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A property manager requires rent to be paid using check. Is it normal that rent cannot be paid using electronic methods such as a credit/debit card, or a bank transfer, or Paypal, or anything electronic?

Can checks be obtained without going into a physical bank?

It seems crazy to refuse all electronic methods of payment, especially during COVID.

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    People use checks because its one of the few free transfer options. Paypal/Zelle/Venmo are nice and instant but have fees. Wire transfers have fees too. In comparison in Czech Republic you can send anyone money for free by just asking for their account number and since 2019 you can even do it instantly for a $1 fee. Feb 27 at 2:11
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    It seems crazy to refuse all electronic methods of payment, especially during COVID. what on earth does COVID have to do with ordering checkbooks?
    – quid
    Feb 27 at 4:13
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    @quid What does buying a checkbook have to do with refusing electronic transfers? Electronic payments have the distinct advantage that you don't have to have any physical contact with the other person, OR anything they've come into contact with. A check or money order still requires at least indirect physical contact. So, yes, though it's not a particularly big risk for this particular pandemic, "especially during COVID" it does seem particularly reckless to demand that little pieces of paper change hands once a month, without offering any alternative.
    – FeRD
    Feb 27 at 13:30
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    Reckless.... That's a stretch.
    – quid
    Feb 27 at 18:21
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica (a) Well, I'm 46 years old, so I'll take the assumption that I live in a Millennial "social bubble" as a compliment. (b) I never said landlords should ONLY accept electronic payments. In fact, I believe I described them as an "alternative".
    – FeRD
    Feb 28 at 4:57

11 Answers 11

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Is it normal that rent cannot be paid using electronic methods such as a credit/debit card, or a bank transfer, or Paypal, or anything electronic?

It's fairly common, especially with smaller companies/independent landlords. Many of the other more convenient payment methods carry transaction/merchant fees, and many landlords don't have the kind of transaction volume necessary to negotiate fees low enough to make those options attractive. I've accepted Zelle in the past but many banks have daily limits on payments that are below monthly rent, so tenants can't pay rent in one transaction.

Can checks be obtained without going into a physical bank?

I've banked with two online only banks and with both I could buy a checkbook online and have it mailed to me, or I could have the bank mail checks to people on my behalf at no cost.

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    "I could have the bank mail checks to people on my behalf at no cost." - which is a silly situation because the marginal cost to banks of processing a cheque is significantly higher than the cost of electronic ACH (which is also free...but banks just don't expose an easy way to do it) or Fedwire, Zelle/Venmo, etc.
    – Dai
    Feb 27 at 10:39
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    @polygnome: "the miniscule fee for the transfer" -- not in the US, unless you consider the typical $25-$35 fee "miniscule". Feb 27 at 14:01
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    @user4556274 Thanks for the link. Thats insane. Costs for a domestic wire transfer in Germany are usually around 0,25€ - 0,50€.
    – Polygnome
    Feb 27 at 16:17
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    @Polygnome in the U.K. they’re free, and effectively instant. Paying anything to move your own money around seems crazy to me!
    – Tim
    Feb 27 at 19:17
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    @Tim: The US's ACH system is hilariously antiquated and bizarre, operating in units of business days rather than the seconds or minutes that it logically ought to take to send money electronically. So you have to pay extra if you want your payment to arrive within a reasonable amount of time. The banks make plenty of money off of this and have no incentive to fix it.
    – Kevin
    Feb 27 at 22:09
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Is it normal that rent cannot be paid using electronic methods such as a credit/debit card, or a bank transfer, or Paypal, or anything electronic?

It's highly dependent on the landlord/property manager.

Can checks be obtained without going into a physical bank?

Yes: online bill payment. (I configured my online bill payment service to automatically snail mail a check to my landlady.)

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    This is a great use of online bill pay through one's bank. Often this valuable service is free; both the physical check and the mailing to your landlord are free to you, and on an automatic schedule! Feb 26 at 22:30
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    @OrangeCoast-reinstateMonica 'free' is relative - typically the bank takes the money from you on the day you send the check, and only pays it when it is cashed. Inbetween, it's theirs to work with... but yes, it has no fee, and is still a good service.
    – Aganju
    Feb 27 at 2:44
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    @alephzero Direct electronic payments are also helpful, but it's not uncommon to need to pay a bill for which you don't have the right kind of details to do a direct payment. For instance, I recently received an invoice in the mail from a contractor for work on my house. It was actually quite convenient to be able to just enter their mailing address, the invoice number, and amount and get a check sent to them. Feb 27 at 3:20
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    Why, @RonJohn ? If they are free and secure, there is no need for alternatives. All those companies that make money on the poor people in the US become simply superfluous.
    – Aganju
    Feb 27 at 19:31
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    Because I know that in the UK (and Europe) that is the accepted standard. It’s not a question “what they accept“.
    – Aganju
    Feb 27 at 20:28
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As of 2016 in the U.S., 42% of rent payments are made by check, 22% by cash, 16% by money order (so: 80% by some physical paper transaction). Only 20% or less were by electronic payments.

https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/research-data-report/2016/how-do-people-pay-rent.aspx

Graph: How U.S. Households Pay Rent

This is not exactly the same as landlords refusing electronic payments. But anecdotally, it's my experience that landlords only provide a single venue for payments. In 30 years of renting in a variety of states, I've never had a landlord suggest electronic payments as an option to date. In short, I'd say that exclusively paying by physical paper is indeed "normal".

