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Are Checks Overused?

Quarterly Review 2041 | Fall 1996

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Are Checks Overused?


This study overturns the conclusion of a 1990 study by David Humphrey and Allen Berger, which found that check float is responsible for the popularity of checks despite their high resource cost compared to electronic payment instruments. The new study examines recent data on the costs of checks and automated clearinghouse (ACH) payments. It finds that the value of check float has decreased significantly since the 1990 study and is no longer large enough to make checks more attractive than ACH payments. The study also questions whether the idea that float could be responsible for the persistent use of checks is reasonable given standard assumptions about the behavior of economic agents. The study ends by speculating on why checks are used more than less-costly alternatives and by encouraging policymakers to wait for researchers to adequately answer that question before intervening in the market for payment instruments.