A few weeks ago our bank sent my wife and me new debit cards. The new cards are what are known as “smart cards” ̶ embedded with a microchip which adds another layer of security to the electronic banking process.

Instead of swiping the card as in the past, I merely have to insert this card into the assigned slot on the card reader. My problem is I can’t remember which end of the card to insert into the assigned slot.

I’ll figure it out soon enough. I do appreciate the convenience of debit cards and ATMs.

I got hooked on ATMs before the term was commonly used. When we moved to Sioux City in early 1974 we opened an account at a new bank. The bank representative asked if we wanted a “money card.” I had never heard of such but was interested.

With this card, she explained, we could withdraw cash from our account from machines at three locations around the city any time of the day or week. I love electronic gadgets, cash and convenience so we signed up.

Several days later a plastic “credit card” with a magnetic stripe on the back arrived in the mail. Sure enough, when I stuck the card in the bank’s money machine, entered my personal identification number and indicated how much cash I wanted the apparatus spit out exactly the right number of crisp green bills.

A few years later interbank ATMs began appearing all over the city. Nowadays you can access your checking and savings accounts 24-hours a day from ATMs in small towns and big cities and everywhere in between. So long as you know which end of the card to stick into the slot.

What a difference from only 50 years ago when bank services were generally only available from 9 to 3 Monday through Friday and on Fridays you had to make sure you had enough cash for the weekend. At some hometown grocery stores and gas stations you could write a local check for cash, but those businesses had limited hours (and cash,) too.

Back then many retail checkout stands provided a supply of blank “counter checks” from area banks. Got a cart full of groceries but forgot your checkbook? No problem; just grab a counter check from your bank.

When I was in high school, I operated a Des Moines Sunday Register motor route which covered about 75 miles of rural roads in central Hamilton County. Collecting payment from Register subscribers was part of the job.

Out collecting one afternoon, I knocked on the door of a retired farmer. “Come on in,” I heard him holler from his favorite chair.

I had known this gentleman for years and we had a pleasant conversation spanning a variety of subjects. Finally, I told him the reason I had stopped was to collect payment for his newspaper.

He pushed a cigar box full of counter checks at me and told me to fill out a check. I noticed there were checks from at least a half dozen area banks.

“Which bank?” I asked.

“Makes no difference,” he said matter-of-factly.

Wow, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be something to have that many checking accounts?

After filling out the check for an amount around $20 ̶ a lot of money to me ̶ I pushed it back across the table for his signature.

“Should I write down the amount somewhere?” I inquired. With my own checking account, I had to note every penny to avoid overdrafts.

“Nope,” he said, “that’s what I pay the banks to do.”

Several checking accounts and no need to keep track of the checks written ̶ wasn’t that something? As I drove away from the farm that afternoon I realized that I had discovered the practical definition of “financial independence.”

For what it’s worth, I’m still carefully recording each check I write and saving receipts each time I use my debit card. Alas!

I enjoy modern electronic banking services. The trend will continue and it’s going to be exciting to see what the future holds.

Meanwhile, I’ll never forget that cigar box full of counter checks and my discovery of the meaning of financial independence.

(Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com.)