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Can an auctioneer prescribe the acceptable methods of payments for auction purchases? Can an auctioneer refuse to take cash? Should an auctioneer refuse to take cash? Let’s look at basically three scenarios here:

  • “You don’t take cash?” “I can’t pay you cash for my purchases … you have to be kidding me?” Harry was surprised he couldn’t pay cash for his auction items.
  • “There’s a federal law which states you have to take my cash” “You can’t refuse a cash payment in the United States.” William was adamant that his cash payment could not be refused.
  • “Right on this bill, it says ‘this note is legal tender for all debts, public or private” … said Elaine as she pointed to her $100 bill. “How is it you don’t accept cash?”

Harry, William, and Elaine are all wanting to pay cash for their auction purchase. The auctioneer/seller isn’t accepting cash much to their surprise. Who’s right here? Chances are very good the auctioneer can prescribe the acceptable methods of payment including “no cash.”

There are no federal laws dictating cash must be accepted. A handful of states/jurisdictions say that sellers must accept cash, but outside of any local/state regulations, cash can be declined no differently than checks, credit cards, wire transfers, electronic payments, etc. can all be declined.

However, should any auctioneer not accept cash? We would suggest not. On the contrary, we think every auctioneer should accept cash, and further that requiring credit/debit for all purchases (for example) discriminates against lower-income people (and others) without credit/debit cards.

For that matter, maybe auctioneers should not make it difficult for someone to pay for their auction purchases. Wouldn’t accepting a variety of payment types increase the bidder pool and thus prices? As my friend in California Clarke Dailey so succinctly put it: “Don’t make it hard for someone to give you money”

We were first in our market to allow buyers to pay with credit cards at our onsite personal property auctions — in addition to cash and checks — (1993) and the laws and rules continue to change since we wrote about them in 2014: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/credit-card-surcharge-mess-for-auctioneers/.

As we’ve suggested, there are those lower-income people or some with credit issues who may not have a credit nor debit card — and possibly no bank account — and deal mostly in cash. Sometimes these folks have lots of cash, despite any of these issues.

It would seem more than reasonable to accommodate anyone wishing to pay cash for virtually any auction purchase. Of course, most real property purchases must be made by cashier’s check or wire transfer if involving any third-party such as a title company.

If you’re making it hard for buyers to pay you, it’s likely you aren’t maximizing your seller’s proceeds. We would suggest you find ways to ensure the most buyers are able to pay you with their preferred method of payment.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.