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Don’t Write Personal Checks

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Last weekend, the Consumerist mentioned a story that fewer retailers were accepting personal checks this holiday season. They cited check fraud as the big reason for not accepting checks and I argue that check fraud is the big reason why many consumers should not write checks.

The personal check is one of the most insecure methods of payment.

Consider this test, I call it the internet safety test. If you took an image of a completely filled out of a check, how much of it would you have to black out before you’d feel comfortable posting it on the internet?

I’d have to black out the following:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your bank’s ABA routing number
  • Your bank account number
  • Your check number
  • Your signature

Once you black out those six items, all that remains is the Payee, the amount, and the picture of Winnie the Pooh with his head in the honeypot. When you hand over that check to the cashier, you lose control over almost everything a thief needs to socially engineer your money away from an unsuspecting teller. If you were considering a check, get a debit card from your bank and use that instead. At least with debit and credit cards, you get consumer protection and limited fraud liability.

Don’t use checks unless you absolutely have no other choice.

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72 Responses to “Don’t Write Personal Checks”

  1. Roofer for a summer says:

    Checks have gone the way of the dinosaur in most of the civilized world, but for some reason they remain popular in the US.

    Elsewhere banks have rolled out ultra-convenient wire transfers on-line or by snail mail, that can be repetitive (transfer $100 monthly to cable company until further notice), and are super-secure (use of one-time pass-codes for online transaction PLUS physical card reader for each PC etc).

    Still haven’t understood why we are living in the stone age in the US in this respect. Even if you use on-line bill pay with your bank, they actual still mail checks around that can AND WILL get lost (happened more than once to me!).

    • pcallaghan says:

      I think everything I pay is through the online billing. While its not all centralized on my banks website, I keep a bookmarked folder of all the places in which I have bills to pay. Keeps everything organized and since I do everything all at once its impossible to miss one. I think the only thing that still requires a check is my HOA payments.

  2. Mrs. Money says:

    It seems like the only people that write checks at stores any more are the older people that don’t have and don’t want debit cards. I haven’t paid for anything with a check in a long time!

  3. Seth @ Boy Meets Food says:

    With the exception of a few rare cases, I exclusively use my credit cards (yes, I am good about managing it so I never pay interest, but that’s a whole other topic). However, I don’t think it is very feasible to completely eliminate checks just yet…

    A few of the things I do still write checks for:
    1. Church offerings – I don’t want to put cash in the plate, because I prefer others not to know the amount I contribute. Besides, if you can’t trust the people at your church, who can you trust?

    2. Fund raisers that involve ordering items that cost more than $5-$10.

    3. Professional household repair calls (i.e. plumber, electrician, roofer, etc)

    In those cases, credit/debit cards are usually not accepted, and I am not interested in carrying around enough cash to cover some of those amounts, plus it would mean a special trip to the bank to get that cash to have available. By writing the check, I also have a paper trail that can serve as a backup receipt for some of those cases. So, the way I see it, there are still some situations where writing checks is still important.

  4. mikestreb says:

    I only write about 5 checks a year. Mostly to places who don’t accept cards – ex. the DMV. The difficult part is paying people. If it is more than $100-ish (also depends on what I have in my wallet), then I will write a check. There are a couple shady characters that I know and if I had to pay them any amount, I would do it with cash or cashiers check or money order. It is so easy (and cheap) to get checks printed online (www.vistaprint.com). I don’t know if companies like vista print have any safeguards in place that prevent people from having someone elses checks printed (maybe they will only ship to the address that you have printed on the check or maybe they match the name on the check to the credit card used). Either way, I refuse to write too many checks. It is just too easy to use online billpay and credit/debit cards.

    • Soccer9040 says:

      Speaking of addresses on the checks…its useless. I got my 1st pack of checks when I was 16. It was 250 checks from Bank One (Now Chase). Well 10 years later I still use checks from that batch. It just proves how little I write them. Anyways, in 10 years I have moved every year during college and grad school, once before I was married, once after I was married, and just recently now that I bought a house because we have a kid. So all those moves mean my address hasnt matching anything for 9 years. Plus the kicker…the checks say BANK ONE. No one even notices that the checks are drawn on a bank that doesnt exist any more. No one cares really. It would be so easy to have some checks printed with someone elses routing numbers on it.

