Letter to the Editor: Stop the practice of cash-shaming

The following is an open letter from Steven Meitin, the president of the Canadian Association of Secured Transportation (CAST), which advocates the the secure transportation of valuables. CAST wanted to address what it calls the “continued misinformation about the cleanliness of cash and the refusal by businesses to accept it.”

COVID-19 has exacerbated fears that as cash changes hands, it becomes a transporter of germs and viruses. But is cash really any worse than your debit or credit card? LendEDU, a company that helps consumers learn about financial products, used a scientific device that tests for bacteria on a given surface to examine just how dirty credit/debit cards and cash really are. They tested the front and back of 41 different debit and credit cards, 27 different bills and 12 different coins. After calculating the average germ score for each payment method, debit/credit cards turned out to be the dirtiest payment method. The study showed that the average germ score for credit/debit cards was 285 vs. the average germ score for cash/coins at 148 (almost 2x higher for cards compared to cash). Just think of how many surfaces cards touch as they wait on tables, bars or counter-tops to be picked up and swiped. In fact, the average score for plastic cards was worse than the score registered for the bathroom at New York City’s Penn Station, which used to see more than 650,000 people on an average workday!

Eliminating the use of cash only punishes some of the most vulnerable members of society: homeless people looking for a few dollars to buy breakfast, elderly people who may be uncomfortable with technology, people with no credit, coin drives for charities (like poppies for veterans, daffodils for CF, change at Christmas for the Salvation Army), tips for those in the service industry, and the list goes on. It is also critical for consumers to have options to pay for their goods and services. While some may prefer the convenience of cards, others prefer how cash protects their privacy and anonymity, while helping them manage their debt level. Cash is a vital part of our economy.

Fabio Panetta, a Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, recently noted that, “Adequate availability of cash is crucial for the functioning of the economy…[cash] remains the dominant means of payment for consumers, and is of fundamental importance for the inclusion of socially vulnerable citizens, such as elderly or lower-income groups… Overall, banknotes do not represent a particularly significant risk of infection compared with other kinds of surface that people come into contact within daily life.”

We need to end the practice of cash-shaming. Dirty cash is a stigma for songs, not economies. Everybody needs to continue to practice good hygiene and be considerate of those around them. But don’t buy into the fear. The best way to protect all consumers and retailers is to continue to provide options for payment and to keep our economy moving. Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and maybe even wipe your cards and cash with the right products, but don’t think you are protecting anyone by refusing to accept cash or removing cash from our economy.

Steven Meitin
President, Canadian Association of Secured Transportation (CAST)

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