Checks In Full Effects…

The e-mail threads go back to September of 2007.

“Let’s make a movie about check cashing joints. They’re as ubiquitous as bodegas and they do as much harm.” – Casimir Nozkowski

“I can relate. Even though I knew it was senseless, when I needed fast cash I used them” – Rafi Kam

“Let’s go in, even though I hate check cashing joints because they remind me that I live in poverty” – Dallas Penn

This is essentially the thread that began the odyssey of our latest video. We wanted to document the economic lifestyle of the people that used check cashing joints. Why do these places even exist? Don’t the people that use them know about banks? Why would anyone pay someone for their OWN money?

I think we answer the questions above a little more clearer. Commercial banks don’t exist in the ‘hood. People with no money to save don’t need them. What they need is a facility that gives them the cash they need to buy their groceries, pay their bills and copp their drugs. Poor people need cash. It keeps them on the economic grid. What is more patriotic than going into debt? Our government has a zillion dollar deficit. If they can do it why shouldn’t the backbone of America also follow suit?

We vacillated on whether check cashing joints were really the devil in disguise. For many of us there are no other optiions. These establishments aren’t here to help poor people gain economic stability. They are here to provide a service and for that service they extract their blood, just like any other service that is contracted to the poverty class. Just be aware of that when you step inside of those doors.

If you enjoyed ‘Bodega’, you will love ‘Check Mate’. Speaking of ‘Bodega’… join the iNTERNETS CELEBRITIES in July for the Paul Robeson Awards of the Newark Black Film Festival. ‘Bodega’ was awarded the judges honorable mention for short form documentaries.

‘Check Mate’ was directed and edited by Casimir Nozkowski
Camera work and graphics from Ian Savage
Even more camera work from Josh Weisbrot
Music by El Keter
A special Chea goes out to Ben Popken(

Rafi Kam and Dallas Penn bring the goodness

27 Responses to Checks In Full Effects…
  1. JMack

    Genius. Excellent production yet again from the two and only, Internets Celebrities.

    Great work guys

  2. khal

    debt rocks.

    i used to fuck with check cashing spots. those places had the super plexiglass on them, but then again, kfc’s in the hood have the same thing.

    great video, as per usual.

  3. P.Villa

    Hahaha…you guys make me miss the hood.

  4. bodega james

    GET/SPEND money!

  5. Emily

    Incredible! This is the best thing I’ve seen online all year.

  6. rafi

    Thanks all!


    That’s high praise depending on what sites you frequent. Where were you when we were trying to find a sponsor the past month or so!

  7. Grand Master

    credits = win

  8. Jeff

    This is a really timely video. But I have to say that being out of debt is where it’s it. Best thing I ever did. Keep up the stellar work!

  9. Scott

    I’m not sure I agree with the anti check cashing thing. When you don’t have alot of money, banks can totally rape you. For a few years I was paying almost 3,500$ in overdraft and overlimit fees in my checking account each year. It was a major reason I couldn’t get out of debt from my credit cards. I still pay fees from my bank, 4 bucks here, 9 bucks there. I don’t know why. So this idea that checking accounts are so fantastic doesn’t seem right to me. I was doing better when I just cashed my check at the currency exchange. I paid a few bucks up front, and knew what I owed. The only reason I stayed with the checking account was because I get my paycheck direct deposited. Finally to get out from under the eightball I took out a loan at almost 30% interest. It’s alot but at least I have money in my checking and avoid all the bank fees. It’s freed me up to start paying down debt. PS I’m a teacher, so I’m not penniless, but it took many years of school and subbing to get hired, and I had accumulated a great deal of debt and mostly worked part time jobs while getting established.

  10. rafi

    Thanks Scott. I think the video is at least as critical of banks as it is of check-cashing places.

    I’ve been done wrong by banks and my ass has also been saved late fees on bills by having a check turned to immediate cash at a check cashing place.

    That being said, if you’re a savvy bank-customer and you’re typically keeping money in your account, you will face much less cost from the banking system. Like Ben says banks are not so nice to poor people. If you’re staying in the black than banks are a much better deal.

    But f both of them! Credit unions always sounded like a better option to me.

  11. Diana

    you guys are really something. is there a location where i can access all 48 videos?

  12. rafi

    Thanks Diana. I’m not sure where you got the “48 videos” number from.. maybe from director Cas’ YouTube account? He has right around that many videos on there.

    That YouTube account hosts our first videos: Ghetto Big Mac and Bodega as well as the Sundance series.

    Everything else is up at the Internets Celebrities account:

    You can also find all our vids on this blog if you feel like browsing through the archives at your leisure.

    But your question has got me thinking and probably someday soon I’ll put up a page with a clearer way to browse all our videos.

  13. achilles3

    WOW! I have seen you guys here and there but I got this from the Freakonomics blog and this is AWESOME!

    Congrats on what turned out to be a pithy, brilliant, and important message.

    I just blogged about your efforts myself.

    Keep it up guys…WE are the media now;-)

  14. Thomas

    And just so you all know …

    I would so rock a “Banks: Step Ya Game Up” t-shirt. Contact your marketing division and have them conduct several bi-monthly conference calls and brainstorming sessions to investigate the synergies and ROI of extending your global reach into such an endeavour.

  15. El Keter

    Don’t you mean “El Keter,” not “Eli Keter?”

    I second the “Banks: Step Ya Game Up” t-shirt request.

