With COVID Now in Year Two, Some Consumers Return to Cash Payments
In the last 12 months, American consumers have used slightly more cash for transactions than they did at this time last year. This rise in cash usage along with a small increase in purchases and peer-to-peer payments made in-person may imply that some consumers are moving back to the way they did business prior to COVID-19.
The rise in cash payments is one key finding from a recent survey the Federal Reserve Banks of San Francisco and Atlanta conducted to better understand U.S. consumers’ payment behavior. Additional key findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice highlight how consumer cash preferences have changed during the pandemic:
- In October 2021, the average number of cash payments increased from six to seven payments per month 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 payments increased to 82 percent, up from 80 percent in 2020 and down from 87 percent in 2019.
- The value of cash held in a consumer’s pocket, purse, or wallet averaged $67 in 2021, compared to $76 in 2020 and $60 in 2019.
- The value of cash held in a consumer’s home, car, or elsewhere remained elevated at $347, compared to $299 in 2020 and $241 in 2019.
The survey also shows that credit card usage increased throughout the pandemic for all consumers except those with household incomes less than $25,000, which are far more likely to be reliant on cash. These consumers make up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population highlighting how a significant portion of people remain dependent on cash for everyday payments. Overall, the survey shows that the majority the population continues to use cash to make everyday purchases, carry cash in their pocket purse or wallet, or hold cash as a store of value in uncertain times.
To learn more, visit the 2022 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice.
Emily Cubides is an associate data and policy analyst at Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Shaun O’Brien is a lead data and policy analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
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The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.