Five Reasons Why You Should Still Use Personal Checks

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Creative Commons License photo credit: scragz

This is a guest post by Kasey Steinbrinck, who has spent more than seven years writing for multiple forms of media. He has worked in the television, newspaper and radio industries, but now spends his time blogging about personal checksand business checks for the online company Check Advantage. He also has first-hand experience with using his credit card too much. You can read more of Kasey’s writing at http://blog.checkadvantage.com/.

Paper or plastic? That’s a question you usually hear at the grocery store, but it’s also a decision you’ll have to make when it comes to payment options. Will you use a credit card, debit card, cash or a personal check?

You’ve probably heard the rumors that personal checks are on the “endangered species list” of ways to pay. However, according to the Federal Reserve, there are still more than 30-billion checks written in the U.S. every year.

Maybe you’ve been in line behind a little old lady when one of those 30-billion personal checks was being meticulously written out, but only after that nice little old lady dug through her gigantic purse to find a couple of coupons for 25-cents off.

Despite her lack of multi-tasking skills, those little old ladies all over the country may be teaching us a lesson in personal finance wisdom! (Not to mention – patience – which is a virtue by the way)

Here are five reasons why keeping personal checks around is still a good idea:

1. It’s Easier to Keep Track of Your Personal Finances

This is probably the biggest advantage of personal checks. Let’s be honest. When we all started using debit cards to make purchases, most of us stopped using our check registers.

Those little books with white and gray lines can be a very valuable tool. You’ll usually get one when you order new personal checks. Have you ever received one when your new debit card came in the mail? I haven’t.

Yes, it can be a pain to carry a register around so you can record every little payment. That’s why they make duplicate checks. You can always check out the carbonless copy when you get home and then balance your checkbook.

Personal check registers can help you stay within your budget. Sure, online banking is super convenient, but when you’re actually keeping track of things on your own with hard-copies, you’ll be much more aware of what’s in your account. Plus, sometimes banks make mistakes. You’re more likely to catch an error if you’re keeping track of things yourself.

2. Real People Don’t Accept Credit Cards

Visa isn’t quite “everywhere you want to be.”

One of the arguments against personal checks is that some vendors no longer accept them as payment. However, there are plenty of other situations in life when money will need to be exchanged and personal checks are ideal.

What happens when you need to pay the babysitter and you ran out cash on your date? Where do you plan on swiping your credit card? Careful with that one!

Imagine getting a birthday card from Grandma, and instead of a personal check she sent an IOU and a stick of gum.

What do you do when you’re heading to your cousin’s wedding and you’re picking up a card at the last minute, but you forgot to get a gift?

Let’s say your greasy overweight landlord is pounding on your door asking for the rent. I doubt he takes American Express. But if you give him a personal check and ask him to wait until Friday to cash it – you might be able to calm him down.

Personal checks can certainly come in handy from time to time!

3. You Can Get “Back to Basics”

The recent downturn in the U.S. economy has made the idea of getting “back to basics” something that’s both trendy and smart. The basic idea is to simplify your life.

That means not only thinking about how much you’re spending, and what you’re spending your money on, but also what you use to spend that hard-earned money.

Many Americans are finding themselves in some serious debt because they used credit cards and spent money they didn’t have. Then things head into a downward spiral when you can’t keep up.

When you got your first credit card someone probably told you something like “Use this for emergencies only!” But somewhere along the way, the convenience and speed of swiping a plastic card surpassed the concept of being responsible.

It’s so easy to flip your wrist, or punch in a pin number without really thinking about how much money you’re throwing around. On the other hand, when you go back to using personal checks, you are forced to write down the amount you’re spending. Using personal checks can open your eyes so that you see exactly how a particular purchase is going to affect your life.

4. Sometimes Being Slower is a Good Thing

Just ask the Tortoise how he managed to beat the Hare.

It’s no secret that checks take a little longer to process than an automatic payment you set up online or an electronic payment using a debit or credit card. But slowness can actually be an advantage.

Check 21 legislation became law in 2004. It allows banks and businesses to use electronic images and substitute checks as a legal form of payment. That’s made check processing much faster and more efficient. Yet it still takes one or two days for the typical check to go through.

Now let’s say your purse is stolen (heaven forbid), and your checkbook and debit card are inside. That nasty thief could drain your checking account while swiping your debit card all over town. If you don’t report your card stolen immediately, you’re probably going to be held accountable for the money that was spent during that time period.

If that purse-snatcher tries to use your personal checks, you have more time to cancel those stolen checks before they are actually processed. This way there is no charge to you.

5. You Can Express Your Personality

It may not be the most useful benefit of using personal checks, but it’s definitely a fun reason to keep them in your pocketbook.

We love to personalize and customize just about everything we own. From personalized license plates to monogrammed bath towels, MySpace layouts and cell phones, everyone wants to be an individual.

Personal checks have been ahead of the game on this for a long time. There is literally an endless supply of styles you can choose from if you decide to order personal checks online.

There are checks for people who are animal lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, sports fans and more. You can order personal checks featuring your favorite cartoon character, or even have family photos printed on the checks.

