Paper checks come with a stub attached, so double checking your pay is as simple as looking at the stub to see what it says. With direct deposit, your pay stub often moves online, and sometimes shows a mysterious entry that says "prenote." This isn't unusual; it's a part of the way some companies set up their direct deposit payments.
What You'll See
A prenote deposit will usually show up on your pay stub as a very small payment, usually of only a few cents and possibly even for an amount of $0. The date may not coincide with your employer's normal pay cycle, either. The reason for this little piece of payroll weirdness is straightforward: It's your employer's way of testing the direct deposit information you've provided.
Why It's Done
When you first sign up for direct deposit, the payroll department may ask you to furnish a void check or — if you don't have checks — a form from your bank that contains the same information. Usually, this consists of a routing number identifying your branch, and then the actual account number. This information then gets scanned or manually entered into the payroll system, which means there's at least a small chance of something going wrong. A check might be scanned incorrectly, for example, or the person entering your data might accidentally reverse a couple of digits. Sometimes you'll type the banking information yourself into an online enrollment form, which also opens up the possibility of errors. In each case, it's much simpler for everyone if potential problems are spotted and cleared up before a paycheck is deposited for real.
How It's Done
The prenote payment is used as a tool to spot those potential errors. Your payroll department pushes out that very small payment to the bank, using the information you've provided. If it goes astray, or can't be deposited, that alerts the bank and your payroll department that there's a problem with your direct deposit information. Ideally, this means you'll be able to correct the problem before you're due to receive a paycheck, though it might not work that way in real life. It takes a few days to complete the prenote process, so if your pay comes due before the direct deposit situation is sorted out you'll receive it in paper check or debit payment card form.
It Might Not Happen
If you don't see a prenote on your first pay stub, it doesn't mean there's a problem. Banks don't all require a prenote deposit anymore, so some employers just skip that step. It's one less thing to do when onboarding a new employee or transitioning from paper to direct deposit, so leaving it out of the makes sense to employers who want to keep their processes streamlined.