This is all about money — the money we have, the money we used to have and the money we hope to have.
Let me explain.
I didn’t think I’d get through the week. Five days without the penny has been tough. I can now honestly say I don’t have a cent, but like you I’m sick of the copper jokes. It’s time to put the penny behind us.
I had no allegiance to the penny. They can even take the nickel as far as I’m concerned, and we’ve already heard some discussion of that. I’m also not overly fond of the loonie or the toonie. Ten of those really make a pants pocket sag and a purse heavy.
The reality is we’re headed for a cashless society. Many companies now only pay by direct deposit. Governments have been making the case for that as well, not only for things like tax refunds, but for pension and employment insurance benefits.
That’s fine for most of us, but there are several generations of people who still like to see a cheque, the actual numbers printed on paper. Direct deposit may mean the cheques won’t get held up in the mail, but there can be other problems, technical glitches when, on occasion, the money does not make it into the bank account as expected. Experience has taught me to always make sure it is there before I spend it — never assume.
Some churches have been using direct deposit for years and more are discovering its value. Parishioners can sign up to have their weekly collection taken out of their accounts, or in some cases, put on a credit card, so whether they make it to the pew or not, the church gets the donation.
It’s especially helpful during the summer, when church attendance may be lower than usual because of vacations and travel.
Many of us pay our bills with electronic cash. Fewer people are stuffing cheques in envelopes or taking wads of money to the utility company. I can’t recall the last monthly debt I paid that didn’t involve the Internet and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
All this brings me to my final point. I’m beginning to come onside with the store owners who object to the fees they have to pay credit card companies. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been making the case for years that every time we pay with a credit card, the credit card company pockets almost three per cent of the money. Business owners have to deal with that by raising prices, hiring fewer staff or finding some other means to absorb the cost.
Stores in most U.S. states are now permitted to charge customers a “checkout fee” when they pay by credit. The surcharge essentially allows merchants to cover the cost of the so-called “swipe fees” paid to credit card issuers such as MasterCard and Visa, passing the burden onto the consumer. Florida, New York, California, Texas, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts and Oklahoma don’t allow the fee, but it is permitted elsewhere.
In this country, the Competition Tribunal is expected to rule soon on a complaint concerning how Visa and MasterCard conduct their business.
The decision will have serious implications for how credit charges are handled. The Competition Bureau says merchants pay an estimated $5 billion annually in hidden credit card fees.
I rarely carry cash. I put just about everything on Visa and pay it off when the bill arrives. I used to argue that using my credit card was my right, and the fees to store owners were the cost of doing business. How I pay is still up to me, but there is something amiss when other consumers have to subsidize my method of payment.
As we move toward a cashless society, the rules must be fair. Right now, they are not. It is one of many things the government will have to address as money becomes something we can no longer feel or touch.
To think this all started with the penny.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at email@example.com.