"Checkmate," The Straight Dope On Check Cashing Joints (Cameo By Ben Popken)

The guys who brought you “The Ghetto Big Mac” have a new video up about the the hilarious and not-so-hilarious realities behind check chasing joints (with guest appearance by yours truly, Ben Popken). Besides the part where Internet Celebrities Rafi and Dallas try to cash an oversized check at one of these places, what I like best about this video is that it actually makes a sound case for check cashing places at times. If there’s no banks around in a poor neighborhood, what other choice do you have? Especially when banks have constructed all sorts of fees to discourage patronage by lower-income customers. Like Dallas says in the vid, “You really know you’ve made it when you move from check cashing fees to ATM fees.”


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  1. slowreader says:

    “this video is no longer available” Re-host?

  2. xthexlanternx says:


    works for me, mate.

  3. fluiddruid says:

    No good for me either.

  4. VikingP77 says:

    Stops and starts for me…cannot watch

  5. Tell me more of these “check chasing joints” you speak of. I’m all for the thrill of the chase.

  6. F U Citi Bank
    F U Commerce Bank
    F U Chase Bank

    wha??? no F U Bank of America?

  7. @PhiCancri: “Check Chasing” is what merchants do after they accept checks from Wal-Mart Bank patrons.

  8. mac-phisto says:


  9. TurboWagon00 says:

    Good stuff. Well done.

  10. milknhoney55 says:

    Good job guys. A nine cent mark up on postage stamps? Is that even legal?

  11. Ben looks and talks exactly like I thought he would.

  12. Moosehawk says:

    “I’d have to say the economy is fucked the fuck up”

  13. Wherever they filmed this is much more upscale than the area around my office in west Baltimore. Next to the check cashing place is usually a hair weave place.

  14. What does it take to start a credit union? You’d think somebody would have done this to give the economically-disadvantaged someplace to do their basic banking without getting robbed by these kind of places.

  15. @Steaming Pile: You’d expect that…but I’ve been in banking for several years and have found that many people won’t travel a couple of blocks to go to a bank or CU if a check-casher is closer. It’s amazing. There’s also a “trust” issue, which figures more heavily in hispanic-dominated markets.

    Plus, check-cashers aren’t stifled by nearly as much regulation (though that may change soon with usury under the spotlight) and are far cheaper to open and operate.

  16. Geekybiker says:

    Wow. Been comes across as a huge tightwad geek in that video.

    As for real reasons to use one? It boils down to lazy and stupid. IE “The bank is too far” and “I dont know I can open a checking account with no minimum.”

  17. JPropaganda says:

    Hahahahaha, great job ben! Also, @Geekybiker: That only applies to DIRECT DEPOSIT checking accounts. If you’re poor, you may not have a deposit to direct…

    F U C K H S B C!

  18. Tightlines says:

    “Let’s get the Jesus piece!”

    Pretty good.

  19. SonicMan says:

    @milknhoney55: Yep, As long as your not the post office.

    @Geekybiker: That really depends on the bank. Depending on the fees, the check cashing place might be the better deal….

  20. Tightlines says:


    You probably milk your own cows too, right? ‘Cause going to the store is for the LAAAAZY people.

  21. domestic_goddess says:

    that Ben Popken guy sure is handsome.

  22. Mike8813 says:

    “I got a check to cash. I need some drugs!”

    Funny stuff.

  23. sicknick says:

    Sketchy as hell, but they do serve a purpose. When I lived in Baltimore, I owed a bank back in Michigan a couple hundred dollars from a mistake I made when closing the account. I was broke, didn’t have the extra 200, and they wouldn’t take payments.

    I never opened a checking account for the two years I was in MD. I used a local liquor store to cash my paychecks, usually paying around 5 bucks a pop for the service. The best part, the place I frequented took your ID the first time, had you fill out an all digital form, including signature, and took a digital picture. They made a note that an Id was used, and then you could cash checks from then on with no ID. They’d make you re-submit once a year to keep the service working.

    The liquor store on the corner up here charges a similar amount (usually 1% or so, so 3 bucks on a 300 dollar check) and helps avoid the 24 hour hold my bank puts on checks deposited if I absolutely need the money to hit, or pick up my check on a Sunday and need the cash for that day.

    The payday loan places are evil, but find the right booze outlet, and you can get a wad of cash right away for not much service charge.

  24. eightfifteen says:

    “One of the things I learned about being in debt…If I die today, I win!”


