Today I saw a lady paying with a check at the supermarket…
I was left flabbergasted: paying your groceries with a check, really? But the best part is that the cashier didn’t seem surprised at all. He accepted it with a smile, opened the cash register and placed it on the top of a pile!!! So this lady wasn’t the first, nor the second one today that was paying at the supermarket with a check!
This blog entry could have easily fit in the section “Culture shock: Europe vs USA” and it actually does, but for now bear with me and let me use this space to explain you my astonishment.
I was born in the late 70’s so I know what a check is: a very old means of payment that my parents used when bank cards were not available to everyone in Europe. According to wikipedia:
Checks are a type of bill of exchange and were developed as a way to make payments without the need to carry large amounts of money
Already in the 13th century checks were popular in Italy as a legal device to allow international trade without carrying large amounts of gold and silver (source: Cheque wikipedia)… but dear Lord, this was nine centuries ago!
Today we have other options far more safe and efficient than to pay with a check: they are called bank cards.
- A check is not as safe as a debit/credit card: you can’t set bank alerts or clearly track your transactions;
- a check doesn’t get you any miles/reward points (for example) for your next flight/gas;
- and it doesn’t provide you with an monthly overview of your expenses (which is useful to plan your budget).
In Europe we don’t use checks anymore. I remember my dad paying for my extracurricular swimming classes by check, I was 10 years old. But after that memory, I can’t recall any other situation where a check was involved until today when I saw the lady with her checkbook at the cash register.
You can argue that the check is still a relevant means of payment for old generations, since it makes them feel that they have more control than with a bank card. My grandmother would agree with you. She would definitely feel more confortable paying with a check that she has to handwrite and sign for every purchase, than with a credit card that she would need to swap into a machine. Fine, I’ll give you that.
But then I will tell you that in the USA checks are not only for old ladies like my grandma. If you walk into a bank branch these days there is a 99% chance that the personal banker will offer you a check book and in most cases you don’t even get the choice because it’s standard to most checking account.
What’s your experience with checks, cards and paying in general in the US?