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Technology is helping to make banking safer and easier. The financial services industry is leading the way in using new technologies to provide better, faster, safer service to the millions of people who depend on the banking system.

Banking In The 21st Century


The financial services industry is leading the way in using new technologies to provide better, faster, safer service to the millions of people who depend on the banking system. It helps to know about some of these changes - what they are, how they work and what they mean to you.

Check 21

In October 2004, the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act became law. Now known simply as Check 21, it provides a new option to traditional check clearing, which involved physical transportation of the check, across town or across the country. The new option is legal acceptance of a paper reproduction of an original check, called a "substitute check." This substitute check is produced from a digital image of the original check, is the legal equivalent of the original check, and includes all the information contained on the original.

The improvements brought about through Check 21 allow for faster payment processing and even better service to you, the banking customer. A few of the benefits include:

  • Faster check clearing
  • Decreased fraud
  • Less paper

Check Conversion

Besides Check 21, you may already have experienced two other emerging payment practices, and each is an example of "check conversion," which uses the automated clearinghouse, or ACH, system.

In the first example, a retailer converts a paper check into an electronic ACH payment on the spot. In this situation, if you've written a check for a purchase, you are handed the check back immediately after it is converted into an electronic ACH payment at the store or shop.

In the second example, regular billers (telephone, utilities and credit card providers, for example) convert your check payments into electronic payments. The check has been "converted" to an electronic format, and you won't receive a copy of the original check. The payment will be reflected in your bank statement, which becomes the legally accepted proof of your payment.

Electronic Funds Transfer

EFT, which includes debit cards, ATMs and online banking, uses computer technology as a substitute for paper transactions, offering consumers practical alternatives to paper banking:

  • Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) can handle withdrawals, deposits or transfer of funds between accounts, 24 hours a day, from remote locations.
  • Direct Deposit lets you deposit paychecks, Social Security checks and other regular payments directly into your account. You can also use it for automatic payment of regular bills, such as insurance or mortgage payments.
  • Pay-by-Phone Systems allow you to make certain transactions over the phone.
  • Personal Computer Banking, also called Online Banking or Home Banking, makes your personal account information available through your home computer.
  • Point-of-Sale Transfers let you pay for goods and services with a debit card. Transfers from your account to the store's account under this payment system are very fast (see Sidebar, Less "Float").

Faster Processing Can Mean Less "Float"

Electronic payments clear much faster than paper checks. Consumers who are accustomed to "playing the float" - the time between when you write the check and when the money is actually removed from your account - will need to be aware of this. With electronic banking, whether in the form of substitute checks, check conversion or EFT, the float can be substantially reduced. What the experts advise: make sure you have enough money in your account when you write the check or authorize any other transaction. This will ensure that you avoid bounced checks and the fees they can incur.

It's important to keep track of your checking account transactions. Good account management is the best way to safeguard against bounced checks. The best rule to follow: if you do not have the money, don't write the check.


If you want to learn more, contact the resources listed below.