Video Didn't Kill the Radio Star, but the Debit Card Is Killing the Check

Commercial checks are down from 70 million per day in '89 to about 25 million now.
SNL Financial

A little more than a decade ago, American businesses issued more than 70 million checks a day. In the first quarter of 2013, daily commercial check volume was down -- way down, about two-thirds off its peak -- to about 25 million checks per day, according to a new report from SNL Financial.

In recent years, direct deposit, debit cards, and other forms of electronic transfers have largely replaced checks, which are easy to lose and costly to procure and process. According to a report in the Sun Sentinel, it costs 92 cents more per payment for the Social Security Administration to pay someone by check than it does by direct deposit. The agency said it could save as much as $120 million per year if checks were eliminated.

Contrasting with the declining volume of checks is the rising per-check value, from an average of $700 per check to around $1,300. For smaller fees and exchanges, it seems many businesses are opting for other methods, including online services such as PayPal and apps like Venmo.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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