Does a business have the right to deny legal tender?

22 Mar 2009 12:16 pm
Posted by: Krista

I twittered about this on Friday and got some interesting responses on Twitter and facebook and thought it made a good conversation piece.

The basic situation: I was trying to leave a parking garage and pulled up to the booth to pay. I remembered that I only had a $50, so I apologized to the attendant as I gave her my ticket. She told me I owed $4.50 and that she couldn’t accept a $50. I told her that was all I had for cash but offered to pay by credit card. The garage didn’t accept credit cards either. I asked her how she could refuse to accept legal tender, and she pointed to the sign on her booth that said attendants wouldn’t accept bills larger than $20. The attendant refused to accept my payment and refused to let me leave until I paid with smaller bills. Well, that got me going. Just because it’s on a sign doesn’t mean it’s legal. But I wasn’t sure what the rules were, so I looked it up when I got home.

Here’s what I found on AZLawHelp.org:

…no federal law requires that a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as payment for goods or services not yet provided. For example, a bus line may not allow payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. Some movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations as a matter of policy may refuse to accept large bills, such as above $20, and as long as there is a notice posted and a sale for goods or services has not already been completed, these businesses have not violated the legal tender law.

So, what does this mean with my situation? The sign about not accepting bills higher than $20 was not posted at the entrance where I entered the garage and took my ticket, but it was on the attendant’s booth. By the time I saw the sign, the service had already been provided. To further convolute the situation, the text posted at the entrance and on the parking ticket I received as I entered the garage is:

This ticket is your only contract. It licenses you to park and lock one vehicle in a designated area at your sole risk and at posted rates. Ampro System Parking does not guard or assume care, custody or control of your vehicle or its contents and is not responsible for fire, theft, damage or loss. Ampco System Parking issues this ticket as your contract and for timekeeping purposes only. Only a license to park is granted hereby and no bailment is created. This is not a claim check. Cars left of 30 days may be impounded at owner’s expense. This is your entire contract and no employee may modify or waive any of its terms. By your acceptance of it you agree to all foregoing terms.

I didn’t notice payment terms, did you?

Laws need to protect citizens more, not businesses. While there’s a need to be reasonable and a need to help businesses succeed, we’re talking a business refusing to take a specific denomination of legal tender. That bothers me. As a citizen, I have a reasonable expectation that I can pay a business with cash – especially in a person-to-person transaction. If the business doesn’t have the change, then I don’t mind trying to find another way to pay, but I don’t believe they should refuse a specific denomination as a general policy.

Feel free to comment :)

23 Comments

  1. Comment by Taylor on March 23, 2009 9:48 am

    did you make it out of the parking lot?

  2. Comment by Stephen on March 23, 2009 10:09 am

    I’d side with the garage on this one. It’s protection for the parking garage clerks.

    Accepting larger denominations means keeping more cash in the booth. It would make the clerk a better target for an armed robbery.

    Although they should accept credit cards.

  3. Comment by Naomi on March 23, 2009 2:44 pm

    Good research!! This made for an interesting topic :)

  4. Comment by Krista on March 23, 2009 7:51 pm

    Taylor, One of the employees at the business I was visiting got me through the employee exit, so yes, I made it out of the parking lot.

    Stephen, If the attendant is a target why accept cash at all? Should the burden be on the citizen to make sure the attendant doesn’t get robbed?

  5. Comment by Donna on March 23, 2009 10:54 pm

    Stephen, I understand what you’re saying, and it’s the same case that Circle K makes for having no more than $20 change in the register. However, convenience stores clearly post the policy at the front door, and at other places before the point-of-purchase. Even in that case, pursuant to Krista’s argument about legal tender, establishments that won’t change anything less than a $20 could offer a machine that will break up a larger bill. Then again, there could be a liability issue, since a $100 bill cashing customer could be a robbery target.

    At any rate, a sign stating “cashier cannot accept any bill larger than $20” at the entrance would be in order. Glad you got out of the garage, Krista!

  6. Comment by Stephen on March 23, 2009 11:25 pm

    “Stephen, If the attendant is a target why accept cash at all?” Lame-o……

    “Should the burden be on the citizen to make sure the attendant doesn’t get robbed?” Is it an unreasonable expectation for a person parking their vehicle in a parking lot to have $20 or less? I don’t think so.

    I know if I order a pizza or chinese food, the driver will not take anything larger than a $20, but there’s usually nothing posted on their menu anymore. The order taker doesn’t tell me that over the phone either. We know because it’s been common practice for decades.

    Same goes for a corner vendor, or a person selling soda at a baseball game. That’s not usually for safety, it’s for convenience of the vendor.

    I know that if I put a $5 bill in a $.50 soda machine, I’m getting 18 quarters. As a customer I should demand the convenience of 4 singles and 2 quarters. Instead I know I’m getting the inconvenience of filling my pockets with a half pound of coins. What if the machine doesn’t accept my $5 bill? We’ve all had that happen. The machine refuses to accept a piece of currency that it states it should accept, but it doesn’t.

