A pending bank account charge means that you have withdrawn funds, written a check that has been processed or used a debit card to make a purchase against your checking account. Typically, basic transactions are processed overnight, reports the Department of the Treasury website. This means that a transaction is normally pending for about one day. However, some banks have a cut-off time, after which the transaction is treated as if it occurred the next business day.
How It Works
When you make a purchase, only part of the funds transfer happens while you're on-site. Once you've swiped, the merchant's Point of Sale system sends the information to its credit card processing service, which then approves it so that it can go to your bank for approval. Your bank checks to make sure funds are available, while also scrutinizing the transaction to make sure it's valid. Once that part of it is finished, your bank sends an authorization code to the merchant's bank and the purchase is cleared. Although all of that happens quickly, after you walk out the door, the real work begins. The card issuer has to process the transaction, applying any fees and making sure the funds transfer takes place. While all of this is going on, you'll see the transaction listed in your account as "Pending." You may also see transactions listed that way if a merchant puts a hold for a certain amount on your account, a practice common with businesses that provide services before you've paid, such as hotel chains.
One of the biggest reasons for the delay is that transactions happen in "batches," which means all of a merchant's transactions are sent at once. This reduces fees and streamlines the process. It also means that although merchants are authorizing transactions through the day, those transactions aren't even sent until later -- usually the end of the day. As the fund requests come over, each customer's bank releases them, at which point the credit card processing provider drops the funds into the merchant's account. The entire process delays processing by a day or so, but if it's a holiday or weekend, it won't go through until the next business day.
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Pending Transaction Consequences
Pending transactions make accurate record-keeping important. If you rely on your bank account's record of your balance when you have pending transactions without taking those transactions into account, you may overspend. Some banks do show you a current balance online with pending transactions noted. However, any outstanding checks that have not yet been cashed or deposited would not be deducted from this balance.
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