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    Under only one landlord did I have the option to pay electronically, and that was in an apartment complex managed by a group large enough to have a number of properties. They accepted payments via debit/credit card. I've never had that option with an individual landlord. Feb 27 at 3:22
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    That's supprising, in New Zealand most banks are phasing out the use of cheques. I'm pretty sure the writing is on the wall in Australia as well. I imagine there are a few people who won't like it but it's been well over a decade since I used a cheque for anything, and probably 2 since I owned a cheque book. Feb 27 at 3:34
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    @David, that makes sense if and only if the banking system provides another “free” and convenient payment method, which the U.S. system currently does not. (“Free” in quotes because obviously somebody is paying for it, either in bank fees or reduced interest.)
    – prl
    Feb 27 at 10:43
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    This seems absolutely archaic to me and I'm from South Africa Feb 28 at 12:38
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    It was in the news last week that in the Netherlands the last cheque has been handled, no more cheques in any of the Dutch banks. Most common is paying the rent bank to bank, and it has been that way from before I started to rent 33 years ago. I am amazed it is so old fashioned in the USA.
    – Willeke
    Feb 28 at 15:22
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Just one other tack that I didn't see in the other answers: If someone refuses to pay rent, it takes months of annoying work to evict them and even then the recalcitrant tenant might do a bunch of damage. But if someone writes you a bad check, there's a whole new pile of laws that you can bring to bear on them. Even if you don't have any money, creditors want you to write them a check. Because now they can prosecute you for fraud. It's a much bigger hammer. A "check only" policy pre-establishes this relationship. "But couldn't I pay with PayPal just this once?" No, that's a crack in the dam, and I don't see why, if you have the funds in PayPal, you can't get your act together and arrange for a check.

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    This is an interesting point I've never seen anywhere else. Thanks!
    – davidbak
    Feb 27 at 17:41
  • „Not writing a check“ however is the same as not making any other kind of payment.
    – lejonet
    Feb 27 at 17:52
  • @lejonet Yes. But the psychology is what the creditors rely on. "Look, just write me a check to show your good faith (and this nasty conversation will end for a while.)" Not quite the same with renters, but having a "check only" policy, puts pressure on the tenant to write a bad check, which is the goal, at some point.
    – B. Goddard
    Feb 27 at 18:19
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    Writing a bad check is a crime, like D.A./go to jail crime, and has been for over a century. Feb 27 at 19:05
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica Exactly. The aggressive creditor wants you to write him a bad check, so he can now make your life really miserable. That's the whole point.
    – B. Goddard
    Feb 27 at 19:47
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I don't have statistics handy, so I don't know what percentage of landlords want a paper check. But it's certainly not unheard of. Especially if the landlord is a small time operation with just one or two properties.

As to can you get checks without going to a physical bank, sure. I haven't gone to a bank office to buy checks in decades. There are companies that sell checks on-line. As part of the order process you have to tell them your routing number and account number so they can print it on the checks. But you order on line and they mail them to you. My bank's web site has a menu option to order checks on line. I've never used it so I don't know the process, but I don't have to physically go to the bank even if I want to order from the bank.

Another option you may have is to have the bank mail them a check. My bank lets me direct them to make payments on their web site. I get on the web site and say to send however much money to this person or company, this address, and here's my account number. If the person or company I send it to has things set up with the bank, they'll do an electronic transaction. Otherwise they print and mail a paper check. I can see on the web site which way they sent the money, but it doesn't matter. I don't do anything different. And if some business I'm paying signs up to get the money electronically, they'll just automatically switch from sending paper checks to doing it electronically. I don't have to know or care.

I make contributions to my church and my cleaning lady this way all the time, so I don't have to bother hand-writing a check, putting it in the mail, and paying postage. I've used this to send money to relatives. Etc. With my bank, it's a free service. They don't even charge me for the postage to mail the check. Probably because they save more by not having to pay someone to handle the check then the cost of printing and postage. I wouldn't be surprised if some banks charge some sort of service fee for this.

