Are cheques finally falling out of favour in France?

The Covid pandemic has hastened the decline of a French institution - the cheque book - according to data from the Banque de France, but it seems the French are not ready to let go just yet.

Are cheques finally falling out of favour in France?
Many businesses still prefer payment by cheque. Photo: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP.

While cheques are already a thing of the past in many countries, if you live in France you might have had to give in and ask your bank for a cheque book. From rural shops to tradesmen, landlords to universities, there are still many people and organisations in France who prefer to be paid by cheque.

However, their numbers are dwindling year on year. In 2020, only 5 percent of non-cash payments were made by cheque (1.2 billion), according to the latest report from the Banque de France.

That is a dramatic fall off from 2000, when cheques represented 34 percent of non-cash transacations. The number of cheque payments was three times larger at the start of the century.

Value of transactions (not including bank transfers) since 2016, in billions of euros.

“It is expected that the Covid-19 health crisis will put people off this payment method even more permanently,” the report stated. In 2020, cheque transactions fell by 26 percent, and lost 25 percent of their value.

However, French people are not ready to say goodbye to their cheque books just yet. In total €614 billion was exchanged this way in 2020, making it the third most popular non-cash payment method, behind bank transfers and direct debits, but ahead of card payments.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about setting up a bank account in France

“Even if it’s becoming more and more rare, the cheque is still associated with larger transactions, because the average amount per cheque was €522 in 2020,” the report added.

More than eight out of ten French people own a chequebook, making France a European anomaly. According to a 2020 report from the European Central Bank, only 27 percent of people had access to cheques across the eurozone as a whole.

As well as the health crisis, the relative decline in the popularity of cheques can partly be explained by security concerns. In 2020, cheques represented 42 percent of all fraud cases, the most of any non-cash payment method.

In 2020, contactless payment became the most popular method at the point of sale in France, following the increase in the maximum payment from €30 to €50.

Member comments

  1. These sort of articles have been about for years. So explain how one can pay a tradesman for an invoice of say €2500 without a using a cheque. Cash is out because the tradesman bank would want to know where it came from. It’s even worse in the motor trade as most garages will nor accept cash over €1000. I remember the good old days when one could buy a car in cash or pay with a credit card.

    1. I haven’t used a cheque book in about 20 years. However, I recently needed to hire a car. Our local Carrefour had one rental car and required either E1000 in cash OR a cheque. Would not, for love nor money, secure it with my credit card like regular car hire places. Duly paid the E1000 in cash, feeling quite weird with E1000 a) in my hand and then b) @ the Carrefour with no obvious security except a hand written note from the cashier. Two weeks later, having received my cheque book, went back to get the E1000 back and replace it with a cheque. Totally nuts system because right by the checkout was a big sign saying no cheques accepted over E50 because so many bounce.

      I went back to deliver the car when I’d finished. Cheque handed back and ripped up.

  2. A good proportion of doctors/specialist seem not to have credit card machines. When you go there, it’s going to be a cheque, as how else are you going to conjure up on the spur €85 euros of whatever for the specialist.

    Until the medical procession universally move to card transactions, cheques remain.

  3. When I first started working (very very long time ago) one of the things that was explained to me was the efficiency of various forms of payment (cash, card, transfer, cheque). At that time the cheque was the least efficient way to pay, passing through, on average, 17 pairs of hands from deposit to clearance. I assume by now some efficiency has crept in but that was my reason then for not taking a chequebook and I have stuck to that. Only here in France did I have to request one to pay ONE supplier back in 2017. Never used it since.

    Now, whenever I am asked to pay for a product or service by cheque I request the companies RIB details – so far everyone I have interacted with has been happy to provide this and take payment via bank transfer.

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MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.