How Will You Be Paying for That?

There I was in the express checkout at Wal-Mart. 10 Items or Less. In front of me in line was a middle-aged woman who waited until all her items were scanned and then pulled out her checkbook. Meticulously wrote the information down in the check register and then began filling out the check. Meanwhile the line in the express checkout was growing and tempers were rising. I’m sure this has happened to all of us. Grocery stores should not allow checks in the express checkout lanes if they should be allowed at all.

I’ve been wanting to write this article for awhile and finally fit it into the schedule. I wanted to create an article examining the three main forms of payment accepted at retailers and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each because it seems that many Americans are ignorant of what the differences between checks, cash, and credit/debit mean to them.

Credit/Debit Cards – Over the last couple years Visa has run a number of commercials that portray using cash as much slower than using credit and the undertone of the commercials is that the person using cash is somehow not cool and dumber than everyone using credit. So let’s dive into this a little bit. With credit cards you are spending money that you don’t have and if you don’t pay it off on time you will be paying terrible interest rates and the things you purchased will cost you more than the price you originally paid. Using debit cards means you are spending directly from your bank account and in some sense that is better than going into debt with a credit card. Thinking about security concerns though if your credit card gets stolen you are often not liable for fraudulent charges depending on your credit card company but with a debit card a person can pull your money from your bank account. That’s a bit more serious. As for Visa’s ads about credit cards being so much faster than cash. As someone who works in retail I can tell you that an overwhelming majority of the time credit/debit takes longer than cash. Additionally the recent advent of touchpay systems further strips away security features on credit cards because the cards themselves emit a radio frequency that can be captured by someone holding a device near your purse or wallet.

Checks – Other than for paying bills, most of which can be paid online, checks are an outdated method of payment that should be done away with in my opinion. No form of payment in stores takes longer to complete. With so much concern about identity theft it amazes me that people still write checks so much and women are the ones who still use checks at retail, almost universally. Think about the information on your check: Your bank account, bank routing number, name, address, and in some cases your phone number. Some people are even brainless enough to include their driver’s license number on there as well. Every time you write a check at a store you are placing an awful lot of trust in that cashier that is only making minimum wage.

Cash – Cash is the oldest, usually the fastest and still the most secure form of payment. There are exceptions to it being the fastest of course. I remember another time I was in an express checkout lane at Wal-Mart and the cashier was an elderly lady in her seventies at least and the customer at the checkout was a lady about the same age. The customer paid for the entire purchase with loose change. Between the two of them it took about ten attempts to count it all out accurately. These situations are rare however. The only real drawback of cash is it can’t be used to pay for things online, that is until our computers start coming with cash slots built into them like vending machines.

The thing that I really love about cash though is the security of it. You can spend it wherever you like and none of it is personally identifiable to you. I’ve heard people say that they don’t like carrying cash in case they get robbed. Really? I would much rather lose $100 in cash than lose a debit card that is linked to however much is in my bank account. Even if I manage to cancel the card before any damage is done, the theoretical mugger still has my full name and that is something he wouldn’t get from cash.

So there you have it. Quit using checks and don’t buy into the lie that credit is better than cash.