Cash Is Alive and Well: Consumers Refuse To Ditch The Dollar

While there has been speculation that cash will become obsolete, a Cardtronics study finds that cash is alive and well, and leading the way for some payment categories.

Cash has an important place in Americans’ wallets and hearts, according to the Cardtronics Health of Cash survey. While people include digital options among their preferred payment methods, it’s clear that cash isn’t going away anytime soon. Americans consumers still prefer to choose how they want to pay, rather than go 100% cash-free.

Across a number of situations, the study found that consumers continue to value choice and still like using cash as part of their overall payment options.

The survey tracked consumer payment behavior, both in terms of which payment methods people have used in the past six months, as well as which is their most preferred. In both cases, it’s abundantly clear that cash is deeply engrained into Americans’ payment psyches. Top line findings include:

  • 91% of consumers used cash in last six months
  • 89% of consumers like having the ability to use a variety of payment methods
  • 61% get upset when establishments don’t accept cash

Convenient, Anonymous, Easy

When asked “Which is your most preferred payment method?” consumers selected cash as their second most-preferred method, at 27%, just behind debit cards at 33%. Credit cards, digital and checks rounded out the list with 22%, 15%, and 3%, respectively.

Convenient and easy to use – consumers want their preferred payment method to deliver on both aspects, and they feel most payment methods do so to some extent. However, when asked to choose which payment method best delivers the ease and convenience, consumers (38% and 44%, respectively) chose cash.

“After convenience, people continue to be highly concerned about payment safety, with 84% describing themselves as worried about data security,” said Tom Pierce, chief marketing officer, Cardtronics. “Nearly half the survey respondents said cash was the safest way to pay. And when the attribute is privacy, cash wins again, with 60% of consumers, a clear majority selecting cash as the top choice.”

The survey also found that among all consumers, 85% always try to keep cash on hand, and two-thirds (67%) say they feel nervous when they don’t have cash with them — which is even true among Millennials with 70% agreeing to this.

Cash is King for Small Purchases and P2P Payments

The survey results also expose cash’s popularity when it comes to P2P payments among family and friends. Despite increasing usage of person-to-person payment apps (bank and non-bank), cash remains the most commonly used payment method for paying people back. Over the past six months, 62% of consumers used cash for P2P payments, with non-bank P2P apps (33% of consumers) displacing checks (31% of consumers).

Cash is also the preferred option for small sums. The vast majority (82%) of consumers surveyed agree that they use cash for smaller items while they use other payment options for items with a higher price tag. More specifically, the study finds that 68% of people use cash for purchases under $10 and 55% of people use cash for purchases under $20.

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Cash, Debit or Credit? Consumers Want a Choice

Based on the survey results, digital payment systems seem unlikely to dethrone cash anytime soon. The study found that 89% of people enjoy the ability to use multiple payment methods, and 82% of consumers would miss cash if it became obsolete.

“The notion that consumers want to be limited to cashless payments, or that digital payments are overtaking cash is not consistent with consumer behavior,” said Brian Bailey, Cardtronics Managing Director for North America. “Consumers like and demand choice when they pay, with 90% using at least two payment methods a month, and 66% using three — making a cashless society contrary to the will of the people.”

Additionally, the desire for choice in payment methods is reflected in consumers’ feelings toward cashless establishments. Across all consumers, 61% admitted they get upset when businesses don’t accept cash, regardless of their payment preference, and 66% think payment technology is moving too fast toward digital payments.

Millennials Enjoy the Best of Both Worlds

When asked their “most preferred payment method”, Millennials provide evidence of the continued resilience of cash. Millennials’ top choice was cash (29%), followed by debit card (26%), digital (25%), then credit card (17%) and checks came in at the bottom at 3%.

Once again examining P2P payments, Millennials appear to contribute to both the growth of cashless digital and the sustainability of cash. When comparing Millennials to the general consumer group, they are more likely to have used both non-bank P2P apps (42% vs. 33%) and bank P2P services (27% vs. 16%). And, Millennials are more likely to have used cash (67% vs. 62%) for P2P payments.

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