  25. mac-phisto says:

    @Geekybiker: “boils down to lazy & stupid”. i guess. or (like the video stated) convenience & the fact that banks are 20 blocks away.

    $4.50 for $250 check? i might close my bank account. i just paid $3 to take $40 out of an atm.

  26. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    I love it!

    “Eff You Citibank!”

    “Eff You Chase bank!”

  27. Oh Word says:

    Sweet! Many thanks for the post – on top of your participation.

    Ben, you’re a gentleman and a scholar AND a good sport.

  28. Geekybiker says:

    My bank is at least that far away. I dont have a problem making it down there every two weeks. “convenience” fees are a really good way to piss away alot of money. When you consider the people using those place don’t make much money per hour, paying a post tax hour’s salary to not take a trip to the bank makes them lazy IMHO.

    @Tightlines: Of course not. Milking my own cows wouldn’t be cost effective. Land and feed would far exceed the cost of just buying the milk. Plus I can’t possibly make it worth my time except by opening a full scale dairy farm based on my salary.

    Of course if I were in a situation were it was truely hard to make it to the bank, I would open an account with one of the online banks that allows me to deposit through the mail. Several reimburse atm fees as well so you can use any atm you like.

  29. linbey says:

    And this is exactly why the poor stay poor and why us middle class have to pay more and more taxes. They get their check, cash it at the check place and then blow it on jewelry and mink hats, cell phones, and cable TV. Then they walk up the block and buy all their groceries with their “food stamps” that WE pay for via taxes. If they wouldnt waste money on non essentials, then we could pay less in taxes because we wouldnt have to support them.

  30. grebby says:

    “Of course if I were in a situation were it was truely hard to make it to the bank, I would open an account with one of the online banks that allows me to deposit through the mail. Several reimburse atm fees as well so you can use any atm you like.”

    On what computer? Using what ISP?

    “They get their check, cash it at the check place and then blow it on jewelry and mink hats, cell phones, and cable TV.”

    Wow. Just wow. IMO people who have never been poor should think twice before making sweeping generalizations.

  31. tokenblackgirl says:

    @linbey: You are obviously delusional with that argument.

  32. vincedia says:

    From the Vid a $250 check = $4.40
    X 2 checks a month (hey, they’re poor)= $8.80

    From the Commerce Bank article above, less than $100 (again poor) gets you $15 month.

    What is the better deal?

    Besides walking those extra few blocks really wears on the limited ed. Nike sneaks, and you know how expensive the limited edition are!

  33. kellsbells says:

    I would go into debt to buy my bacon, ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. Recession or no (although, it looks like soon I will have to…)

  34. spinachdip says:

    @linbey: Oh look, it’s Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter! But you forgot to throw in dog whistles like “Cadillac” and “young buck”.

  35. asuteke says:

    I don’t understand it really. I was able to get a free checking account at Wells Fargo when I was 17. All I had to do was deposit $50 and that was it, no minimum balance, no direct deposit requirement, no atm fees (at least on their atms).

  36. Geekybiker says:

    Lots of libraries have internet now. If not there are internet cafes. Its not like they need to be online daily.

    Sometimes people are poor because of circumstances. But they remain poor because they continually make bad decisions. (Like using check cashing places.)

    Point here is there are options for people if they choose to use them.

  37. I had no clue Ben was that adorable. You learn something new every day!

  38. spinachdip says:

    @Geekybiker: I’m guessing the libraries in the kind of neighborhoods that attract check cashing services probably aren’t well funded. And for someone who doesn’t have regular access to computers or the internet, I imagine the learning curve for taking advantage of the resources is pretty steep.

    Now, I agree with you to an extent – poverty to not insignificant extent is self inflicted. But you can’t deny that the hurdles against making the right decisions (or even knowing what the right choices are) are greater for a poor person than otherwise.

    Compared to other industrialized nation, the US enjoys less social mobility and greater income inequality – I have a hard time believing that’s simply because poor Americans are stupider than poor people elsewhere.