Afterthought

These days I almost never actually write a paper check. The only people I can think of that I send a paper check regularly is my local newspaper: they don't have any way to pay online, and I can't have the bank send them a check because there's a form where I have to specify some details. Everybody else I either pay through the recipient's web site or I pay through the bank's web site. At one point I moved and I didn't even bother to order checks with my new address on them for 8 years, because I was writing so few checks it was easier to just cross out the address and hand-write the new address. :-)

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  • Web bill pay is the greatest. I hate writing checks and mailing them, and reconciling a bank balance when there are lots of outstanding checks is even worse.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 28 at 3:15
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Every bank with which I have a checking account has a “Bill Pay” feature within their online banking portal, which allows users to have a paper check sent, by mail, to any address, at no cost. We have used this feature to pay music teachers, local farms, and others who prefer to receive paper checks. Of course you have to allow for 5-7 days delivery time, but for something regular and predictable like a rent payment you can schedule a recurring payment and have it sent out automatically every month.

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I have been a landlord, I have no idea how I would have gone about accepting electronic payments and most of my renters paid cash because they didn’t have checking accounts. When paid with a check, I went to their bank to cash it to ensure that it wouldn’t bounce and if offered a check from out of my area, I would have refused it and asked for cash or money order. Haven’t been a landlord for a while, but under the same circumstances, I would follow the same process today.

Online ordering of checks has been possible since at least the mid 90’s. The format of checks has been standardized because of electronic processing since 1955, it was never a profitable part of the banking industry, it was just something they had to do in order to do business. Some banks don’t even allow you to order through them.

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    "I have no idea how I would have gone about accepting electronic payments" Can you not just tell them your back account number in the US? Or are banks not set up for direct transfers? Feb 28 at 4:42
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    @curiousdannii: US banks generally don’t make it easy to do customer to customer transfers. The ones that allow it at all, generally do so for on the assumption that their customers are banking with multiple banks and will be doing two way transfers.
    – jmoreno
    Feb 28 at 14:18
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    Back in the day it seemed fairly common in the US cities to not accept cash because the landlord was afraid of being robbed. Mar 1 at 18:16
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Yes, paper checks are quite typical. That's how I paid rent from 2012 till the end of 2017 and then I bought a house.

If the landlord is worried about Covid on checks then they're presumably worried about Covid in the mail so the mitigation strategy shouldn't vary.

If the landlord is worried about Covid then they should buy a UV lamp to disinfect envelopes and checks before they touch them.


Having been involved on the merchant side of things with PayPal I would say that the hassle of not triggering false fraud far outweighs any perceived inconvenience of using checks.

If you're a new merchant then you can easily get your funds frozen for up to 6 months and no amount of pleading will undo that. Do you really think a landlord wants to risk getting funds frozen for that long?

PayPal heavily favors the consumer so a single complaint could cost them access to thousands upon thousands of dollars until things have cleared up.


You being unaccustomed to checks is not a good reason for a landlord to start risking their money.

Order some checks and call it a day; a box (100 checks) will cost around $5-$10 and would last you almost 10 years.

Do you really want to be known as a "problem" tenant from day one?

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    +1 for landlord's viewpoint
    – Dragonel
    Mar 1 at 19:17
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Yes it is typical and common in rentals to not include options for electronic payment in the US. I found this to be true with small scale established (older) landlords in the greater Seattle area, San Francisco and personal check was required, often only a single check was accepted making payment that much more work in shared housing. Larger property management companies typically have some sort of IT solution which provides electronic payment and as I recall in California in the Pleasanton/Dublin area required its use (and was poorly implemented with questionable security). This is prior to the pandemic and may bring about other patterns due to changes in supply and demand.

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Can checks be ordered without going in to a physical bank?

No doubt you can call your bank to order checks. However, the bank's checks are often overpriced.

According to a large check producing company, Designer Checks, you can order checks from them for your bank account without having ever ordered checks from your bank: https://www.designerchecks.com/faqs/

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  • "However, the bank's checks are often overpriced." - Is that true? I haven't used checks in a while but few years back they were free. Feb 28 at 22:49
  • Even in cases where a large bank gives checks for free (e.g., Bank of America) they typically charge shipping and handling. That said, it's rare to be charged more than $0.20/check, even if you order checks with carbon duplicates (which you should).
    – Brian
    Mar 1 at 15:25
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Can checks be obtained without going into a physical bank?

Many people have noted that you can order checks online. This can be done from your bank or via third parties.

I'll note that technically, you can also print checks at home. This does require a check-printing template/application (e.g., Microsoft Office), but it's not especially complicated. Typically, consumer-grade printers, even high end ones, cannot create checks to the same standard as check-printing companies. However, home-printed checks are still checks, both in a legal sense and in a, "can people cash them" sense. And unlike many starter checks, home-made checks will actually have your name/information.

I'll note that most home-made checks feel a bit "off, " so not everyone will accept them. I don't recommend this approach as anything except as an interim solution in an emergency.

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