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A Legal Question About the War on Cash

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Apr 19, 2019 at 7:39PM

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Can businesses really refuse to take cash anymore?

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According to a Tweet by football analyst Jay Glazer, an airport store refused to accept cash for purchases. Here's the issue: The language on our paper money specifically says that it is "legal tender for all debts public and private." So, while we're definitely gravitating toward a cashless society, is it even legal for businesses to refuse cash as a form of payment?

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Jan. 14, 2018.

Jason Moser: Pivoting over to a little bit of a funnier story this week. It was something that started on Twitter the other day. Jay Glazer, a football analyst, I think Fox Sports, he sent a tweet out. It was an interesting tweet. A few people actually DM'd me on Twitter with this tweet, saying, "Did you see this?" He tweeted this out on January 11th. He said, "This is a first. I'm at the airport buying $18 worth of stuff at store. I pull out a $20. Clerk says, 'Oh, I'm sorry we don't accept cash here, it's against our policy.' Huh? Isn't the policy to make money? I'm so baffled. How the [bleep] is there a policy against taking cash?"

Everybody thought it was great because they're tweeting me like, #WarOnCash! and all that stuff that we've talked about with those companies that we love so much. I did reply to him, even, saying, "Jay, I need to tell you a little story about the war on cash."

But, this brings up to me a question. A golfing buddy of mine down in Georgia who's also a lawyer brought this up as well, when we were having dinner the other night. There are some legalities here, there are some legal questions that come with a company saying, "We're not going to accept cash anymore." When you look at the language on the actual cash itself, it pretty much implies that you have to take it, right?

Matt Frankel: Right. It says it's "legal tender for all debts, public and private." So, yeah, there is some legal gray area there. There are some businesses -- we were talking about right before we taped -- that already don't accept cash. When I flew up here, for example, if you buy snacks on the plane, they insist that you use a credit card and refuse to take cash. I kind of get it. They don't want their flight attendants walking around with bundles of cash in their pocket. But there's definitely some gray area there, and I could see this leading to some legal debate in the courts.

Moser: Probably a Lionel Hutz out there that's just waiting to get this lawsuit started, I'd imagine. I've spoken with small business owners. I've worked in jobs where I've had to do cash draws at the bank before, too, years ago. Those were never fun. Managing cash comes with its share of risks and responsibilities. People who maybe don't have exposure to that every day don't recognize it. In a lot of cases, these companies have the ability to go cashless, and it's better for them because they don't have to manage that part of that business anymore. For most, it's worth the cost of paying Square or PayPal or whoever a little bit of extra money to have them helping them out with that. But, yeah, I reckon we'll see where that goes. Generally speaking, though, I think consumer behavior is telling us what we need to know.

Frankel: I don't think this will be the last time we hear of somebody being frustrated that someone's not accepting cash. It was a matter of time.

Moser: I get it. I know people that just love to pay with cash. They're going to have a tougher time doing it. That's OK. Most people seem to not want to deal with cash as much. Consumers pretty much dictate the way these things play out at the end.

Frankel: Traveling, especially. I traveled up here. What's the one thing you do before you travel? You stop and get some cash. So, I could see where it'd be really frustrating, if I stopped at the ATM on the way to the airport, and then they wouldn't take my cash when I got to the airport.

Jason Moser owns shares of PayPal Holdings, Square, and Twitter. Matthew Frankel, CFP owns shares of Square. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends PayPal Holdings, Square, and Twitter. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2019 $82 calls on PayPal Holdings and short January 2019 $80 calls on Square. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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