The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 20, Number 7, February 12, 2017, Article 29


This didn't make it into earlier issues, but I wanted to mention this January 24, 2017 Wall Street Journal article about the bane of all checkout line waiters - people who hold up the line by writing checks. -Editor

WSJ A personal check When Gert Watkins pulls out a check at Wal-Mart or Target, the shoppers in line behind her roll their eyes, sigh deeply and mutter under their breath.

Ms. Watkins, a 67-year-old former banker in Birmingham, Ala., knows that many other shoppers pay with credit cards and debit cards, but she doesn’t care.

“They make those faces, but I just turn around and say ‘I will be through shortly, sweetie. It’s my turn now,’ ” she says.

Check-writing may be dying, but it isn’t dead yet. A sliver of consumers still clings to paper and pen, forgoing the ease of plastic for the rigor of balancing their checkbooks every month.

Such behavior is bewildering to more modern consumers brandishing payment apps and chip cards, some of whom don’t even know how to write a check. To other shoppers, check-writers are the scourge of the check-out line.

Michael Moeser was shopping at a Target in California on Black Friday a few years ago when a shopper ahead of him pulled out a check. In a matter of moments, other shoppers in line behind him scurried to other lanes.

“It was like a leper from the lepers’ colony showed up,” said Mr. Moeser, who works at a consulting firm tracking the payments industry.

For check-writers, recording the payment in a checkbook while standing in line is a sign of good financial hygiene. Everyone else says the behavior is as curious as buying a savings bond at the local bank branch or receiving a passbook when opening a savings account.

The practice of writing a check in a store is particularly mystifying to millennials, many of whom zap money to each other electronically through PayPal’s Venmo, Facebook or Snapchat.

People who pay by check in stores say it gives them a greater feeling of security than using plastic and it is more convenient than carrying a wad of cash. They also say they feel more in control of their spending.

“I just feel safer,” says Bill Aber, a former chef who lives in Jersey City, N.J., and has been the victim of credit-card fraud.

Non-cash payments in 2015

Despite the relentless march of credit cards, debit cards and mobile payments, Americans wrote 17.3 billion checks in 2015, according to a survey released by the Federal Reserve last month. That compares with the 41.9 billion checks written in 2000 when the Fed started conducting the survey, which it does every three years.

While check payments fell at an annual rate of 4.4% between 2012 and 2015, the drop represented a slowdown in the rate of descent for the first time.

Deluxe Corp., the big check-printing company, has tried to persuade shoppers that checks are worth using. The company launched a check-writing push in 2010 that featured a video starring “Duncan Steele—The Man with Checks Appeal” who writes a check to pay for a 59-cent stick of beef jerky in a convenience store.

“Credit cards are a sucker’s game,” he says with a wink to the annoyed people waiting in line behind him. By the video’s end, the woman behind him stops rolling her eyes and leaps into his arms.

Um, yeah. That happens all the time.

I've already confessed to being "that old guy who holds up the line with exact change". I just don't want to micromanage my small purchases with a zillion tiny transactions on my credit or debit cards. Not that I'm trying to hide how many donuts I've bought at 7-11 (see, they're right here on my butt). A few larger cash withdrawals help me manage the monthly cash flow. But everyone manages their funds differently - as the article shows, ask five different people and you'll hear five different money management styles and strategies. It's at least partly generational, and in time maybe even the cash-paying dinosaurs like me will be extinct.

But I've never seen the logic of writing checks for groceries. Keep your checkbook handy if you're running on fumes and need to know to the penny how much you have available. But use a debit card and speed through the line.

I love how the illustration is captioned "A personal check" for the benefit of readers who may never have seen or heard of one. It's like explaining to my kids what an ashtray or gas station attendant was. -Editor

To read the complete article (subscription required), see:
Go Ahead, Write a Check for Your Coffee, I’ve Got All Day (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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