    Of course, I’m broke, so I’d expect them to be free.

    Oh, and I gotta go on record that I love my bank. It’s right up the block (just a short walk, which I rationalize as being good for my health). They have mad ATM’s around. There’s no fees for anything unless you fuck up (overdrafts, etc). And the people in there are always mad nice to me even though I’m not moving huge sums through their establishment.

    That said, I really do wish they were open until midnight or something. It would make them about 100% more convenient.

  16. dallas

    My badd El,
    We are working on a possible iC t-shirt for the summer. You will definitely get one(or two) for FREE.

  17. achilles3

    Drop it thrice on the free tees!

  18. Alec

    Hey, awesome video! One thing you didn’t talk about is the high instances of fraud that those places don’t catch, not being bound by the standard banking regs. I worked in banking for years, and believe me, Bankers hate those places, and not because they’re competing for business. It’s picking up the peices after a bank customer gets hosed by them.
    Also, although I hate to actually defend big business, I’d like to address some of the things in your video. Keep in mind, this isn’t criticism, you’re basically hitting the nail on the head. But go into any bank and ask to see their CRA file. They’re required by federal regulations to show it to you, or direct you to the person who can, AND they MUST have a CRA notice displayed prominently in each branch.
    The CRA is the act passed by congress that is, in theory, supposed to keep banks from discriminating against poor people. It’s the Community Reinvestment Act, and there are nasty penalties for noncompliance. I’ve sat through literally weeks of banking regulation classes, and 70% of the things customers complain about with banks is federally mandated. 10% is policies created to protect banks from fraud (of which there is much more than you think going on at any given time) and the rest is money grubbing jerkwad bank execs trying to build their golden parachutes and stroke the shareholders.
    With the fees, believe me, the people who work in the branches hate them more than you do, mainly because that’s all they hear about day in, day out, and for every legitimate case of someone having a real problem, there are 20 people who spent more money than they had and know that they did, and think they can walk in, flip out, and get the fee back. It’s unfortunate too, because bankers aren’t the enemy, they WANT to give the money back to people who really need it, but they are generally only allowed to refund a certain amout, a certain number of times, and anything over that could result in disciplinary action.
    Playing Devil’s Advocate though…when you go into a grocery store and buy $150 in food, but you only have $50 in your account, not only is that technically illegal, but who bought you the food? Not you, you couldn’t afford it. The bank bought it for you, and expects you to repay them plus the fee outlined in the fee schedule they are required to give you at account opening. And while banks DO have vaults of money, they do not have cash reserves equal to their deposits. If every bank customer tried to withdraw all their money on the same day, the bank would crash overnight. Banks are generally using your deposits and keeping them liquid, investing the hell out of your (and everyone else’s) money, making a bundle, and giving a small portion back in interest to customers.
    Whew, long one. I’m not saying banks aren’t any less evil than other corporations, just that they actually have government regulatory commissions standing over their shoulder trying to keep them reasonably honest. (imagine if they didn’t!) Check cashing places, not so much on the watchdogs.
    Keep up the good work!

  19. RichL

    F-U-C-K / H-S-B-C
    The Ultimate Check Cashing place would have a barber shop in it- now thats an idea =p

  20. Dumb-ass Pointer Outer

    Quote: “For a few years I was paying almost 3,500$ in overdraft and overlimit fees in my checking account each year.”

    Hey dumb-ass… That’s called your fault. You don’t get overdraft fees unless you write checks without having money. Try keeping up with the register and your balance instead of blaming banks. Also… how in the hell do you get an overlimit fee on your checking? Did they say, “Oh, I’m sorry sir, you have too much money in your account.”

    Wise up and quit blaming people and things that have nothing to do with your own stupidity and irresponsibility.

  21. Kanemku

    Debt: You know you want some

    Cash rules everyting around me CREAM get the money dolla dolla bill yalllll!!! – man i’ve been bumpin that 36 chambers for the past two weeks now… i had a relapse lol

    im gonna hit up a check cashing spot now… then hit the jewelery store next to it and get the jesus piece

  22. Robert Thibault

    Fantastic video! The best line I think is when Dallas says “If I die today, I win.” Really genius stuff. I would love to see a wiki with people’s comments on check cashing places.

    As for me, I used a check cashing spot for years because I didn’t have a checking account. Then I discovered something better than even banks w/ATM fees: a CREDIT UNION!!! In a CREDIT UNION THE CUSTOMERS ARE THE SHAREHOLDERS! I am actually an owner of the organization. The community needs more CREDIT UNIONS, NOT MORE BANKS. And no I don’t work for a credit union, like Rafi, I work for a nonprofit organization.

    Keep up the great work fellas!!!!

  23. rafi


    Thanks for the comment! Before launching Checkmate we actually tried to shop the video around for sponsorship from a credit union or organization of credit unions. We thought it would be a perfect fit given how critical the video is of private banks.

    I sent the video and a pitch to several blogging marketers who focus specifically on marketing CU’s. These were people who had blogged specifically about a minor YouTube hit that a Canadian Credit Union had put out. I was hoping for advice or a hookup.

    Of the batch, only one responded. He was extremely positive about the video but couldn’t see making it happen with any of the CU’s he works with. The idea of sponsoring a web video too foreign for them.

    But yeah I’m all for them in principle and I’ve been thinking it’s time to leave my bank and put my money where my mouth is.

  24. Shory


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  26. P.Villa

    Hahaha…you guys make me miss the hood.

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