Some credit card companies have tried to jump on the personalization bandwagon, but it just isn’t the same. Not many people really get to see your credit card. But you’re handing personal checks to people all the time. They can be great conversation starters. Who knows! You could meet the love of your life because of your taste in personal checks. (Ok, that’s pushing it)

What Do You Think?

It’s probably pretty unrealistic to think we can all get rid of our plastic payment options and use personal checks exclusively. However, should we keep them around or not?

I’m sure there are plenty of people with opinions about the future of personal checks. Let’s hear what the readers of Financially Poor think about the topic. Leave a comment and let us know!

Leave a Comment

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Red

I totally disagree. I use my checkbook one time per month – to pay rent – and that’s it. Not only does writing checks slow everyone else down. (Sure, it may be nice that you get to take it slow, but what about the 10 people in line behind you who are ready to get home or to work?)

And when we’re talking about bills, you’re wasting paper writing the check and, presumably you haven’t switched to paperless billing but even if you have, you’re wasting the paper envelope and the stamp you have to purchase all to send this check. Whereas, with online bill pay, you can click just a few buttons, get a confirmation email sent to you and you’re done for the month.

And let’s not forget the torturously slow process of waiting for a check to clear your bank account. If you use a debit card instead, it’s withdrawn instantly. (Some people may think using checks is helpful BECAUSE it’s so slow, but those people aren’t handling their money wisely.)

You can get debit/credit cards personalized too. And just because you don’t have a register in your pocket doesn’t mean you’re not recording your purchases in a notebook or keeping the receipts and entering them into a spreadsheet when you return home.

The only point I agree with is number 2. There are people who don’t accept Visa, so it’s good to always be prepared with cash or check should the need arise.

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Kevin

It really doesn’t take that much time to write a check and record it. Old people just tend to not be in a rush.
Yea I agree with the bill pay if it’s available for the bill.
I think people that have a problem controlling their money could be helped by getting back to the basics and recording their expenses when they make them. Most people aren’t going to do it unless it’s easy. when you pull your check out to write one, you automatically bring out the register. So perhaps it can work for some people that haven’t found any system that works for them.

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Red

You know what I’d like to see? Someone do a test run to see how long it takes to write a check and record it versus how long it takes to swipe a debit card. Many people say they take about the same amount of time, but I’ve never seen that theory put to the test.

Check registers are great for people who don’t keep up with receipts. Personally, the easiest method for me is to always choose debit (which most often means the charge is on my account before I even get home) and then keep the receipt and enter it in my spreadsheet when I get home. But I can see the positives in recording your purchase on the spot if you don’t think you’ll be diligent enough to remember once you get home.

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Kevin

They should bring back supermarket sweep and add a part where they have to write a check to win.

I do what you do with the debit card. It really is the easiest thing for me, but to each their own

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Mysti

I still write checks for a few things….co-pays at the dr, a few medical bills. Not alot, but a few.

I also keep a good ole fashion check book register. I record everything there, and balance it all the time. I love it! Quicken has some nice features, but nothing beats pencil and paper sometimes.

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Phil on Auto Claims

I agree with your points made, plastic and online banking make things too easy for us. Using a check book makes us pay better attention and I think helps us psychologically in whats going on with our finances.

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Jon DeGroff

Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy writing checks. For some reason, I like sitting down at the desk or the kitchen table and paying bills this way. I still use personal checks from time to time at Wal-Mart or the grocery store, but I have most of it filled out before I even get to the register. (I always carry a pen and pretty much know within a dollar how much I spent).
I think that people would do much better financially if they had to THINK before they SPEND, which is what writing checks does for me.
Great blog.

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Kevin

very true. If it’s your cup of tea then do it, if you don’t like it then don’t do it. It will work for some people and for others it may not work. But you never know unless you try.

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Chris

I think with online banking and sites like Mint, it is super easy to keep track of your finances now. Checks are slow and annoying in my opinion.

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Donald

I like points #2 & #4, but I cannot see myself ever going back to writing checks for most of my purchases. Using credit and debit cards naturally bring in certain sense of unconscioussness to it because it is so easy to spend, by design. However, most people still keep an active check register to track their debit card spending; albeit, not the best tool, but it works for most people. People who require a more sophisticated appproach to budgeting will use online bill paying to track spending and probably a budget program like “You Need A Budget” or Quicken.

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Kevin

Yea, there’s a tool out there for everyone

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Josh Smith

I can understand most of these, but #1 “It’s Easier to Keep Track of Your Personal Finances” is way off base if you use an online PFM. I’m lucky if it recognizes my purchases now. If I have 50 “Shared Draft Check” each month I may as well give up.

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Kevin

Lol yea that would make it a lot harder if you manage your finances online. But if you pay with a check for everything you’ll be managing it all from your check register.

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Josh Smith

What’s a check register? ;-) kidding.

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Financial bondage

I hate writing checks. use the debit card and online bill pay whenever possible. I write very few checks these days.

