Why Educating Kids on Checkbooks is a Step in the Wrong Direction

by Kevin on April 13, 2010

When I was in high school one of my classes taught everyone how to write a check and then balance your checkbook.

Less than a decade removed from my senior year I find myself wondering if high schools across America are still teaching check writing.

Are checkbook skills going to valuable to the upcoming generation?

Checkbooks Are Outdated

Let’s face it. Checks have been around a long time. (We’re talking ancient Romans and the Middle Ages). They are a piece of an old, outdated system.

Technology is slowly, ever so slowly, phasing checks out of existence. Your average high school or college student will likely use a combination of debit cards, credit cards, and direct electronic payments in his or her lifetime.

With debit and credit cards the banks send you a card for free. The card is obviously reusable. You can swipe to your heart’s content (and unfortunately with credit cards, even more after that). Nonetheless the bank wants your business and makes everything convenient for you.

Plus debit card programs generate revenue for banks while check imaging software is expensive.

Writing checks is not only inconvenient, you also have to buy more checks when you run out. (So much for it being “free” checking!)

And let’s be honest. How many times have you written a check in the last week? What about the last month? The last year?

We write one check per month to our church. That’s it. Everything else goes on the debit or credit card.

Checking Accounts are First Steps

On the other hand I can see how checking accounts are a first step in educating a student on the financial system.

Using checks and checkbooks emphasizes that you can only spend the money that is in your account. You can’t spend more.

Maintaining a checkbook also encourages the student to be aware of the balance in the account. Write a check, deduct the amount from the account in the check register.

Emphasize Both Debit and Checkbooks

Yet we live in an ever increasing digital age. I am fairly confident that physically writing checks will disappear during my lifetime.

We should be training the next generation on debit and credit card use. (I’ll write more on credit cards targeted at the younger generation in my next post.)

Instead of teaching students how to master a check register we should be teaching them on tracking your balance with online tools or spreadsheets. We should educate them on avoiding phishing scams and keeping their debit card numbers safe.

Above all we should make sure they understand the critical difference between debit and credit.

For those of you with kids, what are you doing to educate them on basic financial matters? Are you aware of what, if anything, your school is teaching them? Leave a comment!

(Photo by Hello Turkey Toe)

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Budgeting in the Fun Stuff April 13, 2010 at 8:33 am

My parents taught me the ins and out of checkbooks and credit cards starting when I was really young…I was one of the few college students that I knew that didn’t come across any financial rude awakenings.

I’m a huge fan of teaching children all about finances so they can handle them as adults.

Kathryn April 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

My college kids have checkbooks & debit cards (no credit cards). I encourage them to use their check register to record their spending. Not sure if that is done. I know that I check my online banking at least once a week and make sure that everything I spent was accounted and check my balance against THEIR balance. My 5th grader came home talking about balancing a checkbook the other day. She & her friends then made up jobs and salaries. They “shared” an apartment, and deducted expenses from their income. I think their teacher said it was like the game of Life. Anyway, she was quite proud of herself.
thanks for your insight, always good to get a financial guy’s perspective

Golfing Girl April 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm

“I am fairly confident that physically writing checks will disappear during my lifetime.”

I have to disagree on this one. Until everyone walks around with a microchip in their hand they can wave for payment, there is always going to be the need for the occasional check. Now that my daughter is in school, it seems I’m always writing checks for the PTA, school pictures, field trip, etc. Granted, the volume of checks I write compared with 5 or 10 years ago has drastically reduced.

But the check REGISTER cannot disappear until people are willing to blindly trust their banks to have their balances correct. Even for the most avid of debit card swipers, I can’t imagine just guessing I have the funds or using my “Rain Man” mentality to calculate my remaining funds. I just don’t see that happening. So if that’s the case, where do you keep your register? With your checks of course! 😉

Kevin April 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm

What’s the difference between a microchip in the hand and having a smartphone where you have an app that tracks your budget, spending, money in account, etc.?

Imagine a school system that didn’t waste time and manpower with taking checks to the bank. They take your debit card and just deduct it from your account if you give permission.

I guess when I said check register I meant the physical register. You obviously have to track your account balance somewhere… I just think it is going to be online or on your phone.

Ken April 15, 2010 at 1:32 pm

My oldest is 9 and I haven’t begun discussing anything other that “we can’t afford that.” It’s probably time to start.

Julieanne Miller May 7, 2010 at 4:12 am

I agree…there will always be a need to have a check REGISTER. I will never trust having my records ONLY online, because those records can fail, get stolen, I can have trouble accessing things online for a while, etc. I will always keep a paper register even if I’m only using debit and credit cards. And I’ll teach my children how to maintain a paper register, even if by that point most registers are online. Thank you for an interesting point of view to consider here!


Sam May 7, 2010 at 5:18 am

While I’ve never been good at check register, I’ve always kept a small legal pad of my outstanding charges & checks to compare ot the banks website. I’d never blindly trust the online balance because your never know when some transaction will take 30 days to clear.

