling item in the month-end bank reconciliation.
  • NSF check. A check that was not honored by the bank of the entity issuing the check, on the grounds that the entity's bank account does not contain sufficient funds. NSF is an acronym for "not sufficient funds." The entity attempting to cash an NSF check may be charged a processing fee by its bank. The entity issuing an NSF check will certainly be charged a fee by its bank.

Bank Reconciliation Procedure

The following bank reconciliation procedure assumes that you are creating the bank reconciliation in an accounting software package, which makes the reconciliation process easier:

  1. Enter the bank reconciliation software module. A listing of uncleared checks and uncleared deposits will appear.
  2. Check off in the bank reconciliation module all checks that are listed on the bank statement as having cleared the bank.
  3. Check off in the bank reconciliation module all deposits that are listed on the bank statement as having cleared the bank.
  4. Enter as expenses all bank charges appearing on the bank statement, and which have not already been recorded in the company's records.
  5. Enter the ending balance on the bank statement. If the book and bank balances match, then post all changes recorded in the bank reconciliation, and close the module. If the balances do not match, then continue reviewing the bank reconciliation for additional reconciling items. Look for the following items:
  • Checks recorded in the bank records at a different amount from what is recorded in the company's records.
  • Deposits recorded in the bank records at a different amount from what is recorded in the company's records.
  • Checks recorded in the bank records that are not recorded at all in the company's records.
  • Deposits recorded in the bank records that are not recorded at all in the company's records.
  • Inbound wire transfers from which a lifting fee has been extracted.

Bank Reconciliation Problems

There are several problems that continually arise as part of the bank reconciliation, and which you should be aware of. They are:

  • Uncleared checks that continue to not be presented. There will be a residual number of checks that either are not presented to the bank for payment for a long time, or which are never presented for payment. In the short term, you should treat them in the same manner as any other uncleared checks - just keep them in the uncleared checks listing in your accounting software, so they will be an ongoing reconciling item. In the long term, you should contact the payee to see if they ever received the check; you will likely need to void the old check and issue them a new one.
  • Checks clear the bank after having been voided. As noted in the preceding special issue, if a check remains uncleared for a long time, you will probably void the old check and issue a replacement check. But what if the payee then cashes the original check? If you voided it with the bank, the bank should reject the check when it is presented. If you did not void it with the bank, then you must record the check with a credit to the cash account and a debit to indicate the reason for the payment (such as an expense account, or an increase in a cash account or decrease in a liability account). If the payee has not yet cashed the replacement check, you should void it with the bank at once to avoid a double payment. Otherwise, you will need to pursue repayment of the second check with the payee.
  • Deposited checks are returned. There are cases where the bank will refuse to deposit a check, usually because it is drawn on a bank account located in another country. In this case, you must reverse the original entry related to that deposit, which will be a credit to the cash account to reduce the cash balance, with a corresponding debit (increase) in the accounts receivable account.

Another possibility that may be causing problems is that the dates covered by the bank statement have changed, so that some items are included or excluded. This situation should only arise if someone at the company requested the bank to alter the closing date for the company's bank account.

Bank Reconciliation Example

ABC International is closing its books for the month ended April 30. ABC's controller must prepare a bank reconciliation based on the following issues:

  1. The bank statement contains an ending bank balance of $320,000.
  2. The bank statement contains a $200 check printing charge for new checks that the company ordered.
  3. The bank statement contains a $150 service charge for operating the bank account.
  4. The bank statement rejects a deposit of $500 due to not sufficient funds, and charges the company a $10 fee associated with the rejection.
  5. The bank statement contains interest income of $30.
  6. ABC issued $80,000 of checks that have not yet cleared the bank.
  7. ABC deposited $25,000 of checks at month-end that were not deposited in time to appear on the bank statement.

The controller creates the following reconciliation:

Item # Adjustment to Books
Bank balance $320,000 1  
- Check printing charge -200 2 Debit expense, credit cash
- Service charge -150 3 Debit expense, credit cash
- NSF fee -10 4 Debit expense, credit cash
- NSF deposit rejected - 500 4 Debit receivable, credit cash
+ Interest income + 30 5 Debit cash, credit interest income
- Uncleared checks - 80,000 6 None
+ Deposits in transit + 25,000 7 None
Book balance   $264,170

Bank Reconciliation Statement

When the bank reconciliation process is complete, you should be able to print a report through your accounting software that shows the bank and book balances, the identified differences between the two (mostly uncleared checks), and any remaining unreconciled difference. You should retain a copy of this report for each month. The auditors will want to see it as part of their year-end audit. The format of the report will vary by software package; a simplistic layout is:

Bank Reconciliation Statement
For Month Ended March 31, 20X3
Bank balance $850,000  
Less: Checks outstanding -225,000 See detail
Add: Deposits in transit +100,000 See detail
+/- Other adjustments 0  
Book balance $725,000  
Unreconciled difference $0  

Bank Reconciliation Record Keeping

If you complete the bank reconciliation at month-end, then also print the bank reconciliation report and file it in the monthly journal entries binder. This gives the auditors ready access to the information if they want to examine the reconciliations at a later date.