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Kevin

yea me too. I only write them when whoever I’m paying doesn’t take cards

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Roger Wohlner

Great post. Your first point has a lot of merit. If one uses their check register to diligently track the checks written and keep a tally on their account this creates a discipline to continually know your balance. In order to make this work, I would suggest the need to enter debit card purchases as well as any online payments made. All in all if someone has the diligence to keep this system up it is a great way to keep tabs on what is being spent and how you are doing over the course of a month.

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Kevin

Yea, it’s important to put all of your expenditures in your registers. Great point in this cyber age.

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Lisa

I had a hard time taking this article seriously. Then, I clicked on the link in the intro, and it all made sense. Kasey writes for a website that sells checks. Of course he’s going to say we should all go back to writing checks.

First point, anyone who uses their debit card for most transactions already has a complete record of their expenditures. The only things not recorded are cash and credit card transactions. If I want to know where my money is going, all I have to do is log in to my bank’s website and I can immediately tally up my expenses. Going back to a check register where it’s easy to be in a hurry and not record a check? Forget it!

Second point, use of a debit card is free. The price of checks, once you choose the carbon version and maybe one of the premium designs, cost quite a bit of money. It’s useful to have a one or two packets of checks when you do need to write one out for a piano lesson or a Girl Scout cookie order, but other than that, nearly every business takes debit cards.

I do write checks on occasion, but none of the points made in this article would compel me to abandon my use of the debit card.

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Kevin

I agree. I wouldn’t start using check and they are good for some occasions. However there are a lt of people out there that aren’t very computer savvy so I can see why they would still use them to keep track of money. It’s not for everyone but some people do like them over newer technology. But like I said I prefer the newer technology. I just put this article up because it shows a different point of view and I like that. Thanks for the comment

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Kasey

Uh Oh! BUSTED!

You got me Lisa.

Of course you make valid points – but if you really think using a debit card is free you should read this http://blog.checkadvantage.com/2010/08/12/about-your-debit-card/

and this

http://blog.checkadvantage.com/2010/08/13/bank-fees/

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Curtis Hillyer

I uses checks to pay most of my bills. I’m set up online with most companies but still write them a check. One reason, I include a business card in all my bill envelopes. Never no when the person who opens the envelope at the gas company is going to need what I offer.

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Kevin

That is a great tip!! I’m going to start doing that when I send in checks or when I mail anything.

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Kevin

I hate writing checks. And checks are expensive. I write 2 per month if possible, rent and daycare for my children. I use a credit card and quicken for everything else. I pay off the entire credit card balance each month and never spend more than I make. You pay for the convenience of MC/Visa anyway as every store has their prices marked up assuming everyone is using a credit or debit card.

If you don’t have the discipline to stay on budget, use cash only. Make envelopes with a predetermined amount you are allowed to spend on each budget item, when the cash is gone, you can’t spend anymore.

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barbara

I agree about writing checks .I think they take about the same time as swiping a debit card and waiting for it to processed.

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Ryan

You can write a check in 5-10 seconds? Impressive.

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Mark

I also feel that checks are safer. You hear so many horror stories about stolen debit card numbers. Paying by check just seems financially safer. Plus a check can give you an extra day or two if you are running low on cash.

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Kevin

Yea that couple of days can be a life saver.

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Ryan

Cause… you know, stealing a checkbook out of a purse is waaaay harder than stealing an imaginary number out of someones brain.

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pam

I agree with you there, especially with the duplicate checks! Helps me see WHERE THE MONEY GOES! I am just now setting up my adult children with their own bank accounts and letting them order their own persona checks. Time consuming and boring for them but it is a lesson learned. I keep stressing to them to STAY OUT OF DEBT! Son is going into the Air Force next month so I have helped him set up a zero based budget (we know what his base pay will be and calculated the federal tax) – order checks – open a bank account and get his first debit card. Hip the lessons me and his Dad have been TRYING to teach him these past few months have been sinking in! Especially to SAVE YOUR MONEY AND PAY CASH FOR A GOOD USED CAR! God help us all!

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Donna Freedman

I mostly do online bill-pay. But checks come in handy for:
My rent
Special offerings at my church
The money I send to an elderly relative every time I get paid; another relative, who has a substance abuse problem, has been known to get into their mail
Incidentally, I’m a fellow dinosaur who uses a check register to keep track of all deposits, withdrawals and bill-pays. It soothes me to have it all in the little book. I know exactly how much I can spend, or not spend, without checking the computer.

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Ryan

You don’t need a computer to check your account balance… And you don’t need to use checks to keep track of your finances. Just use your debit card, but write the amounts in to your register as you would with a check. Same damn thing, a fraction of the time.

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Janice

there is another reason why one should use designer personal checks: it helps you build better relationship with your team/employees. for example, while paying your employees around thanksgiving, if you use thanksgiving themed personal checks, it looks great. also, there are some checks sites that allow you to design your own check. you can include your company/business logo/images on the checks. it just helps personalizing the checks. regular bank checks are a little boring, designer checks look wonderful.
i have never purchased checks in past but i have seen a few with my friends. they look really nice and will deliver the christmas spirit when i’ll make payments using these checks.

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