7 Reasons Nobody Writes Checks Anymore
A check is written, signed and dated instructions for a bank to transfer funds. To mail one, you have to wrap that piece of paper in a second piece of paper and then stick a third piece of paper on the outside to prove you paid to have it travel to its destination on at least one gas-burning vehicle.
If that sounds like a primitive way to move money, you’re in good company.
According to a new GOBankingRates survey of $1,000 American adults, 45% haven’t written a single check in the last year — another 12% wrote fewer than six.
It’s nothing new — the writing was on the wall for checks long before COVID forced a shift from in-person to app-based banking. Like manual transmissions and fax machines, paper checks aren’t quite gone yet, but the museum has a spot all picked out. Here’s why.
The Paper Check Is a Victim of History
In 2012, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia predicted paper checks would be extinct by 2026 — but according to Business Insider, the clock had been ticking since 9/11.
Until that day, physical checks worth billions of dollars were packed onto trucks, shipped to sorting facilities and then loaded onto airplanes every single day. When the FAA grounded all flights on Sept. 11, 2001, the Check 21 Act allowed banks to verify funds with images of checks instead of physical paper.
There was no turning back.
More than a decade later at the time of the Philadelphia Fed report, nearly all bank-to-bank transactions were settled electronically. According to the Atlanta Fed, the number of consumer checks declined by 63% between 2000 and 2015.
Electronic Transfers Are Cheaper and Easier for Banks and Their Customers
At the time of the Philadelphia Fed report, the shift away from physical checks was already saving the banking industry $1.2 billion annually. Faster processing was saving consumers and businesses $2 billion a year.
That was more than a decade ago and the trend continues today.
The 2022 Payments Cost Benchmarking Survey from the Association of Financial Professionals (AFP) showed that the ongoing shift from checks to ACH transfers saves money, lowers fees, reduces fraud and saves time.
When It Comes to Security, Tech Beats Checks
There was a time just before the Check 21 Act when the masses didn’t trust their money to new and unfamiliar emerging technologies. But today, handing a stranger a piece of paper that contains your name, address, bank account number and signature defies the most basic principles of data protection — especially since multiple people handle each check throughout the process.
According to Money Magazine, your funds and data are much safer under the stewardship of modern financial cybersecurity than they are inside a 20th-century checkbook.
There Are So Many Easy and Familiar Alternatives
The Money report pointed out that it’s not just big banks. Even payment apps like Zelle and Venmo are safer than writing checks, and they’re just two among many check alternatives.
Zelle is linked directly to your bank of choice and Venmo is a third-party social app. If that’s too much clutter for you, you can send and receive money on a p2p basis right through your PayPal account. Don’t have one? You can use Apple Cash to send and receive funds as simple texts without leaving your iPhone’s native messaging app. Don’t have an iPhone? Try Google Pay.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The list goes on and on until the thought of writing a check no longer makes sense.
Automatic Bill Pay Took Countless Checks out of Circulation
In May 2022, Pymnts released research showing nearly four in 10 people are enrolled in automatic bill pay. That’s a whole lot of checks never written and back-of-checkbook arithmetic never tallied.
Although the money still leaves your checking account, the rise of automatic payments removed the ick from the monthly chore of paying bills. Even better, the Pymnts study showed that those enrolled in autopay were more likely to pay on time.
The bad news is that “the check’s in the mail” is an excuse with waning validity.
Your Phone Is Your Teller
Virtually every major bank offers mobile check deposits through their apps and websites, with limits usually in the thousands or even tens of thousands per month.
The process is secure and user-friendly — even the most modest technological prowess will get you through. Not only is mobile deposit free and easy, but it goes through instantly or close to it even if the funds have a clearing delay.
Although one party has to write a check for a mobile deposit to happen, the shift toward online deposits further erodes the relevance of physical checks and keeps them contained to two-party transactions.
It Might Just Seem Like No One Writes Checks Because You’re Young
Despite all the reasons to toss your checkbook, the GBR survey showed that more than 40% of the population still writes at least one check per month. Interestingly, 40% of respondents still visit physical bank branches mostly because they prefer to drop off their checks in person. That indicates that the residual desire to hand off written instructions while inside a bank is one of the biggest reasons branches still have their lights on.
Unsurprisingly, age plays a significant role.
The survey showed that the youngest adults are by far the least likely to write checks and do their banking in person and most likely for an app to be their preferred banking method. The oldest respondents were the opposite, and the demographics in between tracked consistently and predictably toward more checks and less tech as they aged.
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