September 19, 2013 at 9:00 AM
‘Paper and coin are the money of the poor or the undocumented’
As more and more people move their money in the cloud, could cash become the outcast’s currency?
It’s a tough question, not the kind of thing you can easily analyze. Reader Sandi Kurtz shared a conversation she’s had with her family on the topic in response to my column about the uncertain future of wallets. I’ve bolded some provocative segments, and added links where appropriate.
At 57, I’m in the cohort that still uses cash regularly, and feels a bit odd if I don’t have some with me. I have a couple of credit cards, as well as the ubiquitous debit card, but use checks to pay most of my monthly bills. Online shopping has increased the number of transactions I make with a credit card.
My kid is almost 20, in his second year of college. He and his cohort have been dealing with money in the form of gift cards since they were quite small (the default birthday gift — a gift card to a bookstore). Growing up, he got allowance from us in cash, but many of his friends’ families did it all through their bank accounts. He got a credit card to go away to school (he’s in the U.K., and we wanted to make sure he could get home in an emergency) but most of his transactions now are with his debit card.
As they get older, our kids will pay their bills online, probably most of them automatically and the rest individually. If they have a regular job, their pay will be deposited automatically — if they’re working freelance they may get a paper check, but likely they’ll deposit it with one of those photo apps that are showing up on smartphones, and then not know what to do with the actual piece of paper.
Increasingly, paper and coin are the money of the poor or the undocumented. We’re already halfway there — 50 years ago we were impressed if someone carried a lot of cash. Now we wonder if they’re a drug dealer. Look at the interest in creating some kind of banking service for people buying and selling marijuana — the implied message is that people who are doing it legally aren’t using cash. They’d like to accept credit and debit cards. Group Health no longer accepts cash for co-pays at its clinics. The justification is that it’s a significant time-saver. I’m not sure that’s actually legal, but we seem to be going along with it.
I’m not sure what the future equivalent will be of looking under the couch cushions for spare change — maybe rummaging around in a drawer for a handful of partially used gift cards? I still like to carry cash, and get antsy if I don’t have $5 in my wallet, but I’m the past. The plastic card is the future.