66% of Americans check their account balance at least once per week, according to ValuePenguin. When you check your balance in Online Banking, you may notice there are actually two balance numbers shown: current balance and available balance.
- Your available balance is the amount available to be spent without incurring a non-sufficient funds fee.
- Your current balance is the amount in your account right now, but you may have already authorized some of that amount to be paid out using your debit card, a check, or other payment method.
Understanding the difference between current balance and available balance is the key to avoiding overdraft fees and bounced checks (but Overdraft Protection can help with that too).
Why is My Available Balance Different?
The difference you see in your available balance is the difference between account transactions that have been “posted” and transactions that are “pending.”
One common reason a transaction may still be pending is that a merchant (such as a restaurant or gas station) has placed a hold on your account. When you pay with your debit card at a restaurant, the server swipes your card, and the system checks that you have enough money in your account to cover the bill. Then the server brings your card back and leaves the receipt for you to sign (and add a tip).
Once you sign the receipt, you are free to walk out the door—but why? When the server swiped your card, a “hold” was placed on your account for the amount of the bill. It isn’t until the receipts are collected later and any tips are added that the real payment is processed and finally posted to your account. This may not happen until that night or even a few days later depending on how the restaurant processes its card payments. In the meantime, the hold amount will be shown as “pending” in your account.
To avoid overdrawing your account, it’s important not to spend more than the amount shown in your available balance, but there’s a little more to it than that.
How to Avoid Overdrafts
Even if your available balance is $120, before you click “Place Order” on a $100 Amazon splurge it’s a good idea to take a moment and ask yourself: Are there any automatic payments scheduled to come out of my account like insurance payments? Have I written a check to someone that hasn’t been deposited yet? Have I eaten out at a restaurant recently? If the cost of tips haven’t been added to your pending transactions yet, you may have less “available” funds than you think.
The only sure-fire way to avoid overdrawing your account it to keep a close track of your transactions and plan ahead to make sure that you always have enough money available for your needs. But overdraft protection options like NuPal can also be a great way to give you peace of mind and cover accidental overdrafts.