FAQ: What Are Placeholder Transactions in Quicken for Mac?

RickO SuperUser, Mac Beta Beta
edited March 2021 in FAQ'S (Mac)
Placeholder transactions are pseudo transactions that are created by Quicken in order to make the share balance of a security in an investment account match that being reported by the Financial Institution (FI) during online update. They appear at the start of the investment account register (when sorted by date), are gray colored and have the word "Placeholder" in the Memo/Notes column. Here's an example of what they look like:

The Description column lists the share adjustment being made, the target share balance and the target date for that share balance. If you click the "(add cost)" link, or double click the transaction, you will be taken to a screen that allows you to either (1) enter one or more detailed transactions to bring the share balance up to date, or (2) enter an estimated cost basis for the missing shares. This screen looks like this:

Do I need to do anything with placeholder transactions?

There may be one placeholder transaction for each security for which the Quicken share balance does not match the FI share balance. If today's share balance shown in Quicken is correct, there is generally no need to do anything with the placeholder transaction(s). However, if you do not at least enter an estimated cost basis, then any cost related calculations will not be possible for that security. 

You may notice that manually entered Buy, Sell or Add/Remove Share transactions seem to have no affect on the Quicken share balance. This can be because the placeholder transactions are automatically updating themselves to maintain the overall share balance that Quicken believes will match that being reported by the FI. 

Placeholder transactions are generally a reliable way for Quicken to make the local share balance match that being reported by the FI. However, they can occasionally become corrupted or incorrect due to erroneous reporting by the FI. In that case, there are some strategies you can use to eliminate any discrepancies. 

How do I investigate placeholder discrepancies?

Before making any changes to the investment account, it is recommended that you make a backup of your Quicken file (menu File > Save a Backup...) then make no other changes to your file until you have resolved the investment account issue. If anything goes wrong, you can revert to the backup (menu File > Restore from Backup...). 

The first step you should take is to compare the shares reported in Quicken for today's date to those being reported on the FI's website. First, make sure the account is up do date by doing an account update (menu Accounts > Update Selected Online Account). It can sometimes be helpful to do this on a weekend to make sure the FI's servers are up to date after the markets have closed and pending transactions have been settled.

If the shares on today's date in Quicken match that reported on the FI website, then the placeholder transaction is doing its job and there is no need for any correction (other than possibly adding cost basis information).

If the shares in Quicken differ from the FI's website by the exact amount listed in the placeholder transaction as unaccounted for, then you can often just delete the placeholder and it will not return. 

If there is still a discrepancy, then you must do the hard work to examine all the transactions for the security and find out where your Quicken file's history diverges from that held by the FI. To make this easier, it is helpful to:

1) sort the investment account register by Date (click the Date column header)

2) enable the Shares (or Share In & Shares Out) and Share Balance columns (menu View > Columns).

3) in the search box upper right, click once, then click the magnifying glass icon and select "Security/Payee", then enter the name of the security in the search box.

This will let you see a condensed view of the history of changes of the share balance of that security. Compare this to the transaction history on your FI's website to see where the discrepancy may have occurred.

Are There Other Considerations?

Placeholder transactions can sometimes result when a file is created by importing from another version of Quicken, particularly from a Windows version. You should be able to follow the steps above to resolve any discrepancies created by these.

For more information on placeholders in Quicken for Windows, see this excellent article by SuperUser K.O.:

Quicken Mac Subscription; Quicken Mac user since the early 90s
This discussion has been closed.