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What Is a Passbook and How is it Used?

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Last editedSep 20212 min read

Banking has come a long way over the years. With the ubiquity of mobile wallets and banking apps, most of us never set foot inside a bank anymore. But what are your options if you prefer a more traditional approach? A passbook savings account might be worth considering.

What is a passbook?

A bank passbook is a physical notebook held by bank account holders. It records on paper the details of all banking transactions, including elements such as:

  • Debits

  • Credits

  • Loans

  • Fixed deposits

  • Recurring deposits

While most banks now offer paperless alternatives to the old-fashioned passbook, you can still find some accounts with a passbook attached. For example, a passbook savings account comes both with a physical notebook to record transactions, as well as competitive interest rates.

How does a passbook work?

A bank passbook is simply a physical log of your transactions, but what type of information should be recorded?

For debit transactions, you’d include all details about payments including payee name, method of payment, and name of the bank making a transfer. You’d also record all direct debit and pay order information, as well as details about self-payments to other accounts.

Similarly for credit transactions, you’d use your passbook to keep track of deposit interest, receipts from third parties, and cash deposits. Any loan-related details would go here as well including the mode of payment.

Essentially, passbooks hearken back to a pre-internet form of banking when you’d need to meticulously keep paper-based records in the absence of computers and SMS alerts. Bank customers would use a cheque book and passbook to balance their accounts.

Can you open a passbook savings account?

If the idea of visiting a bank branch in person and recording your details by hand is appealing, you can still find institutions offering passbook savings accounts. However, today there is more technology involved than in the past. The bank will keep track of your transactions and interest rates through its computer system, whether or not you choose to hold a physical passbook in hand. In fact, some banks offer a digital passbook instead to facilitate electronic transactions.

What are passbook apps?

You may have seen the term ‘passbook’ also used in relation to mobile apps and wallets. For example, Apple Wallet is also called Passbook. However, this goes a step beyond the traditional meaning of a passbook by also allowing users to store cards, coupons, event tickets, and boarding passes in a central location.

In addition to Apple Passbook, there are several informal passbook apps offered by banks. These work the same way as a physical paper version, showing a record of transactional details. Most banking apps could be looked at as the replacement for the old-fashioned passbook, allowing you to facilitate transactions and record their details without the need to visit the bank in person.

Passbook savings account pros and cons

If you enjoy the old-school aspect of recording your transactions on paper, a passbook savings account might be a good option for you. Here’s a look at the main pros and cons.


  • A physical notebook makes it easy to see all your transactions and balance at a glance.

  • Passbook savings accounts can help children learn about banking.

  • Fees and interest rates are often favourable.


  • You won’t be able to enjoy the convenience of online banking in some cases.

  • Customers might have to visit the bank in person.

  • Your selection might be limited to small, regional banks.

While a passbook savings account won’t be for everyone, digital passbook apps offer a good middle ground for those who like the traditional aspects of a passbook but still want to take advantage of modern technology.

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