Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Synchronizing Lists.

Synchronizing Lists

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 27, 2015)

You may have an occasion when you have two data lists that we want to "line up." For instance, column A might be a customer account number, while column B displays the customer's account balance. In columns C and D you then paste a listing of customer payments, with column C being the customer account number and column D being the payment amount. Both lists (A/B and C/D) are sorted by customer account number.

Since not all customers with balances made payments, the A/B list is not in synch with the C/D list. To get them in synch, you need to insert blank cells where needed in columns C/D (and sometimes columns A/B) so that the customer account number in column C matches the customer account number in column A.

If your goal is to match payments to balances, then there is a relatively easy way to do this, without the need to insert cells in the lists. Follow these steps:

  1. Insert three blank columns between the two lists. When done, you should have the account balances in A/B, blank columns in C/D/E, and the payments in F/G.
  2. Assuming the first account/balance combination is in cells A2:B2, enter the following formula in cell C2:
  4. Copy the formula down through the rest of column C.

This formula looks in the payments columns (F/G) for any cells that match the account number in column A. If found, then the amount of the payment is returned by the formula. If a match is not located, then a zero value is returned.

The approach works well if you know that the payment columns contain only a single payment for each account. If it is possible that some accounts received multiple payments, then you need to change the formula you use in step 2:

=SUMIF(F:F, A2,G:G )

This formula, if it finds a match, adds all the payments together and returns the sum.

Of course, the example first described in this tip is just that—an example of a more pervasive problem. You may have a need to synch lists where there is only text in the lists, or where it is more difficult to do a lookup or you don't need to return a sum. In those instances, it may be best to look for a third-party solution. One ExcelTips subscriber suggested a product called Spinnaker Merges. This Excel add-in is available here:

If you have the need to repeatedly merge and synch lists, such a product may be right for you.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2120) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Synchronizing Lists.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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