  39. Mina_da_mad_child says:

    @linbey: When I was grew up in Brooklyn, there was only one bank that was about a mile away from my house while there were several check cashing places much closer. Also, my mother was robbed at gun point at the lonley bank since it was located in the most isolated area of pre-gentrified Fort Green, one of the worst places. The check cashing place was always populated there-by making it much safer.
    We were poor and used those places because it made more sense than hiking and putting you life at risk going to the bank
    I am blessed to say that I have moved from that chapter in my life, but shocked to read your mind numbing ignorance. Regan must be proud that his misleading policies live on in the feeble minds of drones like yourself

  40. Mina_da_mad_child says:

    @Geekybiker: Also, would you put your personal information on a public computer? I don’t even like checking my e-mail at the library much less my banking information. Then when their identity is stolen, I’m sure you’ll be the first one blaming the victim for such stupidity

  41. Conan the Electrician says:

    When immigrants who arrive in the US with zero money are capable of lifting themselves out of poverty in one generation, it’s hard to believe that the chronically poor natives are poor simply due to “circumstances” beyond their control.

    The difference is that immigrants are motivated and instill good work ethic in their families. There’s a reason why family-run stores in cities are overwhelmingly owned by immigrants.

    In contrast, see black “civil rights leader” Andrew Young’s wonderful statement: “I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.”

  42. u1itn0w2day says:

    As much as they are exploiting people in general I think check cashing place should exist just for competition or an actual alternative to the banking industry.And that’s where I think alot of the lobbying for ban the check cashing bills come from.Regulate them but to ban them or consider them pure evil is fool hardy,I had to use one off an on for the better part of 18 months because minum balances would of killed with the banking industry.

  43. spinachdip says:

    @dabusdriver: I’m not sure if a comparison with immigrant group is a good one (not to mention, the social mobility to first and second generation has been dropping as the US has de-industrialized, so the rags-to-riches narrative is becoming less of a reality).

    For one, they don’t always arrive with “nothing” – not all immigrants are economic refugees. And when they arrive, they benefit from a soft landing in immigrant enclaves that offer a safety net. Plus, the hurdles required for emigration makes immigrants a self-selecting group.

  44. humphrmi says:


    And that’s where I think alot of the lobbying for ban the check cashing bills come from.

    Don’t confuse the check cashing industry with the payday loan industry. Some places do both, but the traditional “currency exchange” provides a lot more service, without the usury, and is generally not a target of the various states’ attempts to close down or regulate payday loans.

  45. Siegeman says:

    @discounteggroll: Yah, seriously. They couldn’t find a BoA to film in front of? It would have really made my day playing them saying “F U Bank of America” over and over and over and over and over….

  46. Noris says:

    Wow, I thought Ben was a crazy “anti every company in the world” guy until he acknowledged that banks are only beholden to their shareholders and it would be irresponsible to go into unprofitable areas.

    Thumbs up to you.

  47. ideagirl says:

    @Tightlines: ha! NICE ONE

  48. ideagirl says:

    @linbey: wtf?? um, I don’t think you watched the same video the rest of us did

  49. linbey says:


    Sure I did. They went to the one store right next to the place and wanted the Jesus chain. They also showed the guy buying the mink hat. There was also plenty of other shops selling bling right next to the check cashing places. And I see lots of people with cell phones that shouldnt be spending money on them. If you get ANY public assistance you should NOT have a cell phone, cable TV, internet service, or ANY unnecessary luxuries until you save enough to get off the public dole.

  50. Conan the Electrician says:

    @spinachdip: Yes, the immigrants are a self-selected group. That’s the whole point. Given the right personal motivation, they succeed in the same environment that the native-born poor face. If the poor are poor only because of societal factors, then why do numerous immigrants who live in the same society succeed? The long-term native-born poor don’t have the same personal motivation and mentality as the immigrants who do possess those intrinsic factors.

    And whatever the benefit that immigrants derive from their enclaves, it’s hard to argue that they get substantially more support compared to the native-born poor who get support from their vast families all in the US, fellow native-born citizens, friendly politicians pandering for votes, less racial prejudice, etc.

  51. Mina_da_mad_child says:

    @dabusdriver: @linbey: I can’t believe the your arguments.
    “it’s hard to argue that they get substantially more support compared to the native-born poor who get support from their vast families all in the US,”
    Have you heard of generational poverty? That means that everyone in your immediate family is in the same economically challenged situation. So if the grandmother and mother is on welfare, how can the children depend on them for financial help?
    And to say that internet and cell phone service is a luxury is far beyond stupid. Access to information is a necessity, not a luxury; especially if you have school age children as most school require internet use in some capacity. And please don’t say they can use the library because that is not always a viable option.

