Paper checks... Remember those?

Jay Haas after the third round of the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn on the Jones Course in Conover, N.C.


Kai Ryssdal: Paper is just so out. It's been around in various forms for thousands of years. There's nothing sparkly or shiny about it. Now, it's Kindles and texting and online bill-pay that are the new new things. So is it time to say goodbye to letters, newspapers and paper checks? Maybe, but one company is fighting back.

Sally Herships has more.

Sally Herships: When I was young, you had to go to the bank to do your banking. Fax machines were still a big deal. Now, I do a lot of my transactions online, but I still use some paper checks.

I'm almost 40. Roseanne Malfucci is 29. She's a DJ and lives in Brooklyn.

Roseanne Malfucci: I use checks only when I have to. I kind of hate using them and I think they're antiquated.


Malfucci: It's just an IOU that's like, "Hey, I owe you $300. You'll find out whether or not I have it later."


Malfucci: The other thing that I really hate is that your account number's on it.

Malfucci says that doesn't seem very secure. But even if she did want to write a check, a lot of businesses won't take them. Beth Fahey owns a specialty bakery outside Chicago. She designs cakes.

Beth Fahey: And sometimes some of our customers have champagne wishes and a Budweiser budget.

When the recession hit, Fahey's bakery got six bad checks in one month. All told, the bakery lost $600.

Fahey: And if it's a $40 check, it's not worth it for you to spend half the day in small claims court. So you're really stuck and you just have to eat it. No pun intended.

Checks are in trouble. Take Deluxe, the billion-dollar check printing company. Susan Eicke is VP of financial services marketing for Deluxe.

Susan Eicke: What we've seen is that there's been about an 8 percent year-over-year decline in the processing and use of checks.

So Deluxe is fighting back. It's set up a website called RightToWriteChecks.com and posted videos on YouTube.

Meet Duncan Steele, "the man with Checks Appeal."

Clerk: Next.

Duncan Steele: Uno beef jerky. That's Spanish for "beef jerky."

Clerk: You smell like pennies. Fifty-nine cents.

Steele: I hope you don't mind if I pay by check.

Voiceover: Duncan Steele.

Eicke: Duncan Steele is a fictional character that we created to really go after the millennial market.

You know, people in their 20s and early 30s. But how can you convince them or anyone to use a product that's becoming obsolete? Jonah Berger teaches marketing at Wharton. He researches how products become popular -- and unpopular.

Jonah Berger: It's really hard to stop consumers from moving that other direction. It's just hard when you've got a better product that's out there for people to want to stick with the old one.

And it doesn't help Deluxe that the big banks aren't that fond of checks either. Check fraud costs the banking industry around a billion dollars a year.

David Eads: Banks love to talk to almost anybody about mobile payments and moving forward with where are today, this pony express world, to the new mobile world.

David Eads is CEO of Mobile Strategy Partners. He helps banks get rid of checks by setting up mobile payment systems.

Eads: Of my clients, probably 12 of 13, bank clients, pay me with paper checks.

Herships: What?

Eads: Yeah, I was looking at it the other day and I thought this is crazy.

Eads says banks are slow to change. Beth Fahey, the bakery owner near Chicago, says in a perfect world, she'd still be able to take checks. Credit card fees take a bite out of her bakery's profits. And hey, Marketplace, when you get around to paying me for this story, I'm fine with a check.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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Your piece on paper checks shouldn't come as much of surprise to most people of the "digital age". The only reason I have to write a paper check nowadays is because the pre-school where I pay tuition for my daughters doesn't take plastic, despite many request from myself and other parents whom would prefer paying using a credit or debit card. I find myself making mistakes when writing out the check because it's the only place that I am require to use checks and I'm som unaccustomed to writing checks anymore. My alternative is to use cash - but who carries that around anymore?

On a similar note, the person interviewed for the piece: Ms. Malfucci states: "It's just an IOU that's like, 'Hey, I owe you $300. You'll find out whether or not I have it later."'

This, to me, is more of a personal inability to manage one's finances properly, if you don't think or know you have the funds, don't write the check. Not only is it irresponsible, but it's fraud.

Does Deluxe really think Duncan Steele is going to get younger people to use checks? It's a hilarious commercial, but it's just funny to look at, and, if anything, it seems more like it's making fun of check writers. I think this is a big fail.

Like Sally, I still get a check from my employer, and I do love that Bill Pay on Bank of America that lets me write and send a check to anyone without the need for a checkbook, especially for business. Checks may be less used in consumer transactions, but they are far from dead I think.

Why can't we have both? I have learned, I think, that one of the keys to being at peace in this world is to be flexible. New is not always best. I get the feeling that maximum utilization has become the buzz word of current times. Sometimes the slow, pensive and deliberate wins the race - the hare and the tortoise for example. It takes longer to write a check, making one more aware of what is being paid for.

I've tried paying my bills online. It's supposed to be the green way to go. However, in too many cases I'm charged a fee to pay by credit card online. On the other hand, there's no charge for paying by check.

Paper checks one advantage that the more modern alternatives don't: all you have to have is a checking account and a checkbook. You don't have to be online to use it, and you don't have to have an expensive mobile phone to use it, let alone one that's compatible with the other person's. And while there are security risks associated with paper checks, I can see far more opportunities for criminals to steal identities or money from, even if people were as careful with their mobile phones and their online accounts as they are with their checkbooks.

I prefer paper checks and cash over credit cards and debit cards and the reason I perfer checks is that there is a written record or a paper trail. Have you ever try to follow your credit card number on the Internet as bytes? In the last two years I have had 3 credit cards compromised, 2 be the retailers, and I have had double charges on my debit card for the same transaction. Credit cards offer some protection and debit offers none. The day will come when I will not be able to prove that I did not swipe my card or give out my credit card number but at least with a check somebody took the time to print it, write it out, and sign it instead of some random number generator try to find active credit card accounts.

Thanks A.D. for the astute comments. You are so right! I'm strictly cash or checks and if the store won't accept that, it won't get my business. And your privacy/tracking concerns are spot on. Unfortunately, our government leaders are doing us no favors by forcing us to accept direct deposit or debit card receipt of benefit payments. Seems to me the wrong people are making decisions about how payments are made. It should be left up to each individual to decide.

Do we really want to REQUIRE that everyone must have a credit or debit card to make purchases? Card accounts are already the only way to make purchases on-line, which is one of the reasons I avoid on-line purchases whenever possible. As for privacy, all electronic transactions tied to plastic are immediately recorded in consumer databases which have the potential for consumer profiling and can be used for any purpose the owners of these systems so choose. What's next? The abolition of old fashioned paper money at the grocery store for a bag of potato chips? The transaction fees charged to merchants for plastic transactions isn't doing the retail sector any favors. P.S. The last check I wrote (which was during the broadcast) was number 10360, and that only counts for the last 20 years with the same credit union.

I get a lot of checks bc I am in independent contractor, I teach pilates. Recently I discovered that on several occasions, Chase ATMs had misread my deposits (never in my favor, needlesstosay!) They have that handwriting recognition software, but clearly it is flawed. They were not so helpful (customer service is dead!) at first, I was shocked that they weren't concerned about this significant technical flaw, then I remembered, they don't want my stupid checks! They're annoyed and punishing me, trying to train me out of my bad habit of bothering them with so many paper IOUs!!


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