  5. zapeta says:

    I basically only write checks for rent, the water bill, and a couple of other things that come up maybe once a year. I don’t think I’ve ever written a check at a store.

  6. On a tangent, here’s a tip to protect you in case your checkbook is stolen:

    Don’t put your name on the check. “J DOE” will work perfectly fine. If you lose your checkbook (or it is stolen) the thief won’t know your name.

    (OK, but the signature from the last check probably bled down to the next unwritten check, right? Use duplicate checks – the carbon copy has a black box in the signature area, preventing this)

    • Ok, and I fully agree with your core thought. If I walk up and ask someone for their checking account number, they certainly wouldn’t tell me … but the same person will give me a check.

      • lostAnnfound says:

        I never thought of that. I wouldn’t give anyone my checking account number, but I certainly do that every time I pay with a check. Makes me think twice about using checks.

    • dmeanea says:

      I’m not sure (because I never use checks), but I would think that not having your name printed on the check would cause problems when you are inevitably asked for ID when paying by check.

      • We’ve been doing this for probably 3 years? It has never caused a problem. We have the initials + last name (A and B Doe), and these do match up, as well as an address that matches the address on the ID. So it’s pretty obvious that we’re the correct people when someone checks ID, but it’s not possible to derive our full names from the info.

  7. Chuck says:

    I’ve never checked (groan), but I assume the checks that get mailed out when I use the online bill pay feature at my credit union don’t have my account number on them.

    • daemondust says:

      They’re essentially a cashiers check, so they’re drawn on an account owned by the bank.

      • Soccer9040 says:

        I’ve sent an online bill payment to myself and the checks do not have your account info on them.

        This is also a sneaky way to get around some banks minimum activity rules.

  8. jsbrendog says:

    checks for rent. that’s it. every other bill can be paid online with a credit card to earn rewards. If my landlady took plastic I’d do it.

    can you buy a money order with a credit card? then use that to pay rent? lol

    • daemondust says:

      I doubt you can buy a money order with a credit card. If anything, I would expect they would treat it as a cash advance since otherwise you could write the MO to yourself and get cash from your credit card at the purchase rates and fees.

      • Soccer9040 says:

        You might not be able to buy a money order, but you can buy cold hard cash. Check out Jim’s post about busting through credit card tiers. Basically you buy coins from the mint. They ship for free. You pay with a credit card. You deposit said coins at bank. Collect your credit card rewards…repeat.

    • Erika says:

      Actually some stores will allow you to use your debit card for money orders. I’ve tried it several times when I didn’t not have any checks and plastic wasn’t an option.

  9. DJ says:

    I agree with the privacy/security concerns of personal checks. One thing to keep in mind, a lot of organizations charge “convenience” fees for credit/debit card payments or online payments in general. I know Florida State University still does this. It is really frustrating when they send you an e-mail notice letting you know you have a few hours to make a payment, then charge you $10+ for paying online.

    • Erika says:

      I get so annoyed when that happens. I will actually weigh the pros and cons of going in to pay in person or just taking the charge.

  10. saladdin says:

    My water and electricity companies both charge fees for credit cards. So I write a check.

    When I was in the service I had a buddy who wrote a check to an “escort.” True story. And it bounced (the check).

    saladdin

    • CreditShout says:

      I would argue that the fee your utility companies charge for using a credit cards is worth it for the added protection. The fee to cancel a check that gets into the wrong hands is going to be much more, and that’s not including the time it will take you to clean up the mess.

      • Soccer9040 says:

        $1.95 can’t ever be worth it for security. That stuff adds up quick. Plus the cost of a stamp and you are over $2.50. Use online bill pay and let the bank cut the check and mail it.

        More often then not they just batch all the payments their customers have made to a particular utility company into one ACH transfer.

      • saladdin says:

        $5.00 fee for a $25 water bill.

        Besides, I drop both off in their slots. I don’t mail them.

        saladdin

        • Soccer9040 says:

          $5.00 wow they must be a profit center for your water company. WHen you say “drop it off in its slot” do you mean right to the water company’s office? If it was between driving around to drop off a bill I might pay the “Convenience charge” , but nothing is easier then me logging on to chase and inputting the bill amount and hitting send.

          I set it to pay on the due date. I get to keep my money longer. Its not an interest bearing checking account, but it makes me feel better I guess.

