A Digital World, But Not a Cashless Society
Despite expanded credit card use, new forms of digital payments such as Apple Pay and PayPal, and all the talk of a “cashless society,” cash remains the most common form of payment for consumers.
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Of 1,000 consumers recently surveyed by Cardtronics for its 2017 Health of Cash Study, 85% said they try to keep cash on hand at all times, and 67% said they feel nervous when they don’t have cash. Even millennials, who came of age during the digital revolution, still prefer to have access to cash.
“It continues to be the most frequently used consumer payment instrument and widely used in a variety of transactions — and across all demographic groups,” the Cardtronics survey concluded. “Despite the presence of digital payments…people don’t think cash is going away, and they aren’t longing for a cashless future or a time when the only way they can pay is digital.”
Credit cards offer some advantages over cash.
It’s sometimes difficult to understand consumers’ stubborn adherence to cash transactions, given that credit cards and other electronic payment services offer so many conveniences. Americans, after all, are increasingly shopping online and needing to transact business electronically.
Also, many credit card companies allow companies to dispute a charge when customers are not satisfied with the products or services rendered. Credit cards may also offer rewards, such as cash back or airline miles, and they provide an accurate accounting of monthly transactions, which can help with budgeting.
With cash, consumers have to hold onto receipts to return unwanted purchases or even to track spending, which can become cumbersome.
Yet cash plays an enduring role.
Cash, however, is handy for small transactions. Of those surveyed by Cardtronics, 82% said they like to use cash for smaller purchases.
It’s also easier to pay babysitters, house cleaners, landscapers and others who provide personalized services with cash.
Consumers want the option of using cash and they like the privacy that cash transactions provide. There are, after all, some transactions people don’t want recorded, such as a surprise gift for a spouse.
Consumers also worry about the reliability of digital payments. They like to keep cash in their wallets in case a credit card is declined for some reason — such as suspicious card activity.
Of those surveyed by Cardtronics, 89% said they want a variety of payment options; 82% said they would miss cash if it went away; 66% think payment technology is moving too quickly; and 61% said they get upset when establishments don’t accept cash.
Another factor that keeps cash as king is that millions of Americans do not have a banking relationship. About 7% of U.S. households remain unbanked, according to data from the FDIC, and many more are considered underbanked.
Despite the continued popularity of cash, though, there are calls for advanced economies to print less of it. Cash, after all, is the payment of choice for international criminals, so a reduction in the supply of available cash could help reduce crime and tax evasion. It also could give the Federal Reserve more flexibility in its attempts to manage the economy.
For managing a budget: cash or credit cards?
The easiest way to track your spending and maintain a monthly budget is undoubtedly with a credit card. Each transaction is recorded on a monthly statement and it can be viewed daily or weekly when you go online. For those using multiple cards, there are personal budgeting tools online, such as Mint, that can aggregate all your transactions and chart progress with your monthly goals.
With cash, budgeting becomes much more tedious. The simplest method is to count the bills in your wallet and know that once it’s all spent, there’s no more flexibility until you tap your savings or wait for the next paycheck.
Another method is to save receipts in an envelope and add them up each week or month. This requires a bit more work and a level of organization that many consumers do not have.
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For those who aspire to manage their money well, credit cards and digital payment services offer an easier option. Nevertheless, consumers are not ready to give up on cash and the long-heralded idea of a cashless society remains a distant dream.