Do businesses have to accept cash?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 18 2006 6:16 PM

Take My Money, Please!

Do businesses have to accept cash?

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The Snap Café in Washington, D.C., made the news last week when it decided to stop accepting cash. If you want one of their crepes, you'll have to pay with plastic. But wait—don't dollar bills claim to be "legal tender for all debts, public and private"?

They do say that, but that doesn't mean your greenbacks are good everywhere. The Coinage Act of 1965 says that cash, excluding foreign gold or silver coins, is legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues. That means creditors are legally obligated to accept your crumpled-up ones and fives.

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The Coinage Act doesn't say anything about private companies or individuals, however. That means businesses are free to accept or decline cash for goods and services. They can also set forth other guidelines, like prohibiting customers from paying with pennies (cumbersome to count) or high-denomination bills (could be a robbery hazard).

Some Apocalypse-watchers believe that the diminishing importance of cash transactions is a step toward impending doom. Revelation 13:15-18 declares that all people will be forced to accept the "mark of the beast" before Armageddon. This mark on people's hands or foreheads, according to the prophecy, will be necessary to complete any financial transactions—"no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark." One group of Biblical literalists believes that the mark could be an implanted credit card that would allow customers to wave a chip-embedded hand (or forehead) at a scanner to pay for any purchase.

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Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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