Pandemic Continues to Affect Consumer Payments

SAN FRANCISCO – The Federal Reserve System’s FedCash Services (FCS) released a report from its ongoing research into the payment habits of the U.S. population. The 2022 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice finds that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the way U.S. consumers use and hold cash. The share of payments made in cash dropped sharply from 2019 to 2020 and then increased slightly in 2021, implying that cash use hit its lowest point in the first year of the pandemic. In contrast to cash use, consumers’ cash holdings remained elevated in 2021 when compared to 2019 and prior years, indicating that consumers continued to demand cash in the uncertain environment of the pandemic’s second year. These are some of the key findings from the report, Diary of Consumer Payment Choice.

“We’re seeing that the pandemic is still affecting consumer shopping and payment choices, however, things seem to be trending towards pre-pandemic behavior,” said Roger Replogle, executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and chief of FedCash Services. “It is clear that a significant portion of the U.S. population remains dependent on cash for everyday payments, which underscores the need for a strong and resilient payments system.”

Key findings from this nationally representative survey highlight how consumer cash preferences changed with the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • In October 2021, the average number of cash payments increased from six to seven payments and accounted for 20 percent of all payments, up from 19 percent in 2020 and down from 26 percent in 2019.
  • The share of in-person purchases and person-to-person (P2P) payments increased to 82 percent, up from 80 percent in 2020 and down from 87 percent in 2019.
  • The value of cash held in consumers’ pocket, purse or wallet (called on-person holdings) averaged $67 in 2021, compared to $76 in 2020 and $60 in 2019.
  • The value of cash held in consumers’ home, car or elsewhere (called store-of-value holdings) remained elevated at $359, compared to $299 in 2020 and $241 in 2019.

The Federal Reserve conducts The Diary of Consumer Payment Choice on an annual basis to understand U.S. consumers’ payment behavior and preferences. The annual survey occurred in October 2021, as scheduled.

About the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice

The Diary studies provide vital insights into how consumer payments may be changing from one year to the next. This ensures FedCash Services is fulfilling its mission of meeting demand in times of normalcy and stress, maintaining the public’s confidence in U.S. currency, and providing ready access to cash. Understanding the evolving role of cash in the economy is critical to fulfilling that mission.

Federal Reserve Financial Services uses data from the Diary to understand consumer cash use and anticipate its ongoing role in the payments landscape.

By tracking consumer payment transactions and preferences annually during the month of October, Federal Reserve Financial Services compares cash with other payment instruments, such as debit and credit cards, checks, and electronic options. Diary participants also report the amount of cash on hand after each survey day, cash stored elsewhere, and cash deposits or withdrawals. The Diary data is then analyzed, including the impact of age and income on an individual’s payment behavior and preferences. This detail of the stock and flow of cash at an individual level provides insight into how consumers use cash.

About FedCash® Services

As the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve ensures that cash is available when and where it is needed, including in times of crisis and business disruption, by providing FedCash Services to depository institutions and, through them, to the general public. In fulfilling this role, the Federal Reserve’s primary responsibility is to maintain public confidence in the integrity and availability of U.S. currency.

FedCash Services provides strategic leadership for this key function by formulating and implementing service level policies, operational guidance, and technology strategies for U.S. currency and coin services provided by Federal Reserve Banks nationally and internationally. In addition to guiding policies and procedures, FedCash Services establishes budget guidance, provides support for Federal Reserve currency and coin inventory management, and supports business continuity planning at the supply chain level. It also conducts market research and works with financial institutions and retailers to analyze trends in cash usage.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (SF Fed) serves the public by promoting a healthy, sustainable economy, and supporting the nation’s financial and payment systems. With offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Portland and Phoenix, the Bank serves the Twelfth Federal Reserve District, which includes one-fifth of the nation’s population and represents the world’s fourth-largest economy. As part of the nation’s central bank, the SF Fed informs monetary policy, regulates banks, administers certain consumer protection laws and acts as a financial partner to the U.S. government.