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Cash my traveler's check, please

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By Jay Cason

Upon returning from a week spent lazing on Jamaica's beaches, basking in the sun and surf and trying to be discreet while ogling the ladies from behind the safety of dark sunglasses, I discovered an unused $20 American Express check in my wallet. Never one to allow money to remain in my possession longer than necessary, I headed to a bank here in town to cash in.

Boy was I surprised. The teller very politely informed me that she could not cash the check as I don't have an account with the bank. Now this wasn't a personal check from another bank. It was a "traveler's" check backed by American Express. The teller made a call to her supervisor, who affirmed that the bank would not cash the check.

I left wondering what century those folks are stranded in.

The Financial and Investment Dictionary defines a traveler's check as "a check issued by a financial institution such as American Express [the largest issuer of traveler's checks and the first to develop a large-scale system (1891)], Visa or MasterCard that allows travelers to carry travel funds in a more convenient way than cash. The traveler buys the checks, often for a nominal fee, with cash, a credit card or a regular check at a bank or travel service and then signs each check.

"The check can then be used virtually anywhere in the world once it has been countersigned with the same signature."

Anywhere that is, except this particular bank in Lawrenceburg.

During my life-long meanderings, I've cashed traveler's checks in many of the 49 states I've visited, as well as in Scotland, Ireland, England, Mexico and several Canadian provinces. About two weeks ago, I cashed $400 worth in Jamaica. I don't recall ever before being refused.

Undaunted, I walked down the street to another bank and tried my luck. Initially, I received the same response from a teller there. But after checking with her supervisor, I did finally receive some cash.

It was as if tellers at both banks, as well as at least some of their supervisors, had never before heard of traveler's checks. Unlike personal checks, traveler's checks don't draw against the account of an unknown suspicious-looking person like your's truly. They are backed by major financial institutions.

A few days after being turned down at the first bank, I stopped back in and asked if the bank sells traveler's checks. Lo and behold, they do sell them.

Matter of fact, they even sell American Express traveler's checks. I wonder if they can only be cashed at other banks with that name? Kind of defeats the entire purpose of traveler's checks, doesn't it?

There's been a lot of talk recently about the need to impose a restaurant tax in the county to raise funds for enhancing the local park system and for promoting local tourist attractions.

According to the Anderson County Tourism Commission, such a tax could raise as much as $320,000.

The commission better hope that all those tourists flocking to Anderson County stop and cash their traveler's checks before they reach the county line.