The weirdness of checks

I was recently in a food hall, one of those ones compiled by a real estate development company to give the illusion of a grass-roots, DIY, small-business-friendly establishment.

Anyway, one of the more “hip” stalls had a sign by the till that said “we do not accept cash”.

I hate this sort of thing. I get that cash is inconvenient and change is stupid and heavy, but cash is an equalizer. Anyone can use cash as long as they possess it. Not everyone has a bank account or a credit card, and so to not accept cash is to be exclusionary toward those who either don’t have or choose not to have plastic.

Cash has its adherents, and plastic has its adherents, and I get that. But it made me think about other payment methods. And it led me to wonder: does anyone miss checks?

Checking myself

I am just old enough to have had a checkbook. I don’t imagine anyone younger than me ever bothered with one (though feel free to comment below if your experience is different).

I used checks to send money through official channels such as government sites, or through the mail before PayPal became a thing.

These days, there is only the occasional vendor that requires a check, so when I need one, I head to the bank and ask them to print me out a single sheet of them. I use about one a year or so, maybe less.

Checking problems

I never used checks in stores. It seemed so ridiculous. I mean, where is the accountability? I could write a check out in any amount, but how would they test that I had that amount? This is assuming I used my actual checks with my actual checking account number. What if I didn’t? Were these things so hard to fake?

(Yes, they check your ID, but still, it seems that the system was ripe for abuse.)

Checks took days to clear, if not weeks, which meant that you had to manually keep separate track of what you had sent off. And you had better hope you had enough float, because if you’re paying all your bills with checks, that’s a huge variation over the course of the month.

Back when I was a kid, you could get your checks back in the mail after they had been cleared. My dad used to put me to work reordering his returned checks when he did his bills. (This makes perfect sense if you know me.)

So I ask this: is there anyone who misses this system? Do people miss checks? Is it like recorded vinyl versus the MP3, where people want the tactile receipt of payment?

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Or are checks like the forlorn 8-track, the odd recording media from the 1970’s whose only virtues were that it was portable and sounded decent, at a time when cassettes were not?

Check venerability

I’m all for tried-and-true systems. After all, just because something is new and marketed to us as better doesn’t mean that it is. I’m not giving up cash any time soon, even though many companies would love me to.

Checks have been around in some form of another for hundreds of years, so the system made sense at some point, presumably because there wasn’t anything better.

But I don’t see much point in it now. If you’ve ever listened to an 8-track, and seen how songs were split among the four sides (fading out and in midsong), the tracks reordered, and the artwork mostly lost, well, that’s about how paying by check feels to me.

But let me know if there’s a utility I’ve missed here!

(Update: Looks like some are saying that the 8-track is making a comeback. Dammit. Maybe checks will become hip now?)

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