Cash is under siege

By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that cash, that paper currency and those coins so familiar to us, is under siege. Yep, according to a number of reports, cash is being subjected to continual attempts to be replaced by electronic payment methods and cash may be losing the battle. A couple of things kinda got me interested in this subject.

The first was when I got three “rebates” in the mail recently. They were in response to offers by three different companies that if I were to buy certain items of their merchandise I would receive an effective reduction in cost. – a rebate. Sounded reasonable and I could use the stuff so I made the purchases and filled out the forms in anticipation of getting some kind of refund. I sure was wrong!

One “rebate” was a “gift card” that could be used only at that company’s stores; the second was a check – valid only at that company’s establishments; and the third was a “voucher” – you got it – to be used only for purchasing merchandise from the issuing company. Furthermore, each rebate stated it had no cash value and that there would be “no cash back” for any unused portion. So much for my hopes of getting back some of the cash I had already paid.

Folks once were paid in cash on payday – a practice that was gradually replaced by paychecks. In either case we would wind up with that folding green stuff and those jingling coins. Today that is mostly in the past – with some exceptions where workers are still paid daily in cash. (I think that was the case where we had some tree-trimming by an outfit that did the job for cash only.)

At one time Social Security issued checks, but no longer. Both my Social Security and my VA disability payments go directly to the bank – where they are electronically divvied up by the car insurance company, the electric company, the telephone company, the home security company, and the YMCA (for my dues).

Our credit card, which we use at the gas pump and for some other purchases, is linked to our checking account so “charge” purchases are automatically deducted. Oh, we write checks to cover other expenses and I still cash a check every so often for what I call “pocket money” – I find it’s easier to pay cash for burgers and fries at a drive-thru than to try to use a credit card.

Are we headed to a cashless society where check cashing facilities and ATM’s are but a memory? This is the vision of a number of financial experts who cite a variety of supporting arguments. One is that cash has expenses built in – such as the cost of maintaining cash at banks, other financial institutions, and retail stores. There is also the cost in accounting for and transferring cash. Some very large commercial banks have already announced they will no longer deal in cash – only electronic transactions.

There is also the argument that cash facilitates illegal activities such as the drug trade and terrorist endeavors. To counter this unacceptable use of cash, many countries have already eliminated some large denomination bills and are eliminating even more. We did away with the $500 and $1000 bills some years ago and there are currently suggestions we also eliminate the $100 too.

There are, however, important societal issues involved with eliminating cash. Paper money is used more frequently by low-income groups and independent businesses who cannot get a bank account or afford card processing fees. One in twelve US households reportedly deal only in cash primarily because they cannot afford banking fees. Forcing those folks to move to cashlessness would impose much higher costs on them than for those with higher incomes.

I don’t know about you, but I like the feeling of having those greenbacks around. They give me a kinda feeling of security that no piece of plastic can. Perhaps that’s because at one time in my life I had absolutely no money – not a red cent – and I vowed then I would never again find myself in that situation. And so to this day, I always have some cash – not a lot, but a few dollars.

Then, too, I find that when I have to pay for something with cash , that is, actually handling over money from my pocket, I tend to be more “careful” (okay, frugal). On the other hand, paying with plastic more likely leads to my overspending – after all, it’s not like it’s spending “real” money, right?

You know, I’d hate to see cash disappear. Sure would be difficult paying for those fresh veggies off the back of a pickup using a credit card. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]