    It is so clear that neither of you have been impoverished. I’ve pulled myself out from poverty, but there are many who are not as fortunate as I was. Climbing the social-economic ladder of this country isn’t nearly as easy as you assume. I hope it doesn’t take an unfortunate turn of events for you both to realize that.

  52. spinachdip says:

    @dabusdriver: I think the mistake you’re making is that you’re lumping all immigrants and all native poors into their respective groups.

    Like I said, not all immigrants are economic refugees, and in fact, immigrants often bring wealth with them. And I think you overstate the degree of social mobility among immigrants – it’s clearly more fluid simply because you have a self-selecting sample, but even then, it was never great in an absolute sense, and the leap from first to second generation is diminishing.

    But the bigger issue with selecting outliers like immigrants is that every group has them. And if you cherrypicked data with the native poor, you would probably see more income mobility. But they are the exception that proves the rule – for all but the exceptional few, the opportunity for mobility doesn’t exist, or if it did, it’s not realistic.

  53. amb1545 says:

    Give me a break.

    Check cashing places are holding poor people down because they spend their money on bling?

    How about learning a bit of personal responsibility?

  54. mac-phisto says:

    i think some of us are missing the point of this video. i don’t think these guys are blaming check cashing for all the ills of society – but they do an excellent job of portraying what it’s like. how many of us have been in one of these places? how many of us are scared to even go near them for fear of loss of life, limb, or the green handed thru the glass?

    the fact is, these places are a central part of the life of many americans & i found the video very informative. are check cashers preying on the poor? i don’t see it that way. however, they are certainly enabling them – just like you enable your 25-yr old son by letting him make $500/wk, live for free in the basement & blow his entire paycheck in a weekend on bars, girls & video games.

    i was quite surprised at the reasonable fees, to be perfectly honest. 50¢ for a stamp isn’t bad & the adventurers make an excellent point – whatcha gonna do with the pennies anyway?

    does it make sense that someone living paycheck to paycheck buys bling with the $100 left over from their check after they pay the bills? yes. stuff fills a void for us. it makes us feel good inside. it let’s us feel as though our 40+ hrs/wk were “worth it”. even those in the upper class with their million-dollar homes & their brand-new slr’s experience that.

  55. mythago says:

    Some people apparently are rather ignorant about money, if they think their taxes are being raised to due “social services” spending. Oil over $100 a barrell? Iraq war the worst kind of money pit? Social Security a looming monstrosity? God, no! It’s the poor kids getting subsidized school lunches who are jacking up MY taxes! If only those brats stopped getting subsidized to the tune of $2 a day, we’d have a balanced budget in no time!

    Math is hard, linbey.

  56. Conan the Electrician says:

    @Mina_da_mad_child: Plenty of immigrants have “generational poverty.” You think those poor Mexican migrant workers or Haitian refugees come from wealthy families? Most immigrants who succeed received no help from their grandmother or mother, yet they actually send money back to their parents instead of counting on welfare. Funny how “generational poverty” is conveniently holding back only American poor, but not poor immigrants. Contrary to your offensive and unwarranted condescending assumption, I did once live in impoverished circumstances. I am no longer poor because of hard work (which presumably applies to you too).

    @spinachdip: I am not saying that all immigrants are rags to riches stories. I use immigrants as a control group to show that hard work is sufficient for at least some people to pull themselves out of poverty through hard work and other intrinsic factors, despite “society” keeping the rest of the poor down.
    Once again, you use the term “self-selecting” as if that invalidates my point. It is actually exactly my point. Some people have the motivation to work hard and succeed, and part of that effort is immigrating to a land with opportunities (the US). Others don’t have the motivation and they stay poor, even if they’re already in the US.

  57. delphi_ote says:

    I just checked out their other videos. Genius!

  58. @Ash78: Credit unions are all about people-power. Sell them on that basis (and offer free checking, direct deposit, etc.), and see if people go for it. I don’t know if it was ever tried, but you wouldn’t know if it would work otherwise.

  59. mmejanvier says:

    I can’t even get a bank account. (Identity theft. . . don’t ask) So I use check cashing places. Because I have to.

    I actually found this video to be condescending.

    Oh and Ben – banks take your fucking money too! They just don’t have a nifty color-coded chart on the wall of how badly they’re going to rob you. So. I guess you’re just into ambiguous scrilla fuckery.

  60. Pockysmama says:

    Hmmm, people cashing paychecks would seem to contraindicate that the same people are welfare recipients. Really, people, where’s the critical thinking?