Tuesday's Washington Post told a story of how U.S. employers are turning to a new type of debit card as a means of cutting payroll costs. These "payroll cards" are like debit cards in that each is "charged" with a certain sum of money -- the employee's biweekly or monthly wages -- which the cardholder can draw down all at once or over time by visiting ATMs, or by swiping the card readers at his friendly local Safeway
Employers love the cards because they allow electronic payment of salaries to employees who do not have the checking accounts required to enable payment by direct deposit. We have all seen the move toward use of direct deposits in the workplace. Even the U.S. government now requires many job applicants to accept direct deposit of paychecks as a condition of employment.
The reason: It costs an employer money to cut a paycheck. It costs more money to mail a paycheck. But it costs a whole lot less money to punch a keyboard and send money flitting through the ether and into an employee's checking account. So the employers' love of direct deposits, and their latest crush on payroll cards, is really just self-love.
Meanwhile, the employees get jilted.
You know how debit cards work. We all have them. We all use them. (But should we? Read Dayana Yochim's exposé on the advantages of credit cards over debit cards.) Whenever you withdraw cash from an ATM belonging to a bank where you do not have an account, you pay a fee.
Payroll cards are like that, too, but worse. First off, you always pay a fee at the ATM because you do not have an account at any bank. A lot of these cards also charge a fee when you use them at the store. And some even charge a monthly "maintenance fee," perhaps for the privilege of being able to pay all those other fees.
Put it all together and payroll cards no longer seem much of a boon to bank account-less employees. So I have a suggestion for America's employers: If you are really interested in helping out employees who lack bank accounts, perhaps you should pay them in cash. Try it. I guarantee you, no one says "no" to cash.