Check-Out Lanes Go Check-less

We’ve all been there – standing in line at a grocery store “15-items-or-less” checkout line, hands on hips, waiting for the clueless shopper to finish writing a $12.50 check for a quart of milk, two boxes of Ring-Dings and a box of laundry detergent.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on which side of the checkbook you’re on), we won’t be waiting much longer, as more and more grocery chains opt of out of personal checks. Instead of asking “paper or plastic?” now stores are demanding “cash or plastic.”

That means the times are once again changing. It was only three years ago that Americans wrote 30 billion checks, according to the Federal Reserve. But check usage is in decline in 2009, while the use of debit cards, at 25 billion transactions in 2006 – a 17% rise from 2003.

Check fraud is a big issue, too. According to a study by the Association for Financial Professionals, checks were the leading payment method most frequently targeted by scam artists.

Another reason for the switch to cash or plastic? Both banks and retail chains encourage the use of debit cards because it’s easier and faster for them to track your purchases – and it’s easier for them to build a more accurate consumer profile with your name on it.

Whole Foods (Stock Quote: WFMI) is the latest grocery store giant to stop accepting personal checks. Grocery chains point to an increase in bounced checks and longer waits in line while people write out their check payments.

The Whole Foods initiative is just a two-state experiment right now (in Arizona and California – and only in three stores in total). The company says longer lines and the possibility of check fraud are the biggest single reasons for the check-less laboratory experiment.

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