Checking, Banking and Other Financial Information
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History of Bank Checking

Nobody is sure just when the first check appeared as part of financial transactions. Some think that the practice originated in Rome around 350 BC but there's no documentation for this theory. Banks are known to have been in ancient Greece, Mesopotamia and Rome but there is no evidence of transactions.

Medieval Italy had primitive banks but the depositor was required to appear in person to do business or to deposit payment into another customer's account. Gradually, written instructions made their appearance for the convenience of depositors.

Eventually, the Dutch began to employ a checking system in the early sixteenth century. The banks began to pay their customers' accounts on receipt of a written note; that was the start of the account-based method of bill payment. Soon the concept spread to England and in the late 18th century people began writing and depositing checks, or "cheques" as it was spelled back then. However, these handwritten checks were easily copied or forged so there was a lot of concern about the security of depositors' funds.

People began to use checks in the United States in the late 1600's when businessmen caught short of cash began mortgaging their land and using the funds to write checks against. As far as is known, the first checks originated from English banker Lawrence Childs in 1762. The term "check" may have been used because the serial numbers on these papers were a way to trace or "check" them.

Checks caused some problems for bankers even as they gained in popularity. How were the banks to collect money due from other banks with those pieces of paper? Messengers used to travel between banks, carrying checks and presenting them for collection but for security reasons that wasn't a good solution. So in the eighteenth century, the story goes, a bank messenger in London happened to be talking to another messenger and they discovered they each had checks drawn on the others' bank. They exchanged them on the spot and thus inspired the idea of banks exchanging checks with each other, or "clearinghouses". This concept is still in use today.

Banks in the U.S. can present checks directly to other banks, to the Federal Reserve or to private clearinghouses for collection. Sorting equipment reads the characters at the bottom of each check and places it in the proper group. Routing numbers identify the bank drawn upon and the customer number on the check then the funds are credited and debited. Checks used to be physically transported between banks in some manner but today there are special machines the checks are fed through, scanned and electronically presented to the banks they're drawn on.

Checks used to be very plain, with little else than a customer name and number on them with the banking institution's information. A few decades ago banks began to try to attract more customers with more elaborate checks in different colors, a few more attractive borders and perhaps a monogram. This idea quickly caught on with banking customers and gradually there were more diverse offerings such as fancy printing and later small logos of limited interest came into being-cats, dogs, a few flowers. Customers were excited by these innovations and the banks were encouraged to expand on the variety of checks they offered.

From there, the movement really started rolling. Today a banking customer has a choice between hundreds of different themes, colors, patterns, print and borders for their checks. They can even choose to have personal family photos printed on their checks! They also don't have to buy their checks from their banks; indeed, many banks refer their patrons to trusted outside sources. And although many people pay their bills electronically and use credit or debit cards for purchases, the business of selling checks hasn't decreased. The check will be with us for quite some time, in all its colorful diversity!

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