Personal Checks to be a Thing of the Past?


personal-checksBy Geoff Williams

Is the personal check on its way out? The Dallas Morning News recently suggested that several stores lately have made it their policy to refuse personal paper checks: Diesel, True Religion, Ed Hardy and Lululemon Athletica, which are all clothing stores. And maybe there’s something in the water, since the clothing giant Gap is also exploring the concept of no longer accepting personal checks.

Martha C. White has also written about Whole Foods no longer accepting checks in some stores, as part of a get-rid-of-checks experiment.

There are plenty of reasons not to like paper personal checks. As the Kansas City Star recently reported, in the Kansas City, Mo., area, there have been a lot of check forgeries, stemming from some robberies from mailboxes. Thieves actually stole bills and then they used the checking account numbers and routing numbers to create fake checks. These crooks got away with $3,500 until the victims realized what was happening and presumably canceled their accounts.

The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, in its annual survey on how Americans plan to spend their money, reports that just 4% of shoppers plan to pay for gifts with personal checks.

Small wonder, really — I know I find it harder to keep track of my money if there’s an uncashed check of mine floating out there. More and more, I wind up paying most of my bills online, and generally, if I have to make a purchase, I use a debit card, or even occasionally, wonder of wonders: cash.

And yet I admit I’m not ready to say goodbye to the personal check yet. I have no doubt that the fate of the personal check belongs in a museum. But there are times when I can appreciate its usefulness. Sometimes I need to have my bank routing number, and when I do, what I do is, look at my checkbook. If I didn’t have personal checks, I’d have to call my bank.

There are scenarios I can think of when a personal check comes in handy — writing one to put in a nephew’s birthday card, for instance, or if you owe a friend money and he or she doesn’t take debit cards.

And then last week I went to the grocery store, and as the cashier started to ring everything up, I whipped out my wallet and realized my debit card wasn’t there but somewhere back at my house.

I left my groceries with the assistant manager, and told her that I’d be back soon, but it was getting late into the evening, and having to race back to my house and back to the store and then back to the house was going to eat up a lot of the time I was planning to spend with my kids before their bedtime. Not a disaster, of course, but an annoyance — but then I was saved from that annoyance when I found a book of checks in my car’s glove compartment. Suddenly, personal checks seemed like the greatest thing in the world.

People can criticize checks all they want, griping that they take a lot of time to write and that they’re outdated. All points are true, and I’m fairly sure that my 5-year-old and 8-year-old daughters won’t ever write a personal check when they’re adults. But last week, the personal check saved me time and (gas) money. For now, I’m not sorry they’re still around.

{WalletPop/Noam Newscenter}