          • saladdin says:

            Both due on the 10th. I drive by both on the way to work every day and drop them in the slot the morning of the 10th. Takes 3 minutes. Just like making sweet sweet love.

            saladdin

          • daemondust says:

            Saladdin, I hope “making sweet sweet love” takes you longer than three minutes…. ;-)

        • daemondust says:

          $5 is insane! Here the worst fee for using plastic is $2. They pass it off as being a convenience fee rather than a fee for using a credit card.

          One of my bills can be paid online, but with a $1 fee for processing an EFT. So, my options are mailing in a check or handing over a check or cash in person. I always pay that one in cash and make sure I hang on to the receipt as proof of payment.

          It’s a sad world when cash isn’t the most risky form of payment anymore.

          • saladdin says:

            It’s called a convenience fee here because of legal issues. If they only take one form of payment then they can’t charge a convenience fee (because you don’t have a choice). But if they offer payment methods of check or card they can charge because you have a choice.

            saladdin

          • daemondust says:

            Fortunately, I only have that one bill that can’t be paid fee-free without mailing a check or doing it in person. Rent and credit card payments (yes, paid in full every month) are EFT, everything else is paid on credit to reap the rewards.

  11. redivelli says:

    I used to get paid by checks only from a small firm. They are a relatively decent way to track expenses. I’ve often wondered about using paypal to pay people. I figure you’d have more safety with about the same ability to track.

    I have a friend who paid for her glasses with a check. Someone used said check to get their own made, using those checks to purchase several thousand worth of electronics. I still can’t figure out why someone would keep thousands in a checking account. Perhaps a bit of safety involved with checks is to keep a minimal balance in the account to reduce the risk.

    • saladdin says:

      We pay by check cards. Employees receive a card and each pay period their check is deposited on the card. They get something like 2 free withdrawals a week but it is a visa/mastercard logo so it can be used anywhere.

      saladdin

      • daemondust says:

        Please tell me that isn’t their only option. At least offer direct deposit too.

        • saladdin says:

          DD is offered but a large percentage do not have bank accounts. This was a work around without requiring DD. Still saves on printing checks etc…

          saladdin

          • daemondust says:

            How can so many people get by without a bank account?

          • saladdin says:

            The question is why.

            saladdin

          • daemondust says:

            All I can think of is trying to hide assets, or being stubborn and ignorant.

          • Soccer9040 says:

            I hate to break it to you, but there are millions of people in this country who arn’t supposed to be here. These people go about their lives trying to stay off the grid as much as possible. They can’t get drivers licenses so they cant open bank accounts.

          • daemondust says:

            Soccer9040, I’m well aware of that problem. Are you really saying the purpose of prepaid debit cards for wages is to make hiring illegal immigrants easier?

  12. Soccer9040 says:

    Another reason to not write checks….it annoys the crap out of me when I am behind you in line at the store.

    It reminds me of the Visa commercial with everyone moving in sync and then it all comes to a grinding halt because someone pulls out a check.

    • saladdin says:

      Not as bad as people on cell phones in lines.

      saladdin

      • Soccer9040 says:

        I’m impartial to people on their cell phones. If they are at the self checkout and they know what they are doing and it doesnt slow me down then fine. If they are fumbling around and not focused then they need to go.

    • dmeanea says:

      It doesn’t bug me when people pay by check UNLESS they wait till everything’s scanned and totaled before they even start filling out the check! If they have everything but the amount filled out on the check, and have their ID out and ready to show the cashier, then paying by check really doesn’t slow everybody down any more than a debit/credit card would.

  13. md says:

    Wal-Mart gives your check back.

  14. daemondust says:

    Do people still use checks? The last check I wrote was to “VOID”, for “VOID” dollars, signed “VOID” and stapled to my direct deposit form at work. Before that…. I know I had written one or two, but beyond that I don’t know.

  15. Stephen S says:

    I never thought of this! Thanks for the important head’s up!

  16. Soccer9040 says:

    @daemondust – I doubt the cards were developed to assist companies with illegal hiring. Companies can do this on their own with cash or checks (payroll checks can be cashed everywhere for a small fee, just look next time you are in line at Wal-Mart) There is research out there that supports the fact that there is a growing population of financially transient people. These are people who are not attached to anything financially and who basically live off cash and cash based services.

    I’m guessing someone saw a market for it and Visa/MC moved it to make it happen.