    That’s life.

    (…but I still think they should shell out a couple of bucks to get a working credit card machine)

  7. Comment by Krista on March 24, 2009 10:57 pm

    Stephen, Sorry, but that response completely missed the point.

    The point is that the service had already been rendered. This isn’t a delivery person who has the option of accepting my $50 or not giving me my pizza. I already ate the pizza. Same goes for the other examples.

    As for the soda machine example, I really don’t understand what that has to do with this discussion at all. The attendant wasn’t offering me $45 in quarters; the attendant was refusing to let me pay with the legal tender I offered.

    I agree that they should have credit card machines. But I also think it’s wrong to refuse specific denominations of legal tender as a general policy. In this case, the attendant probably should have made an exception.

    Will it happen again? Probably. My ATM shells out $50s. I usually have enough change to cover things like parking fees and whatnot, but not always. I don’t necessarily want to use a $50 on a $5 fee any more than I want to use a credit card for it, but it’s going to happen on occasion. That’s just the way it is.

  8. Comment by Stephen on March 25, 2009 1:06 am

    The part about the soda machine is that beyond the stipulated payment terms, we all know that there’s an accepted social norm when it comes to exchanging currency.

    It’s reasonable for a vendor with high exposure to refuse large bills. The clerk isn’t demanding you pay in exact change. In return it’s also reasonable to expect the same vendor will not give you back your change by pouring a few thousand pennies through your car window.

    I think the onus is on you to bring a suitable amount of cash.

    I have no sympathy for people who are rude to cashiers or any other service staff.

  9. Comment by Dionne on March 26, 2009 8:08 pm

    Stephen –

    At no point was anyone rude to the attendant nor was that expressed in any way. A suitable amount of cash was available, as well as an altermate form of payment – and since no sign is posted at entry, how would a guest know what they can pay with on exit?

    It’s not a huge deal – but here is the reality – we are talking about $4.50 – not the national debt. If the garage is unable to accept payment or has no way to make it easier on their customer, good business practice would be to let them go through and possibly take it up with the business the guest was visiting. You never know to whom you are speaking in a customer service position, and it shows poor training if the customer is not treated with respect.

    What would they do if she had no money and no access to money – keep her car? Think about it – they must have another option – it has to have come up in the past.

  10. Comment by Ultimately on April 5, 2009 9:53 am

    “we all know that there’s an accepted social norm when it comes to exchanging currency.”

    Uh – yeah. Accepted social norms are commonly referred to to as laws. And in this case the parking lot was not following the laws, uh accepted social norm.

  11. Comment by C-note on May 6, 2009 1:56 pm

    Try using a Liberty Dollar next time, see what they do. I’ve though that if a business doesn’t deal in legal tender the law doesn’t apply to it…. just a thought…

  12. Comment by Rick on June 17, 2009 11:05 pm

    What prevented you from obtaining the terms of service prior to receiving the service(temporary license to park)?

    Do you always shift the burden of discoverying terms of service to each establishment you conduct business with or is that treat reserved exclusively for parking garages?

  13. Comment by Donna on June 18, 2009 12:42 pm

    What is preventing a business establishment from exercising due diligence to inform customers that they don’t accept certain forms of legal tender (not credit cards or checks, mind you, but cold hard cash) prior to those customers engaging their services? Do you always shift the burden of responsibility onto the little guy? How very Rick Santelli of you.

  14. Comment by Brenda on June 22, 2009 1:07 pm

    Interesting…today I paid my car insurance in cash and was notified that the only accepted forms of payment in the future are money order, bank check, or debit card. Now…my insurance policy is written in 6 month increments but I pay a monthly premium installment amount. The explanation was that it was for MY protection….FROM WHAT? An “exact change” policy I can certainly understand, but to refuse cash at all in UN-American.

  15. Comment by matt on January 4, 2012 6:40 pm

    So I work at a gas station and I think business should have the right to refuse money if its to high I agree that there should be a notice, at my work were not allowed to keep any 20s or higher in the till so its hard to have change for a customer using a 100 or 50 but most of the time its someone who just wants change I am not a BAnk if u need change go there, but what bothers me the most is not being able to dent a customer from paying 20 to 30 dollars in change I don’t have room for it in my till nor do I have the time to count it all and were not allowed to drop change in the safe so I think there should be an accept ion when it comes to change

  16. Comment by laughing on February 12, 2012 12:39 pm

    Most people have totally lost what the point to this subject is, except a few who are able to comprehend what is written( you know who you are)

    The terms were not stated about not accepting bills larger than $20. when he entered.

    Service was rendered. Per the law of Arizona the provider of service was not in compliance of the law by not accepting payment in legal tender.

    Personally, I think that legal action should be brought against the provider of service, so more establishments will take the more seriously. Now go and have fun arguing this point

  17. Comment by Apathy on May 1, 2012 11:02 am

    simply put…businesses have never been required to provide change
    that is a luxury people have been spoiled by…

    you owe $4.50…the cashier can’t take stuff bigger than a $20

    …all businesses are required to show prices for proffered services before the consumer accepts to pay the fee.

    every business will also have a declaration upon their doors and/or point of sales a varying degree of unacceptable forms of payment from traveler’s checks, credit cards, tootsie rolls, teeth, pesos and even sometimes cash of different denominations.

    it is accepted practice world round…everywhere.

