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Death of the Personal Check

Posted January 15th, 2010
by Staff

tombstoneAre you one of those people who still uses checks? Maybe you like to write a check at the grocery store. If so, maybe you wait until the cashier gives you the total for your order before you even open your purse to pull out your checkbook.

Well, there’s good news for the rest of us. You’re a dying breed.

There was a time, of course, when using a checkbook for the first time was a rite of passage. Today, it’s just antiquated. Many retailers and restaurants now even refuse to take checks. One of the largest grocery store chains in the nation, Whole Foods Market, is even running a trial program where they’re no longer accepting checks in California and Arizona. Many Whole Foods Market stores in the Northeast already have a no-check policy.

Another supermarket chain, Fresh & Easy, didn’t even run the idea past a test market. They have never accepted checks, from the day they opened.

Yeah, millions of folks still write checks every year. They either ignore, endure or are just oblivious to the sighs of the rest of us behind them in line. But their numbers are dwindling.

Some people, especially in the Generation X and younger demographics, write few checks if ever. If they do write a check, it’s not in a line at a store. It’s more likely to be for a utility or to a creditor. Some creditors and utilities offer online payment options, but for those that don’t the check is often the only option.

Many folks even find ways to work around that. Banks offer bill paying services that allow account owners to log into a bank’s website and set up a payment. The bank cuts the check for the customer, meaning they don’t have to do it themselves. It’s more instinctive for some folks to grab a mouse than it is to grab a checkbook and pen.

In other cases, the bank simply transfers the payment. For example, a customer might have a credit card or personal loan through their bank that has a payment that is automatically debited from their checking account.

Another contributing factor to this phenomenon is the advent of debit cards, of course. Why write a check when you can swipe some plastic? In many cases, retailers simply take the check and process it electronically anyways. They even hand you back the physical check, voided out.

Experts predict that within a decade, personal checks are likely to die out altogether. As the last of the baby boomer holdouts go to debit cards or online bill paying, paper checks are likely to quickly become extinct.

Photo via A.M. Kuchling

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