March 1, 2021

Bucks Blog: ING Direct’s Paperless Account Now Offers Paper Checks

Even as payments become increasingly electronic, the need for paper checks persists. Just ask the folks at the online bank, ING Direct, which touts its Electric Orange checking account as “paperless” — but which just began offering its customers the option to use, well, paper.

Todd Sandler, the bank’s head of product strategy, said the bank wasn’t encouraging the use of paper checks. “Our hope is that paper checks go the way of the abacus,” he said.

But some smaller merchants and local groups — your local parent-teacher association, for instance — still don’t accept debit card payments, so even bank customers who are very technology savvy sometimes need to get out the pen and checkbook.

The paper-check option, Mr. Sandler says, was a missing element holding some customers back from ditching other bank accounts and using ING Direct alone. So last week, it began offering its customers the option of ordering paper checks. (Mr. Sandler said the change isn’t related to the deal for Capital One to acquire ING Direct.)

“Our customers don’t want paper checks,” he said. “But they actually need them.”

A recent Federal Reserve study found that check payments declined 7 percent between 2006 and 2009, while the use of debit cards rose by 15 percent. Checks now comprise less than a quarter of all non-cash payments, the study said—but that still means billions are used each year.

ING Direct already offered a “mail a check” option, for recipients who don’t accept electronic payments. This allows customers to log on to their ING Direct bank account and fill in payment information electronically. The bank then mails a check to the recipient.

Now, ING Direct customers can buy their own checks from the bank, at a cost of $5 per book of 50 checks. The bank has added some security features to make the use of paper checks more secure, he noted. For instance, when customers receive their checkbook, they must go to their online account and activate the checks—much like the process for activating a debit card. That, Mr. Sandler says, assures that no one can fraudulently order checks with your account number.

And yes, now that it offers paper checks, Electric Orange will also charge bounced-check fees. But the fee is just $9 —a fraction of the $35 fee typical at most large banks. The fee is charged if the check exceeds the account’s available balance, including its available overdraft line of credit.

What bills do you still pay using paper checks? And would you stop if the biller would accept some other form of payment?

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