Ordering the Checks We Don’t Write Anymore

I write one check every month, and that single check goes to my landlord. Aside from the occasional voided-check-to-an-employer, that’s basically it. Most everything else is auto-debited, or credit card-ed, or PayPal-ed. So it always comes as a surprise when my shoebox stash runs out every two years or so, and I’m faced with the sad chore of reordering checks. (Sad chores comprise most of my daily activities. My phone contact list is full of bank fraud hotlines and emergency gynecologist numbers, not multiple 24-hour pizza places or contacts like “Dave?” and “Haircut.” Ordering checks. Tweezing errant facial hair. Buying better chairs. This is my life.)

So after weeks of putting it off (“Do 1 Thing”-style), I finally sucked it up and navigated the musty catacombs of my bank’s website until I found the section for ordering checks. I triumphantly clicked through, thinking I’ve done the hard part. But once I’ve landed on the page, I’m faced with an endless amount of check options: baseball team logos and American flags. Looney Tunes and Precious Moments. Zebra stripes, flowers, ladybugs. Snappy slogans ranging from the meaninglessly vague (“Make a difference”) to the bafflingly specific (“Horses are my life”). Browsing the selection of checks feels like being in a suburban Roy Rogers at 6 a.m., milling among the masses wearing sweatpants; it’s disorienting, depressing.

In an attempt to delay the extinction of checks, banks seem to be taking a stab at rebranding. The whole thing just smacks of clear Mountain Dew or a new logo. Hello Kitty stares up blankly from her pink background, as if to say, “I’m relevant to your interests! Buy me!” You have to dig pretty hard just to find normal-ass check options. They’re buried in a sea of Notre Dame mascots and drippy seagull illustrations. Even the “Refined” section, where you might expect to find conservative, Jack Donaghy-ish options, contains design schemes featuring sappy Thomas Kinkades and random Bible verses.

Checks have become the beer-paunched school dance chaperone, wearing a G-Unit T-shirt over his Polo. They’re trying more and more desperately to be young, hip, cool, and this obvious effort only distances them further from it. That’s the rule.

But is this what we’ve been reduced to to prove our individuality? A Tweety-bird-on-a-motorcycle check that says “livin’ loud” at the bottom? Why does everything need to be some grand statement of personality? The whole experience has me wishing for just a handsome, old-fashioned check, like some sort of cane-wagging grump. All grand stamps and swooping calligraphy.

Checks have been at banking institutions for centuries. How long exactly has the check (or “cheque” if you’re fancy and/or nasty and/or British/Canadian) been around? A while. Some Wikipedia-ing reveals that checks have been around since the Achaemenid Empire. When was that? I don’t know, but you should be able to tell by the “ae” in the name that it’s Old. (Okay, I do know, it’s around 500 BCE.) We’re already witnessing the decline of so many storied institutions—print journalism, books, cursive—that checks sort of get lost in all the loss.

I can’t say I’ll miss them when they finally give up and die. I am, after all, a lazy product of my generation. Swiping is easier. Faster. Grunt. But I tremble at the idea of my future kids not getting the movie Blank Check at all (“Mommy, how did Preston buy that giant trampoline, he doesn’t have a LevelUp account!”). So I guess all I can do now is hope that someone in Brooklyn launches an artisanal revival of checks, stat (but no mustaches, please).


Jess Keefe is a writer.


14 Comments / Post A Comment

OhMarie (#299)

Now I have plain checks, but when I ordered the last chunk, the cheapest checks were a variety pack–so one page would be plain, one would be puppies, one would be a tasteful seascape, one would be some crazy Anne Geddes baby photo. It was actually pretty fun. I got to pick out the tackiest, ugliest checks for checks I didn’t really want to be writing and pick out something nice if I was reimbursing my parents or something.

Beaks (#3,488)

The last time I actually chose checks I picked something lively with butterflies and ladybugs- I figured since I didn’t write that many, I might as well enjoy writing the few I had to.

In the last several years, I’ve moved more often than I’ve used up my checks, which means at this point I’m writing checks from at least two addresses ago.

sesomai (#3,874)

I like checks and hope they never go away completely. They’re a great way of proving to a company or person that you paid. It’s hard to argue with a cashed check. Even a giant energy company can’t do that.

sea ermine (#122)

@sesomai True, but you can still do that with online billpay, where your bank mails the check for your for free. I like that because I never use up my checks before I move so I always have piles of checks with old addresses or without the deposit slips lying around. It’s easier to just have my bank do it for me.

kellyography (#250)

I still pay my bills via check because dealing with auto-debit mistakes is a huge hassle. When I was little, I used to think that picking out my own checks would be SO SWEET, but as an adult, the only free checks my bank offers are plain blue, and that’s fine with me.

CL (#3,590)

I stopped “writing” checks a few years ago. Now I just use online billpay to generate and mail checks. It pays my rent automatically and works well for one-time payments as well.

iximox (#4,438)

The only thing (besides rent) that I pay with a check is my water bill, because the city charges $3.25 to pay it online and that irritates me.

And on the subject of ordering new checks, how important is it that I have checks with my current address on them? I seem to move more frequently than I run out of checks.

cawcawphony (#2,990)

@iximox Not important at all, in my experience. I’ve used checks from addresses in other states with no problem. Sometimes I cross off the old address and write in the current one, but nobody seems to care anymore.

qwer1234 (#4,140)

@iximox I’m in the same boat, and I don’t think it’s important. But I did recently order new ones after realizing the check I gave my new employer had my old address in a different state on it and they entered that address for payroll. I have a feeling that might complicate my taxes. So I ordered new ones because I was like “be an adult, adults have up to date checks.” But I’m still not convinced.

juniorbizarre (#4,044)

oh god, this has been my “do 1 thing” for months. but it’s even more complicated–my checks ran out right around when I was setting up a new bank account (credit union through my job, yay!). but they never sent me my online pin number, AND I moved, so my main do 1 thing is call the CU (no branches nearer than about 30 miles from me, the fun part of credit unions!) and get my pin so I can move my money over, also they charge me if I have less than $300 in the CU account so who knows, since I haven’t moved any money in yet, they may be charging me so I may already be indebted to them, but also I get no phone reception at work which is where I am during bank hours so in order to call I have to gather all the info I need and take part of my lunch hour to drive to a location where I do have reception, sit in my car and make the call. Because of all this I have been paying my rent with money orders. Which at least are cheap (>$2) at the post office and can be done with a debit card. But jeeze I need to get on this.

Sloane (#675)

I keep thinking that I’ll need new checks soon, but the last book seems to be renewing itself like manna or something.

sariberry (#4,420)

I used to have these awesome Wizard of Oz-themed checks. They were illustrated with different scenes from the film. This was about 10 years ago, though. Now, I’m not sure who I’d impress with some fancy checks – my landlord? My parents? Those are the only people I still send checks to.

jquick (#3,730)

Checks are cheaper NOT at your bank. Buy elsewhere online.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

I propose a remake: Blank Bitcoin. Think about it.

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