Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Check This

#287 Check This

You know by now that if you don’t put your account number on the check, you can’t be sure the people on the receiving end will give you credit for the payment.

Oh, they might, if they’re in a good mood. The account number’s on the bill stub, after all. But you can never be sure. You can conjure up images of billing clerks gleefully throwing out checks that don’t have account numbers written on them.

Or maybe papering the walls of their cubicles with them.

But account numbers are getting so long, these days, that there isn’t room on the “memo” line of the check to fit the whole thing.

Credit cards mostly have 16 digit account numbers. 1234 5678 9012 3456. Unless you have a teeny tiny handwriting, that won’t fit on the line. So the first thing you do is start the first four numbers over the word “memo” instead of next to it.

You then have to wonder if they billing clerks will read that far to the left. Chances are they will, even if they don’t want to, since in reading English, our eyes tend to fall to the left-most part of a line.

This leaves you with 12 digits to fit on the line to the right of “memo.” If you cram them in, will those laugh-a-minute cubicle dwellers be able to read what you’ve written? Or will payment to your account go into someone else’s?

If you make the numbers big enough to read, you spill into the signature part of the check and have to make your signature teeny tiny or abbreviated. That’s probably okay, because no one ever looks at the signatures.

In fact, you could sign the thing Condoleezza Rice and no one would know the difference, even if you can’t spell Condoleezza and add an “l” where there isn’t one, or get rid of the second “z” which is silent, anyway.

The credit card folks have been using those lovely 16 digit account numbers for years. Not to be outdone, the utilities and telephone companies are starting to use still LONGER numbers. Twenty one digits in the electric bill, for example.

Along, of course, with the usual admonition to “write your account number on your check or money order.”

The chances of correctly copying a 21 digit number onto a check and getting it right and then having it read correctly are pretty small. How about if you write the number on a sticky note and stick the sticky note to the check. (The payment instructions tell you not to staple or clip anything to anything else, but don’t say anything about sticky notes.)

Checks aren’t the only things that don’t give you enough room to write a number that’s required.

Ever try to get the model and serial numbers on a rebate coupon or a warranty card?

Ever try to FIND the model and serial number on something like a cell phone or a computer, let alone copy it correctly and legibly?

Not likely.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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