Just take my check, or my cash, and no one will get hurt

Posted Aug. 30, 2009, at 7:31 p.m.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my humble checkbook. You know, it’s that pad of paper curiously the same size and shape as currency. On this pad are paper checks, which allow me to pay for things by filling in the blanks and signing my name.

Recently I stopped by a store in my neighborhood to pick up treats for my grandpets. I admit I’m a sucker for a certain mixed terrier named Gromit and a burly bulldog named Newkie.

I wrote a check for the purchase and handed it to the clerk, who proceeded to do all kinds of things with machines and keypads. Finally, she handed me a pen and a long piece of receipt paper filled with tiny print that I recognized as terms and conditions. She instructed me to “sign here.”

What? I wasn’t making a credit or debit purchase. This was a check. I responded to her request by saying no, I wasn’t going to sign the paper because I had signed my check. I offered my photo ID, reiterating that one signature would be all she would need.

She responded by calling her manager from some far-flung corner of the store, which made me feel like a problem customer. The boss disgustedly informed me that this was the new store policy. All checks are handled as “electronic checks” on the spot. They are processed by TeleCheck, which guarantees the transactions (and charges the store a hefty fee for the service, no doubt). By signing this second document, I would, in fact, give TeleCheck permission to reach into my account and take the purchase amount as I stood there. The boss went on to say that my check would be paid on the spot and that they would actually give it back to me as my receipt.

I am not totally foreign to this new procedure. It happened to me once before and was so shocking that I went along with it. Later, I regretted not saying anything. I wasn’t so keen on the whole idea this time, either. I felt manipulated. Even though I did not produce a debit card to pay for my purchase, this store’s policy was about to force me into a debit transaction anyway.

I asked for my check back and added that I simply would go to the really big pet store just a few blocks away. Apparently, I said the magic words. All of a sudden, my check was just fine; no additional signature was required. They bagged my items and thanked me for shopping there.

As I walked to the car, the only thing I regretted was that I didn’t pay cash. Good old U.S. currency, as maligned as it is these days, would have saved all of us a lot of hassle, to say nothing of all the processing fees, something I definitely will keep in mind the next time I reach for my checkbook.

Mary Hunt is founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 18 books. You may e-mail her at mary@everydaycheapskate.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, Calif. 90723.

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