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Cheap checks, cool checks

Cheap checks, cool checksYou can save money by shunning your bank's check printer and finding your own.

These days it's possible to find a bank that charges a hefty $25 for a box of 150 duplicate checks. That's more than 16 cents a check, not including delivery charges that often amount to several bucks a box.

But as a rule, banks don't print checks; specialized printers do the job.

You can cut out the banking middleman and deal directly with the check printer of your choice. And not only can you save money by choosing your own check printer; you can select from a wider variety of styles and do business with a printer that shares your political, environmental or ethical values.

Your bank can't punish you for choosing your own check-printing service. As long as checks meet industry guidelines for size, ink type, legibility and other criteria, banks can't reject them.

But because the routing and account numbers at the bottom of a check are printed with specialized magnetic ink, it generally isn't cost-effective to print checks from blank stock at home on your computer.

The Deluxe treatment
According to the Federal Reserve System some 50 billion checks are written annually.
Many banks choose Deluxe, the nations's biggest check printer, because they have a long-standing business relationship with a Deluxe-related company that blacklists people who have abused their checking accounts. More on that later.

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Deluxe checks are expensive. A customer of, say, People's Community Bank of South Carolina would pay $14.50 to reorder a set of 200 single checks printed by Deluxe (or $18.75 for 150 duplicate checks) with a plain blue background. Fancier checks can cost up to $7 more an order.

You can order checks from Deluxe for less money by doing business with the company directly instead of through your bank. Checks Unlimited, formerly called Current, is a unit of Deluxe, and it charges $17.90 for 400 single checks and $23.90 for duplicates. Those are for plain checks. Fancier checks cost more.

Some people wish to refrain from doing business with Deluxe because a Deluxe spinoff operates ChexSystems, a database of people who have abused their checking accounts. If you are listed with ChexSystems, most banks won't let you open an account for five years -- even if you're listed because you mistakenly closed an account before the last check cleared.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for people who want to avoid Deluxe.

Plain or fancy schmancy
Some of the most inexpensive are printed by a company that specializes in checks with Christian and pro-life themes. You don't have to be an evangelical Christian to buy from Promise Checks: Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Unitarians might want to buy Promise's plain blue safety checks. They cost $5.95 for a box of 200 single checks and $8.95 for 150 duplicates. Promise's checks are cheaper in bulk; for example, 600 safety checks cost $13.85.

Although Promise offers those plain checks, it specializes in checks with religious themes, and the printer offers lots of options for low prices. Designs with pro-life themes and Bible quotes cost more per order than the blue safety checks; a box of 200 pro-life singles costs $7.95.

Religious themes are offered by many check printers, including Checks In The Mail. The low-price check printer charges $7.99 for 200 singles ($10.99 for 150 duplicates) for a variety of checks, from a plain blue safety design to the Thy Word line with inspirational quotes from the Old and New Testaments.

The above two check printers are among the most inexpensive. Pricier options abound for those who want to express racial solidarity, concern for the environment, love for family or a bizarre sense of humor.

Know me by my check
You might want to perform a cost-benefit analysis on personal expression, to use a business catchphrase. How much are you willing to pay to let people know that you're a vegetarian, or to convey to a harried letter sorter at the electric company that you're proud of your African-American heritage?

Frederick Douglass
Source: AfrocenChek

If you're willing to pay big bucks to tell cashiers and payment-center employees something about yourself, by all means shell out the moolah.

Want to say it loud that you're black and you're proud? At least two check printers specialize in checks with African-American themes. Heritage Checks charge $14.95 for 200 singles and $16.95 for 150 duplicates. AfrocenCheck charges $14.95 for 200 singles and $15.95 for 150 duplicates.

Fans of Star Trek, The Wizard of Oz and Xena: Warrior Princess should check out Anthony Grandio, based in Jacksonville, Fla. The Xena checks cost $21.95 for 200 singles or $23.95 for 150 duplicates. Checks printed with pictures of scenic Florida cost $2 less.

Smelly, Shakespearean or self-promotional
If you're considered a weirdo and you want people to know it, coolchecks.com lives up to its name. Among the offerings is a line of "body smells" checks (indescribable) and some "bug checks" that make it look like ants, stag beetles, cockroaches or flies are crawling on the check. Then there's the line of tasteful nudes from art masterworks. You have to pay some dough to be this cool: checks cost $18 for 200 singles or $20 for 150 duplicates.

--Updated: July 26, 2002

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See Also
Checking up on your bank
Free checking accounts on a comeback
Five ways to avoid a bouncing check
More checking stories

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