I recently saw a rare (for me) sight... someone in a store paying with a check. Is there any rational reason to do this? Anyone with a checking account can get a debit card for it, and there is no cost.

  • So you can say, "The check is in the mail"?
    – DJohnM
    Dec 12, 2014 at 0:33
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    The main reason of them all - to annoy all the rest of the people in line behind him!
    – littleadv
    Dec 12, 2014 at 3:26

3 Answers 3


Rational reason. They like this method of paying.

There is a delay between writing the check and having the money removed from the account.

Their checkbook makes a carbon copy of the check, so they can update their balance easier. They can leave the store and update their checkbook register, or the spreadsheet or their Quicken or budget application data. They don't have to try and remember the amount, store name or date.

  • 3
    @Bart you assume that this person has a computer with internet access and is comfortable with the technology - many people aren't, and even so, having a few extra days before the transaction takes money out of the account is a positive Dec 11, 2014 at 19:55
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    @Bart Not every bank shows pending transactions online. I could have $100 in the bank, swipe my card, check my balance, see $100 balance while the charge is pending, and spend $100. Carbon copies are immediately available.
    – Alex B
    Dec 11, 2014 at 20:01
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    @bart There's nothing inherently irrational about "I like to do it this way" unless there are clear reasons why that's a bad idea. I prefer beef to chicken, but if someone else tells me he prefers chicken, I don't demand he give me logical, practical reasons for the preference. He just likes it better. Personally, I almost never write a paper check any more, but if someone feels more comfortable with paper, good for him. :-)
    – Jay
    Dec 11, 2014 at 20:09
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    And: The check shows the amount you actually agreed to pay. If you wrote a check for $100 and the store says the price was $200, you can say no, this is the amount I wrote the check for and you gave me the merchandise for that price. With electronic transactions, even if they display the price, there is no way for you to prove that the amount they billed your account is different from the amount displayed. I'm sure one could think of other advantages. I don't use paper checks anymore myself, but I can see advantages to them.
    – Jay
    Dec 11, 2014 at 20:13
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    @Bart Not to make an argument about it, but: If there are many advantages to thing A and absolutely no advantages to thing B, then preferring thing B is irrational. But if there are any advantages at all to thing B, than it becomes a matter of weighing relative importance. And frankly. for some things, "it would take me an hour to learn the new way" may be a sufficient disadvantage to make it not worth the trouble, if the extra time to do the old way is small. Etc.
    – Jay
    Dec 11, 2014 at 20:18

It's because they're used to it and it works for them. Everything other reason is meh.

Used to, you could float a check to payday... have no money in the account, yet write a check a couple days before payday because you know that's how long it takes for the check to get to your bank and when it does, you'll have the money.

But most (if not all) business that still accept checks (a dying subset, for sure) electronically present the check now. They take it from your hand, run it through a machine at the register, and it immediately clears the bank, just like a debit card would.

We're nearing the end of the check era, atleast on personal accounts. Kids growing up now won't even know what a check is, aside from it's namesake on a type of bank account.


Here's another rational reason: Discount.

This typically works only in smaller stores, where you're talking directly to the owners, but it is sometimes possible to negotiate a few percent off the price when paying by check, since otherwise they'd have to give a few percent to the credit card company. (Occasionally the sales reps at larger stores have the authority to cut this deal, but it's far less common.) Not worth worrying about on small items, but if you're making a large purchase (a bedroom suite, for example) it can pay for lunch. And sometimes the store's willing to give you more discount than that, simply because with checks they don't have to worry about chargebacks or some of the other weirdnesses that can occur in credit card processing.

Another reason: Nobody's very likely to steal you check number and try to write themselves a second check or otherwise use it without authorization. It's just too easy to steal credit card info these days to make printing checks worth the effort.

But, in the end, the real answer is that there's no rational reason not to use checks. So it takes you a few seconds more to complete the transaction. What were you going to do with those seconds that makes them valuable? Especially if they're seconds that the store is spending bagging your purchase, so there's no lost time... and the effort really isn't all that different from signing the credit card authorization.

Quoting Dean Inge: "There are two kinds of fool. One says 'this is old, and therefore good.' The other says 'this is new, and therefore better.'"

  • "they don't have to worry about chargebacks or some of the other weirdnesses that can occur in credit card processing." The OP said "debit card", not "credit card".
    – user102008
    Dec 12, 2014 at 1:56
  • Granted, though the point you're objecting to is a secondary one.
    – keshlam
    Dec 12, 2014 at 2:00
  • "they don't have to worry about chargebacks or some of the other weirdnesses that can occur in credit card processing." - how about the cheque bouncing? As a store owner I would be very worried about that?
    – Victor
    Dec 12, 2014 at 4:36
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    @Victor most places I know of (at least in the US) have a policy of passing that risk back to the customers, "$30 charge for all returned checks" e.g. With chargebacks there is usually no such recourse for the store. Dec 12, 2014 at 18:18
  • @watcher - so if i am a customer and i pay for goods worth $500 with a cheque which i know has only $30 in the account, then i will be chared $30 for a bouncing cheque - gee I would be doing that all the time.
    – Victor
    Dec 12, 2014 at 20:57

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