    Sorry I couldnt reply directly to your post. It must limit the amount of replies on a single thread. Jim, can you confirm this?

    • daemondust says:

      Perhaps they weren’t designed for it, but they sound like they make it easier. Even the seediest check cashing places are going to require ID, something an illegal immigrant might not have. But nobody ask for (or at least shouldn’t) ID when using plastic.

      They also tend to have terrible fees that would make check cashing places jealous. $1 per transaction (though usually you get one or two free a month) and fees for non-use too. If they issue a new one every month, instead of re-filling an old one, they’re probably making even more off the inactivity fees when they can wipe out the pennies left over. Then there’re the balance check fees they like to charge.

      I think there’s a maximum thread depth enforced. And posts over a certain length are always flagged for moderation.

      • saladdin says:

        I can only speak locally. But the check cashing places/gas stations here that cash checks do not ask for ID’s. We found out that they were charging our folks like 10-15% to cash checks. They had no bank accounts so they had to use them (yes, they could have found other cheaper places). What happens is every payday employees get their checks, run up the street to cash them at these places and turn the money over to significant others who are waiting back in the parking lot for them to return.

        saladdin

        • daemondust says:

          And what do they do when a check bounces? Or is fraudulent? Without checking for ID they have no verification that the person cashing the check is the person the check was written to, or of their address…. Are you saying I could print off a check with made-up account numbers and cash it, leaving them no way to find me? Even if they only cash payroll checks, there’s nothing to guarantee they won’t bounce too, especially the way the economy is now.

          Is it really that hard to get a bank account? Even if you only keep a few dollars in it to let you cash checks for free? I guess I just don’t understand their whole motivation for living completely outside the banking world.

  17. echidnina says:

    I pay rent with a check, and sometimes when I owe friends money I will pay them back via check. I don’t carry much cash these days, nearly everywhere takes plastic but of course personal acquaintances don’t. So I end up writing 2-3 checks per month, tops. Never written a check at a store, never plan to.

  18. Holly says:

    Personally I only write checks for things I CANNOT pay by cc or places that charge a “convienence fee” like my real estate taxes, water bill.

    I will NOT use my debit card in a store. MUCH too easy to be stolen and NO liability protection on debit cards.

    If the rumours about cc annual fees do come to fruition I WILL be writing many more checks. If a store refuses to accept they can just keep the merchandise. I have way too many options of where to shop for EVERYTHING from house stuff to groceries to clothes to appliances and furniture to put up w/that business model.

  19. CK says:

    I think I’m going to start booing when someone in front of me in line starts writing a check.

    • daemondust says:

      Why be a jerk? Their poor choice shouldn’t matter to you. If they do it right they can fill in all but the amount before the cashier is done and it won’t take any longer than cash or credit.

      • CK says:

        Fine, I’ll refrain “If they do it right”. That never happens though.

      • Soccer9040 says:

        If their “poor choice” doesn’t effect me then I don’t mind at all. When it starts to slow me down, I begin to notice.

        Im not ever at the point where I’m going to boo someone, but in my head I am thinking it.

  20. eric says:

    Rent and that’s about it. I wish I didn’t have to use them period.

  21. Izalot says:

    Checks…Checks…I don’t need no stinkin’ checks! On the rare occasion I need to write one up for a bill I use my bank’s bill pay to create a check. Bill pay checks I suppose can get lost but you do get a confirmation number that you can dispute with the bank.

  22. Scott says:

    Problem is that our government still only accepts checks for certain functions. Like I had to renew my passport recently and the only payment method accepted without an associated fee was a check. Until the government becomes more robust in their processing, checks will still be around.

  23. Tina says:

    I stopped using personal checks a few years ago. I never liked the idea of sharing all of my personal information. I have noticed that when customers use them that many stores are returning them back to them.

  24. I only use them for electric and cable. I should probably just switch to online bill pay though.

  25. Lee says:

    It’s one of the most infuriating experiences, standing in line at a grocery store and someone pulls out the checkbook. What is most infuriating about these people, is they know that they’re going shopping, they know where they’re going shopping, and can’t even manage to pre-fill the check details to speed things up a bit. Seriously, think about others! I especially love it when they’ll wait until all their items have been checked, and the checker gives them the total they owe, before they even bother to get their check book out!!! ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH!


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