Also, checks will always have to be around to a degree – not just school stuff (like the previously mentioned ones and fundraisers) but also it’s how my after school sitter gets paid & the memo section of the check documents what dates that dollar amount covers…. checks still serve a legal function that ACH & debit/credit doesn’t. I also use checks for my tax deductible items, non-profit purchases (annual church plant sale, rummage sales and the occasional big ticket garage sale item). Oh, and any tradesman I have work for me -like my yard guy who cashed the check & then sent me a bill saying I hadn’t paid him. That bill went away lickety split when I mailed him a cleared check copy.
I had another guy who got the check in November & didn’t cash it till Feb or March (literally days away from the banks rules on the check being void due to age) – another good reason to keep either a check book or other log of uncleared transactions.
Also, about once every year or two I’ll have a debit card transaction that doesn’t clear for a month or two – my guess is they mis-place the receipt (that they need to deposit to get the money) and find when tidying up.
While I don’t think teaching kids just checkbook balancing is sufficient, I do think keeping a hard copy transaction log of some type is a very good idea.
Just my two cents.

Jenn May 7, 2010 at 6:50 am

I write very few checks – school field trips and book orders are the only things I can think of. I’d estimate 5 or 6 per year. I do record the check number, the recipient and the amount but I don’t calculate a balance or anything. 99% of my spending is on my VISA (for flight mileage) or is set to come directly out of my account (eg. mortgage). It’s inefficient to record all those things in my register to keep a balance. It makes more sense to add the checks to a tracking system based elsewhere.

I preplan and track all our spending for the next year in an Excel spreadsheet. As the actual amounts are spent I replace the estimate with the actual amount. The planned amount of $200 for groceries becomes $187.42 and gas $40 might become $42.00 when I get home from the store. Eventually the amounts hit the VISA which I pay off in full each week. If the amount hasn’t yet been posted on the VISA website at least it’s recorded on my spreadsheet so as far as I’m concerned the amount is already spent. When I do write a check I immediately add it to the spreadsheet. If it’s cashed immediately great, but if it doesn’t show up as a withdrawl by the end of the week, I just move it to the following week with other planned spending. If they don’t cash it for 3 months it just means I had to keep moving that amount further down my spreadsheet every week, but the money was always spoken for. No chance anything will bounce because I didn’t know when it would arrive or forgot I even wrote it.

The concept of teaching kids about debits and credits (in addition to debit and credit cards) is the key here. They need to understand that the money going out must be less than the money coming in, regarless of the technology or paperwork used to receive or spend the money.

I can count on my hands the number of times a YEAR I write a check or spend cash. Absolutely everything possible goes on my CC for the airline mileage. We aren’t big spenders and most weeks we buy nothing other than groceries and gas which both go on the card. Phone, cell, internet, insurance, alarm monitoring etc all charge directly to the card. The mortgage is pulled directly out of our bank account every other week; same with property taxes once a month. Electricity is paid manually online only because they won’t accept a credit card. Other than that we take a little cash out for the few things that we can’t pay any other way (maybe a vending machine or parking meter?) and that cash gets dusty being carried around for months. I don’t like using cash because I can’t easily track it and I just don’t want to carry around a notebook to record the $1 I put in a meter. I also resent spending money without getting point for it on my credit card. As of 2 weeks ago we’d earned all 4 flights to Europe for this summer! Loooove getting free flights just for paying my regular bills and I never pay interest.

kelliinkc May 7, 2010 at 7:24 am

Well, I have to say that despite our modern era, I do not do online banking. I write checks or use credit cards — which, I pay, in full every month. I, too, have 3 kids in school and write many checks for school related activities. Mostly, though, when I feel like there is no way my financial info can be compromised online then I’ll consider going electronic. So there, I’ve outed myself. Probably the only human left not doing online banking.

Sam May 11, 2010 at 11:46 am

Jenn – you can pay for book orders on line. You just have to get a code from your kids teacher that’s included on a sheet in the “bale” of book order forms.

I checked my Mint.com thing & last year I wrote 21 checks including childcare – everything else was bill pay or the cash back debit card. No wonder I can never find my checkbook.

J Bibbs August 17, 2010 at 1:44 am

This is an interesting blog. I am a teacher who uses the checkbook system in my classroom for a variety of purposes, but mainly for classroom management and to reinforce positive and negative intergers. I think it would be nice to incorporate your ideas into the classroom. That being the case I would need to have someone, perhaps the author of the blog to donate the technology (I believe it was smartphones that were suggested) for each student to keep their electronical registers. Additionally, fake yet functioning debit cards that the students can use electronically in the classroom to purchase their items (of course with a pin number to insure privacy). Since we are now teaching kids to let computers do all the work for us I look forward to seeing how it impacts our future decision makers.

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