Who Uses Paper Checks?

It’s rare that I write a check these days. Partly, that’s because my husband is in charge of paying the daily bills, so I only write a check when he’s sick or I need to reimburse someone. I decided to total up how many checks we give and receive each year, as an experiment. We’re not quite to the end of the year yet, so I’ll guesstimate through the end. So far, we’ve written a total of 40 checks. By year-end, I anticipate we’ll write 5 more and receive 6 at the most.

What We Write Checks For
There are a few items that must be paid by check, still.

Property tax – two checks a year. Our county isn’t up on the electronic payments thing yet! This year, it was three checks because they billed us, sent a partial refund for excess billing, and then sent another bill for an excess in the refund amount.

Mortgage refinance payments – we refinanced and had to pay the interest for the month by check.

Insurance renewals – online bill pay and insurance companies don’t always get along, so we don’t take chances and just mail a check. We learned that one the hard way when Mercury cancelled our insurance for non-payment, even though they’d received the online payment! It took half an hour and a call from our bank to their agent to get it sorted out. So, this is five checks a year – auto (split in two), home, earthquake, and flood.

Medical bills – most of these do offer the credit card option, but it’s just as easy to write a check as it is to fill in the little bubbles with our credit card number. This was probably about half the checks we wrote this year.

Gardener – one check per month, he’s old-fashioned.

Auto registration – I actually could pay online, but the California DMV’s website is unfriendly, so we send checks.

Driver’s license renewal – I tried to pay online, but it said I didn’t exist, so I had to mail a check.

Home service calls – a lot of service people prefer checks or cash, so we have to write a check a few times a year for that.

Magazine renewal – I still get a few magazines for reading at the gym, and have one that doesn’t auto-renew on my credit card.

State taxes – I think I could actually pay this online, but again, the California processing system is wonky and I don’t trust it, so I mail a check on April 14th.

Personal reimbursements/gifts – most of the checks we’ll be writing for the rest of the year are either gifts or reimbursements. For example, two of my cousins want spending money for a big trip, so I’m sending each of them a check for Christmas. Another cousin’s mom is getting a check so she can buy him a group gift from several of us. Another cousin is getting a check because she buys our adopt-a-family gifts. A guy at work was collecting for his charity walk-a-thon, so he got a check.

Checks We Receive
We also receive several checks a year, although we never actually see the bulk of them. These are, of course, our paychecks, which are direct-deposited. However, there are other checks we receive:

Gifts/reimbursements – This is still the simplest way for people to give each other financial gifts or reimburse each other for joint expenses. Paypal is actually a bit more cumbersome and may have fees. Checks are usually free to receive. Cash is simplest, but not everyone carries that much on them.

Expense reimbursements – My husband gets mileage and expense reimbursements, which come by check. They’re paid separately from the paychecks because they’re not taxable.

Refunds – Occasionally we’ll get a refund for an overpayment, which arrives as a surprise check.

Rebates – Some businesses send gift cards, which I hate. Just send me a check I can take to the bank!

Before we bought a home, we wrote fewer checks a year, even though we paid the rent by check. Now we write more checks, but it’s not as many as either of us wrote ten years ago. Experts have been predicting the demise of the check for at least a decade. While they’re not as commonly used in stores, they’re still the simplest way for two people to exchange money, to pay infrequent bills, or to receive infrequent payments. I certainly don’t want to give out my electronic funds transfer information every time I want to receive money, and I’m sure you don’t either.

The UK plans to stop processing checks for its citizens by 2018, but I wonder about the feasibility of this. What about senior citizens who don’t understand computers or online payments? Should they be forced into money orders and visits to the utility to pay their bills? Getting rid of checks is a lofty goal, but sometimes it’s still the best way to pay and the government’s goal alone won’t change that.

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