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9 new places where you can stash your cash and flash your plastic

These days, even Salvation Army kettles take credit cards

By Manya Kaczkowski

No cash in your wallet? No problem! Today, everything from Salvation Army kettles and churches to DVD rental vending machines and subway systems will gladly take your plastic -- and more are coming on board every day. 

Retailers and service providers are moving very quickly toward easy, rapid on-location payment systems. It's all about convenience, speed and ease of use. And for some businesses that means an extra perk -- those who pay with plastic tend to pay more than they would if cash was their only option.  Credit card tithe

Here are nine everyday places where plastic has replaced cash:

1. Government offices
You've been able to charge your federal tax payment since 1999, but did you know that, in many locales, you can now post Junior's bail with your credit card? Then, if you like, you can use it to pay his court fines.

2. Churches
Once Junior's been rehabilitated, he can get his own credit card and go to church, where they'll take his tithe through a kiosk. Dr. Marty Baker, pastor of Steven Creek Community Church in Augusta, Ga., designed a card reader for his church in 2005. He and his wife, Patty, have sold the technology to 115 other nonprofits through their company, SecureGive. The kiosks can be debit and credit or debit only. "Some churches have a problem with the credit card aspect," says Patty Baker, "and we respect that ... but it's really only a handful of them." Baker says both donations and donor networks are increasing. "People who don't think about bringing their checkbook to church now have an option."

3. Vending machines
Now you use plastic to quench your thirst, download games or buy a DVD from a vending machine. ClearSky Mobile Media Inc. launched its first integrated mobile download station in 2004, while Sony kiosks with robotic arms premiered in malls in 2006 -- all of which accept plastic payments. MasterCard, meanwhile, made Coca-Cola available by credit -- 7,500 vending machines were outfitted with readers in 2007.

4. Air travel
No cocktails on your next flight unless you have some plastic. Nearly all major U.S. airlines accept credit. In fact, most require it for in-flight purchases. American Airlines, Southwest and United are  among the newest cashless converts; Continental, Delta and US Airways accept both cash and credit. The cash-only holdout is Northwest, but Delta has purchased them, so expect credit there, too. Tip: Kids flying solo (and others without credit) can typically purchase vouchers for drinks/meals at the ticket counter.

5. Photo-printing kiosks
Remember when you took your film somewhere to be processed and then waited three days? Well, for several years now, photo-printing services have been available either through the Web or directly through a kiosk at a retailer, and you can pay by credit card. Luckily, prices are pretty reasonable with services such as Snapfish, which offers prints for 9 cents each.

6. Salvation Army kettles
This year, even Santa may take your credit card -- if he's ringing a bell and standing next to a red kettle. In 2008, Salvation Army chapters in El Paso County, Colo., Dallas-Fort Worth and Plano, Texas, became the first in the United States to provide bell-ringers with credit card kettles. "The number of contributions made was relatively small," says spokesman Major George Hood, "but the bright side was that the average gift was higher, between $15 and $20." More markets will be tested in 2009.

7. Fast food restaurants
Burgers, subs, fried chicken -- all can be had for plastic. "Quick service (fast food) restaurants have all begun to accept cards within the past 10 years, really beginning in earnest over the past five years," says Christine Elliott, vice president with American Express. Some may think it's a bit embarrassing to charge two items from Burger King's dollar menu, but plenty of people have seen fit to do just that.

8. On your phone
With the iPhone's Inner Fence application, you, too, can become a vendor! If you've been dying to sell jewelry at the fair or open a booth at your local flea market, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. It'll cost you just $50 for the application, plus $15 per month for a payment gateway service, and $10 per month for a customer service processing system. Maybe you should start that dog-walking business after all.

9. On the road
Credit is smoothing the way for travel by road or rail. "During the past decade, Visa has worked to expand acceptance in a variety of new locations ... bridges and tolls, parking meters, auto parking lots and garages, taxicabs and limousines," says Visa spokesman Ted Carr.

In Chicago, the Chicago Transity Authority is looking at "smart" cards with computer chips allowing them to be used for transportation. The cards would also work anywhere else a credit card is accepted. Meanwhile, in New York City, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has publicly stated that one of its goals is to implement a new contactless fare payment system.

Also: Contactless cards
OK, these aren't new places to use your card; they're ways to use cards in a new way at the same places.

MasterCard launched PayPass in 2002, Visa has payWave, Discover has Zip, and American Express has ExpressPay. Get one of these contactless cards and -- voila! -- no need to insert, swipe or hand the plastic to that slightly creepy store clerk. Just tap the card, and you're done. Retailers are interested; in 2009, Home Depot, Sports Authority and Circle K joined in. Call your credit card company to inquire about one of these; it may be the last "contact" you'll need to make.

See related: More jails accept credit cards for bail, Churches allow tithing by plastic, Credit card readers come to Santa's kettles, Many airlines now accepting plastic for on-flight purchases, Will that be cash, check or cell phone?

Updated: September 1, 2009


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