The internet is a-twitter with the news that ING Direct is now offering paper checks to accompany its Electric Orange “paperless checking” account. Apparently, customers have received emails from the bank confirming this long-needed enhancement, but I have not received an email yet. A box of 50 checks costs $5 through the ING Direct website.
Paper checks, while vestiges of the all-but-obsolete era of twentieth-century banking, are still convenient for making purchases when cash would be inconvenient and credit inappropriate or unaccepted. You generally don’t carry cash to put a down payment on a house, for example. The lack of paper checks meant that ING Direct customers needed to maintain a separate, external checking account, and in many cases, the Electric Orange account could never be a customer’s sole transaction account.
ING Direct has provided the option to send a paper check from the bank, but for the times that a check is required, it usually means you need to write one on the spot rather than wait for days to weeks for the check to arrive. While checks are declining in relevance — most of the time, they are processed electronically, anyway — this has been the missing piece.
With this announcement, ING Direct is outlining some extra security features. When you receive the checks from the bank — and you can only order one box of 50 checks at a time — they will have more numbers at the bottom than checks from other banks. This is a security feature that ensures that only valid checks will be processed.
Checks are interesting. Technically, any piece of paper that includes your signature and an amount qualifies as a check. If the bank of first deposit can determine the bank that holds the account and that bank can determine the correct bank account of the individual who owns the check, the check can be processed. You can print checks at home or write them on a bar napkin. You might get the evil eye from a bank teller, but if there’s enough identifying information, the check can be processed. You don’t even need to know the bank’s routing number.
That won’t be the case with ING Direct’s checks, because this bank will only process transactions that have the right extra digits in the check number, which I would guess is a checksum that verifies the check number with the account number using some sort of algorithm, like the thee or four digit verification code now popular on credit cards.
To order your first box of checks, log onto your account at ingdirect.com and view your checking account, click on “Account Maintenance,” then click on “Order New Checks.” You’ll need to activate your checkbook when it arrives, and ING Direct will provide instructions for this process.
It’s a little late, but thanks to ING Direct for providing this basic feature. Thanks also to PT Money where I first learned of this development, as I haven’t received the email other customers are reporting. I didn’t receive the message because I still had an old email address on file at ING Direct, and I’ve corrected that oversight.
Be aware of the fees. As I mentioned, each checkbook costs $5 to order, and checks printed by third parties like ChecksUnlimited or your home printer will not be accepted. If you do not have enough money in your account and your overdraft line of credit to cover a transaction, ING Direct will charge you $9. Keep track of the checks you write, as they won’t be reflected in your online balance until they are cashed.
For brand new ING Direct customers, those who do not have a savings or a checking account with this bank, the box of checks is effectively free because there is currently a $50 bonus available.