Personal Finance 

Don’t Write Personal Checks

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?

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Use Billpay To Get A Voided Check

How often do you use checks? Most of the time, it’s to set up a direct deposit right? Well, my friend Scott (he runs the Ghent Bar Tour in Norfolk, which is a charity bar tour that raises tens of thousands of dollars a year) asked me if it was possible to just send yourself a check by Billpay and use that as your “check” for direct deposit purposes.

I opened a checking account at some no-name bank in TN to get $100 after setting up direct deposit. Last time I did this, I ordered some checks through a cheap online site for about $5 so I could get ONE check to send to my HR dept and set up the DD.

But I had a thought this time around – could I send myself a small check (say, $1) through the bank’s free BillPay system and then void that check and use it to set up the DD? It should have all of my bank info on it like any other check and a voided check is a voided check, right, no matter how much it was for or who it was to? It would save me only $4 or so but $4 is $4 and it’s actually less work.

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Five Money Saving Bank Hacks

Bank Hacks In Your FavorBanks offer a lot of services and features. You probably know most of the popular ones. Heck, you probably know most of the not so popular ones. However, I am pretty certain that there is at least one thing on the follow list that you didn’t know about before. And if I’m wrong, I invite you to look at these 7 Unwritten and Often Forgotten Credit Card Secrets, and hopefully between the two you’ll learn something new that will save you some money in these difficult times.

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Buying Checks Online

Personal checksMany thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on the best places to buy checks online (62 comments as of this writing!), sounds like I was right to think that $20 for 50 checks was absurd! It appears that there are plenty of affordable options for buying checks and none of them come close to the 40 cents per check that Bank of America’s printers were asking for.

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 Your Take 

Your Take: Ever Buy Checks Online?

My initial supply of personal checks, a checkbook worth, is coming to an end soon and I’ll be needing a fresh new supply. I don’t use checks very often anymore, I think they are antiquated and very insecure, but every few months I have to deal with a company that requires personal checks. It usually comes down to the company not wanting to deal with the headaches of credit cards and me not wanting to deal with the headaches of their 0% same-as-cash-but-not-quite financing offer! Anyway, the end result is that I write them a personal check and my initial stock is dwindling rapidly.

I looked into reordering checks directly from Bank of America, who gets them through Clarke American, now named Harland Clarke; but they want $20 for 50 checks! That’s outrageous! (and doesn’t include shipping) To prove how both absurd and true it is, here’s the screenshot from the order page (to be honest, if I were you, I wouldn’t believe me unless I saw this screenshot):

OK, order checks from the bank is out. It looks like I’ll have to order checks online. I looked at a couple places but it appears that Costco will probably be my best bet. Costco sells checks for pretty reasonable prices, though that option is only available for Costco members. You can get two boxes of standard single checks (400) for $10.59, $8.47 if you’re an executive member. Four boxes doubles the price, so there’s no discount for quantity. Shipping is a reasonable $4.95. That’s 400 checks for less than 4 cents a check – a song compared to the 40 cents BoA wanted!

Have you ever ordered checks online? If so, what has your experience been and who have you used?


Checkmate: Check Cashing Exposé

I’m a usually a free market kind of guy, mostly because the free market, or at least our version of it, has been good to me and my family. That being said, I understand why people think check cashing stores are ripoffs and why they should be regulated more. I think they serve a purpose, giving those without bank accounts access to their funds, but their fees are extraordinary and deserve inspection.

So, who better to inspect them than the Internets Celebrities? This nine minute clip is worth every minute both in informational and entertainment value.

This video courtesy of Consumerist, Editor Ben Popken makes a cameo too.


Five Check Fraud Tips by Frank Abagnale

If you’ve ever seen Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, then you’re very well aware of the exploits of Mr. Frank Abagnale Jr. The story is about one of the most prolific check fraudsters. He’s passed a bad check in all fifty states as well as an additional twenty-six countries, before behind apprehended. Recently, US News had a chance to talk with him and he passed on five tips to prevent check fraud.

The tips are fairly straightforward – release as little information as possible, don’t use checks because they’re insecure, and check your register every single month. Diligence and common sense have always been and always will be the best defense against fraud.


Why I Don’t Write Paper Checks

Within the last few weeks I’ve seen check-buying posts from both Michael (Ordering Checks on the Internet) and Nickel (How to Order Checks Without Getting Ripped Off) and there was even a poll over at Consumerist (Do You Write Checks?). (as an aside, if you’re enjoy a nice healthy dose of schadenfreude when it comes to big companies, you’ll want to ping that site daily – it’s like a schadenfreude addict’s dream) so I figured I’d weigh in on the whole check writing issue.

I wanted to wait until the poll had a few weeks to run its course before I looked at the results and after two thousand plus votes, the breakdown was exactly what I expected:

Yes, because I’m a luddite – 4.8%

Yes, because I like a paper trail – 10.8%
No, I pay everything electronically – 16.1%
No, they’re insecure – 0.5%
Don’t have a checking account – 1.5%
Yes, but ONLY when I have no other choice – 66.4%

I’m not a luddite and you don’t need to have read or have watched Catch Me If You Can to know that checks aren’t all that secure but honestly I try to avoid checks because of the convenience factor.

Why I Don’t Write Checks:

  1. Stamps are expensive – I don’t really want to spend 39 cents to mail my payment in, which is a total savings of $4.68 per year on a monthly payment. Considering how many monthly payments one may have (a handful of credit cards, rent/mortgage, car note, etc), this could add up to a nice dinner – I’d rather eat my $4.68 than lick it.
  2. Account numbers written on the check! – This is the thing that boggles my mind the most, the fact that we’ve had our account numbers written on the checks for as long as checks have existed and our financial world hasn’t crumbled. The bank takes such great pains to hide your account number on statements and mailings but when you send out a check, your number plus your address and perhaps even your phone number and social (if you put either on the check) are there in full view. I know it’s a fault of the “system” but it’s still absolutely ridiculous.
  3. Checks are slow – First you have to mail them and prior to Check 21 you had to wait like a week for them to clear. Even with Check 21, the processing has sped up but you’re still talking about waiting for delivery and such.
  4. Physical things get lost – It’s funny that “it was lost in the mail” as an excuse has entered American lore along with “my dog ate it” as the two more popular and incredulous excuses ever… that you really can’t contest. The USPS, despite sponsoring someone who won that bike race in Europe a ridiculous six times in a row, still loses mail… it’s the nature of the beast. I suppose electronic things get lost too but since you don’t have such a long delivery lag time you can react much faster.
  5. It’s harder to schedule paper checks – If you like to schedule payments in advance so that they go out at the last possible moment, it’s a breeze with online bill payment sites because you force the site to remember when the send it out. If you try it yourself, all it takes is one forgetful moment to ruin anything you would’ve gotten all year by delaying the payment.
  6. Checks are way too expensive – They’re too expensive on an absolute scale… $30 for two boxes of checks (which is like a million checks) isn’t all that much when you figure they have to print and bind it all but you do think about it when you close an account and shred about two boxes (minus ten checks) of checks because you really don’t use them. It’s like shredding money.

Why I Still Have To Buy Stupid Paper Checks:

The only reason why I buy stupid paper checks is because whenever you request a direct deposit, the direct depositor will ask for a copy of the voided check to make sure that you haven’t messed up the typing/writing in of your ABA routing number and account number. While it’s a pain they ask for it (if you talk to them and explain you don’t have any checks, they’ll usually be sympathetic), it does make sense because we have fat fingers and mess up sometimes – it’s better to send a check than miss a paycheck deposit for a month because you transposed some numbers.

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