    I say again, the consumer is responsible for paying for services in full…not in excess.

    the proper course of action was to grit your teeth, allow the attendant to “accept” the $50 with out change (or your cell phone or even ID), to let you out of the garage, to go fetch smaller bills to buy back the fifty (or hostage item) so that you may deal with the merchant on their terms to pay off your end of the contract in full.

    the incentive for the attendant to let you go is, if you don’t come back they get even more money.
    …and your incentive to come back is, of course, to get your ‘change’.

    walking to a place that could break it up also a good option

    tl:dr

    sure, sure…they ‘HAVE’ to accept your payment
    okay…i won’t fight you on it

    you do realize they don’t have to provide change though, yes?

  18. Comment by anon on January 3, 2013 4:33 pm

    waaaaaaaaaaa first world problems. This lady is just trying to do her job. When you get cash from a bank get small bills. Not that hard.

  19. Comment by j daniels on June 9, 2014 1:31 am

    on every bill –this note is legal tender for all debts public and private– it is illegal for a business not to accept any denomination. there should always be change on hand.

  20. Comment by anonuser on August 11, 2014 2:36 am

    Counterfeit currency also says the note is legal tender.
    And phone book paper will pass the marker test.

    businesses could care less about the safety of employees.

    Cameras in the workplace only protect theft/lawsuits against the business.
    no bills larger than 20 are there to protect the business against theft in form of robbery or counterfeit.

    NOT for safety of employees.

    Pay attention to where the cameras are pointed.

    I worked reviewing videos for both a regional convenience store and national/global wally world big box store. ;)
    Employees steal more than customers/robbers.

    Pizza delivery places even only accept 20s even on hundred dollar orders. So employee doesn’t pop a counterfeit in there.

    Food for thought.

  21. Comment by Moe on February 6, 2015 11:05 pm

    If I were you, Krista, I would have stayed at the booth and called the cops on them for illegally trying to detain you and extort alternate methods of payment from you. Although you didn’t know it at the time of the incident, you were fully within your legal limits to pay with that $50 since the service had already been provided without properly posted statutes of payment methods.

    Gas stations that post those signs in the window which say something like, “Cash register has no more than $50 at all times,” should be illegal. I’ll bet I could find the legal reasoning for my opinion, as it’s already illegal to falsely advertise all forms of goods and services, right?

    If 5 customers are in line ahead of me, each purchasing $20 in gas, totaling $100, then I know for a fact there is at least $100 in change in that register when I get to it, despite what the sign says. There will be few times when they actually do have the posted amount of change in the cash register: at opening time and right after the manager goes to make a deposit at a bank (or locks it in a timed safe at the store).

    To a criminal, that sign reads like: Hey, come on in, we are guaranteed to have at least $50 for you to rob!

    Their signs could be changed to say that they are unable to conduct transactions in which the change owed to the customer exceeds the amount of $50, as it is the lowest maximum amount they MIGHT have at any given time.

    I sure do love breaking a $100 for a pack of gum (at Walmart lol).

    Okay, so this entire thing with money is really sounding absurd. Digital currency is the way of the near-future. Then, one day, we won’t need any currency at all. ;)

  22. Comment by moat on March 9, 2015 9:56 pm

    To sum up this whole discussion…
    “I know if I order a pizza or chinese food, the driver will not take anything larger than a $20, but there’s usually nothing posted on their menu anymore. The order taker doesn’t tell me that over the phone either. We know because it’s been common practice for decades. ”

    Very true but inflations been increasing rapidly over the decades and the no bills over $20 has been around since the 60s or 70s or so. At current rate it should be roughly no bills over $100.

    It is still bullshit that legal tender is denied with no legal backing. It may be a grey area but I think the responsibility should fall on the company as the lack of law would suggest.

    Basically let companies avoid being robbed at the cost of potentially losing a couple sales to customers whose bills they refuse to accept for their OWN reasons. Therefore it should be their OWN responsibility.

    Life is a game of compromises and companies unwilling to compromise should suffer accordingly.

  23. Comment by Steve on August 16, 2016 6:52 pm

    Almost everyone is missing the key point aside from a sign not being posted. Legal tender in the form of cash must be accepted when paid to a debtor, i.e, when a service has already been rendered as in this case. Paying a pizza delivery person is not paying a debt; paying car insurance is not either because your premium is for the next month or whatever. Paying for gas might be in a grey area but gas stations always take cash.
    The reason I originally looked into this is whether my apartment management could deny my paying cash for my gas bill which is paid through them. Since I have already consumed it my apartment management must take cash because they are a creeitor in this instance.
    It does seem legal for gas stations, buses, etc. to restrict what they take if that is posted. Contrary to one poster we shouldn’t have to research every place we might do business to see what their policy is.

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