No-cash stores the future? NJ may stop it before it gets going
It's up to Gov. Phil Murphy whether any brick-and-mortar retail establishment in New Jersey, from your local coffee shop to a big box store, will be able to deny cash as a form of payment.
Approved by the Legislature on Jan. 31, a bill making it unlawful for retailers to operate cashless just needs the governor's ink to take effect immediately.
Only one state — Massachusetts — has a law on the books prohibiting cashless stores. New York City and Philadelphia are considering the move as well.
No-cash operations are far from common in the Garden State, but New Jersey Citizen Action says the practice is likely to become more popular over time. The consumer advocacy group is in favor of the legislation and hopes Murphy chooses to ban the practice of accepting electronic payments only.
"We see it as discrimination, we see it as attacking personal choice and privacy," said NJCA's Beverly Brown Ruggia.
Cashless operations, she said, discriminate against those who either have no financial power to use credit cards, would rather not add to their debt, or choose not to have a card in their name.
"And actually cash can be a smart choice for a lot of people because you can avoid overdrafts, impulse purchasing," she added.
The governor is reviewing all legislation sent to his desk for signature, Murphy's office said. He must act on the bill within 45 days of receiving it.
In a 2017 analysis from the FDIC, it was estimated that up to 6.5 percent of New Jersey of households are "unbanked," having no account at an insured institution. An additional 20 percent or so are considered "underbanked" — they have an account but obtained non-bank financial services in the past 12 months.
The legislation on Murphy's desk carves out exceptions for some businesses, such as rental car companies and certain parking facilities. A merchant at an airport is permitted to go cashless, as long as at least two locations at each terminal do accept cash as payment. The measure also would not apply to transactions made online, through the mail or over the phone.
The bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, expressed concern about a 2017 contest by Visa that was offering rewards up to $10,000 to small businesses if they made their payment technology completely digital.
"The U.S. dollar is legal tender and should be accepted at any retail establishment in New Jersey," Moriarty said.
A penalty of up to $2,500 would be imposed for a first violation, and up to $5,000 for a second violation, under Moriarty's measure. Subsequent offenses would be counted under the consumer fraud act and could result in penalties up to $20,000.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.