Here and there around the country you can find stores, restaurants and other businesses that will give you a discount if you pay in cash.
The reason is simple: Being hooked into a credit-card system costs money. A merchant who will take an American Express card (or Diners Club or Carte Blanche) has to pay from 5 percent to 9 percent back to the card company for the service.
On top of this, the merchant might have to wait several weeks before he gets paid by the card company. So, if there's a choice, the merchant will always take cash over the credit card -- and, in the process, might give you a modest discount. Bank cards don't cost merchants as much to use as the travel and entertainment cards because the payback is only 2 to 3 percent. Merchants usually get their money from the bank card company within a few days, sometimes a few hours.
Capitalizing on the merchants' natural desire for cash, a franchising company called SaveSystem is promoting the "cash card." The Card, which is issued by local savings and loan associations, can be used to make cash purchases that give a discount.
The merchant or restaurant owner rolls off a receipt using your SaveSystem card and notes the discount (anything from 5 to 10 percent). You pay in cash and at the end of the week (or month) the merchant sends in all his receipts with a check to cover the discounts. The money is then distributed to cardholder's savings account.
You only have to open a savings accout of $10 or so to become a cash card member. Every time you use the card, your savings account grows. So far, the SaveSystem cash card is being used in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Minneapolis, Fort Lauderdale, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. It's catching on fast and may appear in other areas before long.
Then there are the "debit cards." These cards look just like credit cards and are used by banks and savings and loans. Most of the debit cards are associated with the Visa card system.
While the debit and credit cards look alike, there's a big difference in how they work. A credit card lets you buy something now without having to pay for 30 days or so. If you pay then, your balance is zero and you owe nothing more. If you don't pay all the amount, you can borrow the balance and pay it later -- at 18 percent annual rate.
With the debit card, you have the reverse. When the card is used to buy something, your money is transferred from your savings or checking account to the merchant, restaurant owner or whomever. The merchant gets paid when he turns in his day's receipts.
There are certain times when paying with cash is not so smart. Obviously, if someone is going to give you a nice discount for cash, it makes sense.
However, if you don't get a discount, paying with cash does not make a lot of sense. First, the merchant is charging customers for his credit system. You pay for it in the higher cost of goods. If you pay cash, you don't get the convenience of a credit system you're paying for.
By charging your purchase, you get the use of somebody's product for 30 to 45 days without paying for it. And if something goes wrong, you can stop payment to back up your complaint.
Q: I want to buy a small car and would like to know if there have been any valid cost studies done on foreign vs. domestic cars. One hears about foreign cars costing more for repairs and parts, but there are no figures, just rumors.
A: You're right, figures are hard to come by when you want to compare foreign vs. domestic repair costs. But my researcher, Gerry Davis, was able to dig up some evidence that leads one to believe that foreign cars to tend to be more expensive for repairs.
The Highway Loss Data Institute published a report based on insurance company damage figures, which shows that the average foreign subcompact claim was $952, while the average domestic subcompact claim was only $858. The Automotive Parts and Accessories Association reports that the dollar fluctation has pushed the price of a fuel pump for a Datsun up 57 percent over the past year. Other parts were up 50 to 55 percent. Fuel pumps for foreign cars cost around $55 while pumps for American cars cost around $20. And the APAA says labor costs for foreign car repairs are higher because there's a shortage of mechanics trained to fix them.
Q: I bought an expensive, big car two years ago and now I can't afford it because I lost my job. Can I raffle off the car? Would there be any tax on this type of sale?
A: Whether a raffle is legal or not depends on your local government regulations. As far as federal taxes are concerned, if you make a profit you have to pay a tax.