Reconcile This

One of the reasons I’ve used Quicken so consistently to track our finances is that it so often saves me money. In a typical year, I used to catch $75 to $150 worth of bank errors, usually with credit card charges. These erroneous transactions are things that I would have missed with a visual inspection of the monthly statement, but are easy to nail when reconciling my records against the bank’s.

Common errors I catch:

  • Transposed digits. That $34 dollar meal is mistakenly entered as $43 by the hurried waiter. Small enough that I’d never notice, but easy to catch in Quicken. I got pretty good at contesting these.
  • Double charges. When you charge a meal at a restaurant, the waiter enters the pre-tip total and brings you the receipt. On the receipt, you enter the tip amount and sign. The waiter then enters a second charge for the total with the tip, and reverses the original charge. But sometimes, the reversal doesn’t work, and you’ll end up paying for your meal twice.
  • Charges at the statement cutoff. Twice I’ve had a charge show up as the last transaction of my monthly statement, and again as the first charge of the next monthly statement.

Mistakes like these are one of the main reasons I’ve stuck with an older version of Quicken that emphasizes reconciling over downloading.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a change in the types of errors I catch. There are fewer and fewer of those common charge errors in the vendor’s favor and more and more in my favor. In fact, the most common type of error I see now is the transaction that never posts to the account.

For example, I have a charge slip (actual ink on a physical piece of paper) showing that I paid our veterinarian $77.64 with our Visa card last December, but that charge has never appeared on our credit card statement. And it’s not just small vendors like the local vet clinic. TJ Maxx, Crate & Barrel, H&M, Target and other big name retailers sometimes fail to get a charge through.

I wonder who is losing out. Are these vendors not getting paid or is the bank failing to bill me? The first few times this happened, I called the bank. I gave specific information about the time, place, and amount of receipts that I had that didn’t post to my account. The rep said they didn’t have a record of any of those charges, and suggested that I called the vendors—if I cared. I called a couple of smaller ones, like the local vet clinic. They were uncertain how to verify payment for a specific credit card charge. In general, they seemed unconcerned—they didn’t think the credit card companies were underpaying them.

Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

In the past, the paper trail was king. A printed receipt was the final arbiter of the transaction. If the charge on the statement didn’t match the receipt, you sent a copy of the receipt to the bank, and the bank fixed their records. But today, it seems, the bank’s database is the final authority—reality be damned.

If the bank is happy and the vendors are satisfied, I guess I’m the only one with a problem. Sure, I’m ahead a couple hundred dollars, but my statements don’t reconcile. To a hardcore Quicken user, that’s torture.