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Are Utahns Ready For A World Without Cash?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As more consumers buy things with the swipe of a card or the tap of a phone, experts said we are moving closer to a world without cash — and not everyone is convinced that’s a good thing.

Arena Without Cash

Vivint Smart Home Arena officials announced the arena would be going cashless this year. About one-third of the arena’s vendors are already cash-free and by next March, the facility plans to be entirely cash-free.

And most Utah Jazz fans KSL spoke to are okay with that.

Vivint Smart Home Arena announced it will become cash-free this year.

“Not using cash is great,” said Greg Fenn. “That way, I don’t have to pull out the old dollars bills and worry about somebody snagging them. It seems like the way we’re going to go anyways.”

“It really doesn’t matter, either way is okay,” said Judy Mansuy.

“As long as they take a credit card, I’m good,” said her husband, Joe.

“I think it’s much more efficient and it will make the lines move faster,” said Shena Weeks.

That’s the number one reason Vivint Smart Home Arena officials cited for cashless retailing. Arena spokesman Frank Zang said they have found fans go through the lines for food and drinks 10-to-30% faster.

Frank Zang, Vivint Smart Home Arena spokesperson.

“We want people to have memorable experiences while they’re here,” Zang said. “We don’t want them to be spending their time at the concession stands.”

The arena has five kiosks for cash-carrying fans to load their cash onto prepaid debit cards. We found one frustrated fan, Georgia Hatton, using one of those kiosks.

“I feel it’s unnecessary,” Hatton said. “If you put $50 on a card because you come to the Jazz games every week and you lose that card, then it’s bye-bye $50.”

Even before starting the switch to no-cash, Vivint Smart Home Arena officials said seven out of every 10 transactions were already electronic.

“There already is a cultural shift that you’re seeing every day as people shop,” Zang said. “I think it’s a way of the world with the phones and with credit cards becoming the preferred method of payment for people.”

That might be why some experts are forecasting the eventual write-off of cash.

Shifting Use Of Currency

Sweden is nearly there. In a nationwide survey, only 13% of Swedes reported using cash for a recent purchase. The country aims to be the world’s first cashless society by spring 2023. And, bankers in Denmark are pushing their nation to go the same route.

Here in the U.S., about one-third of the 13,000 adults the Pew Research Center surveyed said during a typical week, they don’t buy anything with cash.

And according to a survey conducted by U.S. Bank, half of all adults had less than $20 in their wallets.

Cashless retailing here goes far beyond venues like Vivint Smart Home Arena. Just try slapping down cash at the counters for American, Delta, United or JetBlue at Salt Lake City International Airport. They’ll direct you to prepaid debit kiosks to convert your cash into plastic – for a $5 fee.

And more businesses like Starbucks and Shake Shack are experimenting with cashless brick-and-mortar stores.

But is refusing cash even legal?

Utah businesses have leeway to accept any form of payment under state law.


Legal Tender

“This note is legal tender for all debts public and private,” said Utah State Treasurer David Damschen as he read the words printed just below the Federal Reserve seal on a $20 bill.

“The fact is that businesses are not required under federal law to accept cash,” Damschen said.

Utah State Treasurer David Damschen.

Unless state laws say otherwise, and it doesn’t in Utah, Damschen said businesses have leeway to accept whatever they want. They can accept just cash, just plastic, just digital payments – even just broccoli if they want. But Damschen warned businesses should think over what forms of payments they will accept very carefully.

“No business succeeds by running entirely against what its consumers require, need or want,” he said.

Left Behind?

Or can’t, argued the Community Action Partnership of Utah, an association that provides services and assistance to low-income individuals and families throughout Utah.

The FDIC said 2.5% of Utah households have no access to a banking account, let alone a debit or credit card. They rely exclusively on cash.

“You’re leaving, not a huge part of our population, but some of the most vulnerable in our whole state behind,” said Clint Cottam, CAP Utah’s executive director.

“I have access to going in and getting a prepaid card, but that’s going to set me back in a bunch of fees, too,” said Cottam, speaking hypothetically. “And all we’re going to do is add more fees and more inconvenience. So my worry is that it’s just another barrier for the people that are experiencing these kinds of challenges in life.”

Clint Cottam, CAP Utah’s executive director.

That struck Cottam as discriminatory — and he wasn’t alone.

This year, Philadelphia and San Francisco banned cashless stores. Officials in New York City and the District of Columbia are mulling it over and Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut also have anti-cash bans.

Yet Cottam isn’t a fan of outright bans. He said he sees the benefits of going cashless. If businesses, governments and groups like his team up, he believed they can find ways to include the unbanked.

“I think those types of solutions might be a lot easier than to try to have a blanket mandate,” Cottam said. “If we can try to reap on those benefits (of going cashless) without leaving people behind, I think that’s going to be probably the best for our community.”

Stuck On Cash

Not everyone is sold on the idea. At Ray’s Shoe Repair in Kaysville, cash will always be king. That, along with checks, are all owner and cobbler Randy Parker accepts. Everything else means transaction fees.

“I’ve had the credit card processing companies call me daily and they just can’t understand why I don’t want to take credit cards. And the first thing they say is, well, just raise your prices and your customers can pay for it,” said Parker. “I don’t want to have to raise my prices just to give to a credit card company. Let my customers keep it.”

That is not the only reason holding Parker back from embracing a world without cash.

Randy Parker, the owner of Rays Shoe Repair, has a 50-year-old cash register.

“People don’t realize how much they’re spending (on a credit card) because it doesn’t hurt like cash,” he said. “You spend $600 in cash, you see it go into somebody else’s hand – it hurts! You work real hard for that. It’s on plastic? Pffft…”

Critics of a fully cashless society say we can never be fully confident in digital payments because of data breaches and payment system hacks that frequently make the news. On the flip side, cash gets damaged, lost or stolen all the time.

Those are just some of the pros and cons industry experts and governments will need to consider as the world moves closer to ditching cash.

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