Have Cards, Will Travel

Infographic: Plastic is America’s favorite way to pay

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller

When you ask almost 3,000 Americans to keep a daily diary of the payments they make, you learn that, hands down, plastic is America’s favorite way to pay.

That’s what the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has quantified with its 2016 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, which is considered more accurate than surveys that rely on consumers later recalling their transactions.

Collected throughout October 2016, the diaries show that U.S. adults made an average of 45.8 payments per month. Of those, almost half (about 22 payments or 48 percent) were made with debit, credit and prepaid cards.

Debit cards were the top used method, accounting for about a dozen payments a month (27 percent), with credit cards being used about eight times (18 percent). Prepaid cards were used only about once per month on average, for 3 percent of total monthly transactions.

After cards, about a third of the month’s payments (31 percent) were made with cash, being used about 14 times, while electronic methods such as online bill pay, ACH from a bank account and mobile payments combined for a little more than six monthly payments (14 percent).

Paper checks held the last spot at just over three checks per month, or about 7 percent of the total transactions.

The Boston Fed study analyzed the results from 2,848 U.S. adults age 18 or older, pulled from an address-based representative sample, who successfully completed the diary every day in October 2016. The initial findings were released Jan. 12, 2018.

Plastic payments swamp cash, research finds

See related: Poll: Pay with cash or card for $5 purchase?Plastic steadily kills off checksMore infographics

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