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Americans Using Cash Less Compared With Five Years Ago

Americans Using Cash Less Compared With Five Years Ago

by Art Swift and Steve Ander
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Percentage using cash for "all" transactions shrinks
  • But few indicate they have given up cash altogether
  • Young Americans report sharpest drop in cash usage from five years ago

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fewer Americans say they are making "all" or "most" of their purchases with cash, compared to what they say they did five years ago -- a sign of a shift toward electronic payment methods as well as mobile payment apps. While few indicate they have given up cash altogether, more Americans say they are making merely "some" of their purchases with cash.

Americans Using Cash Now Versus Five Years Ago
Think about the purchases you make on a regular basis and the way you pay for them -- including cash, check, credit card, debit card and other forms of electronic payment. Do you make …
  Now Five Years Ago*
  % %
All of your purchases with cash 10 19
Most of your purchases with cash 14 17
About half of your purchases with cash and half with other forms of payment 22 20
Some of your purchases with cash 41 33
None of your purchases with cash 12 10
*Self-reports of cash habits five years ago

Gallup asked Americans in a survey June 22-23 about the extent to which they use cash for retail purchases -- and how much they used cash five years ago. While 24% report currently making all or most of their purchases with cash, 36% say they were doing this five years ago. Conversely, the majority (53%) say they currently make only some or none of their purchases with cash, versus 43% saying this about their spending of five years ago.

As mobile technology and e-commerce have proliferated, Americans can use their cellphones and computers to make purchases. And, with the onset of PayPal, Google Wallet, Apple Pay and numerous other mobile payment options, Americans may find that paying for items electronically is more convenient than having to carry cash for in-person purchases. Additionally, "showrooming" -- when shoppers inspect goods in-person but actually buy them online -- may contribute to lower consumer demand for cash.

Younger Americans Say They Use Less Cash Than Five Years Ago

Twenty-one percent of young Americans -- aged 23-34 -- say they make all or most of their purchases with cash, down 18 percentage points from the 39% who say they used cash to that extent five years ago. While the economy has absorbed noncash payments for goods and services, among all age groups younger Americans have shown the most striking drop in using cash. In contrast, those aged 35-54 saw a two-point drop, while those 55 and older saw a six-point drop.

Americans Using Cash Now Versus Five Years Ago, By Age
All/Most purchases with cash
  Now Five Years Ago*
  % %
23-34 21 39
35-54 21 23
55+ 18 24
*Self-reports of cash habits five years ago

These differences by age may be attributed to younger Americans generally embracing mobile technology and payments more systematically than older Americans do. Younger Americans may not see a particular cachet in using physical currency, especially when they are the most trusting of institutions like banks and credit card companies to safeguard their information.

Bottom Line

As technology and consumer preferences evolve, companies will constantly seek ways to make retail payments more efficient to gain an advantage with customers. The economy has become more internet-oriented, and it is already becoming easier to make purchases using mobile technology. People are more familiar and comfortable with cashless transactions and are now primed to use those services in live retail environments.

For an improved customer experience, it is going to become increasingly necessary for businesses to accept other forms of payment beyond cash. Americans say they are using less cash than they were five years ago, and with enhanced technology, this trend is likely to continue. The next generation of consumers might conduct even fewer cash transactions than the youngest Americans today. This shift is not unknown to mobile payment platform companies, banks and credit card companies as they increasingly compete for the future consumer. However, with a rising number of data breaches and bad actors disrupting cybersecurity, it is possible that some Americans may never turn away from using cash.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 22-23, 2016, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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