For the past dozen years or so, we've been hearing about the "checkless society" that is said to be just around the corner - a brave new world in which we will throw away our checkbooks and conduct all our financial dealings by computer.

The checkless society was supposed to trot hand in hand with the cashless society into the electronic age. The future, according to the popular wisdom, held no greenbacks and no checkbooks, just little plastic cards.Well, most of us apparently haven't gotten the word: We still want to pay our bills by check. And if the fate of the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin is any judge, Americans still have a strong say in such matters. If we don't like it, we don't use it.

And we don't like it. According to a poll by The Wirthlin Group, the national research organization with Utah roots, 72 percent of those surveyed chose checks as their preferred method of payment. Only 2 percent cited a preference for electronic payments such as debit cards and electronic funds transfer (EFT).

Cash was a distant second as the preferred method of payment with 21 percent saying they preferred currency, and credit cards were third at 5 percent.

According to Wirthlin, the study measured the payment habits of 1,000 people and has a confidence level of plus or minus three percentage points in 95 out of 100 cases. Those surveyed were asked how they preferred to pay for goods and services.

The survey was commissioned by Payment Systems Education Association (PSEA), a group formed in 1985 "in response to growing consumer need for accurate payment systems information." The association's members include check acceptance companies, check printing companies, paper manufacturers and envelope producers. Admittedly these are all industries that have the most to lose from a checkless society but that shouldn't invalidate Wirthlin's poll.

"The survey results reinforce that checks are still by far the best payment method available to meet the needs of today's consumer," said David Meyers, president of PSEA. "People like to use a payment system that's easy and provides records for the IRS."

Survey respondents agree. Nearly 70 percent said they like the record keeping and receipt advantages of checks. Approximately 60 percent said they prefer checks because they are convenient and easy to use.

According to the survey, checks are favored among all demographic groups, but are most popular among females (75 percent), persons 25 or older (75 percent), married individuals (77 percent), those with an income in the $30,000-$50,000 range (80 percent), and persons with some education after high school (75 percent).

At gas stations and grocery stores, where debit card promotion has been the strongest, there is apparently little use of the electronic system. Only 2 percent of those surveyed reported using a debit card for grocery purchases, while 98 percent said they never use a debit card at the supermarket.

Cash was the most popular form of payment at gas stations, followed by credit cards, checks and then debit cards.

"There's no advantage to the consumer with a debit card," Meyer said. "You still have to record the purchase in your ledger and you lose the float you get with checks."

According to the survey, electronic funds transfer (EFT), payments done by automatically debiting a customer's bank account and crediting a vendor's account without a paper exchange, are most popular for monthly bills such as insurance and mortgage payments.