Cash on the Barrelhead

My Dad was born a few years before the ’29 market crash and grew up during the Great Depression and World War Two. Cash was the way civilized people conducted business in those days and that stuck with him. He always kept enough on hand to live for three months without visiting a bank, and he never borrowed money — except for his mortgage.

He never even had a credit card until the 1980’s when he wanted to visit his brother in California and discovered he couldn’t rent a car without one. That car rental was the only thing he ever used the card for and promptly paid it off. A few years later the issuing bank contacted him and told him if he wasn’t going to use it, they would have to begin charging him an annual fee so he closed the account.

Fast-forward a generation to me. While I share his aversion to EZ-credit, I’m all “in” when it comes to convenience. I’d love to have a chip implanted in my head so I could make purchases without having to carry a wallet.

Like most everyone, we have an ATM card that doubles as a debit/credit card with a VISA logo on it and we use that almost exclusively for daily purchases — food, gasoline, almost everything — for convenience.


That has worked well as the money comes right out of my account, and I don’t have to carry cash or checks.

But this last weekend I visited a Kohl’s Department Store where I picked up a few items that came to $40.66. I paid with my debit card as usual and went on my way. The next day while checking my account online, I saw that they had charged me $40.66 — sixteen times.

$650 had vanished from my checking account.

The department store was much less than helpful in resolving the issue so I turned to my bank. They allowed me to “contest” the charges as inappropriate, however, that process effectively freezes the disputed amount for up to thirty days and my bank told me that it could have been much worse.

My debit/credit/ATM card permits me to “charge” up to $5,000 a day. Had Kohl’s computer “glitch” hit my card 100 times instead of 16, I’d have seen over $4,000 disappear from my account. And since I have agreed to allow the bank to draw from my savings account to prevent my checking account from ever being overdrawn, well, you smell what I’m shoveling.

Needless to say, I won’t be shopping at Kohl’s anymore — and I’m going to quit using the credit/debit card for purchases.

My new modus operandi is cash on the barrelhead.

I’m not suggesting you quit using yours, to be clear this is the first such problem I’ve ever had like this. But it’s sobering to understand that using that card really means you have authorized someone to pluck a lot more money from your account should anything go wonky with the electronic transaction.

At this point in our lives, having $650 lifted from our checking account for 30 days isn’t a crisis. Twenty years ago, when we had a houseful of kids to feed, “stealing” $650 from my checking account and holding it hostage for thirty days might have resulted in me grabbing the shotgun to demand a more immediate solution.

Author: Jeff Davis


2 thoughts on “Cash on the Barrelhead”

  1. We had the XYL’s debit card raided this fall for over $900 in four transactions, that if I hadn’t noticed online would have become several times that amount.

    Debit is basically pretty stupid unless you can’t get credit and the purchase has to be done by plastic.

    The only “debit cards” I will use are one-off preloaded ones I keep around for traveling.



  2. I don’t understand why so many people like debit cards. I have a few and I use them only at the uttermost end of need. However, I use my credit card with reckless abandon. Almost everything except the rent goes on the credit card. You have far better legal protections with a credit card than with a debit card. Your liability is limited to $50 and the bank usually waives even that. Just be responsible and pay it off every month. Plus you get nice freebies. You’re already paying for those conveniences in the form of higher prices. Might as well take advantage of them.

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