Millennials strongly prefer cards

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller


Except for when they’re directly paying another person, millennials are overwhelmingly choosing plastic for almost every other expense.

Payment systems provider VocaLink asked more than 5,000 Americans age 18-35 what methods they use to pay for 25 types of expenses. In 21 of those categories, credit and debit cards were millennials’ top choice, often standing head and shoulders above the runner-up.

Take, for example, standard consumption spending like groceries, clothing and eating out. In all three, more than 80 percent of millennials reported using cards, while less than 40 percent said they sometimes use cash, the next-ranked choice.

Cash typically came in second, in 17 of the 21 categories where cards lead. But for mortgages and rent payments, checks are still a top-two choice. For utility bills, it’s bank transfers. And for digital media, mobile payments claim a measurable share. Still, debit and credit card payments are most common for all of these expenses.

The expenses where cash still dominates surround paying an individual, called person-to-person payments. Specifically, cash leads in paying someone for work they’ve done, paying one’s share of a joint bill or purchase, and giving a gift or loan to someone. 

VocaLink conducted its survey online with 5,027 millennials across the U.S. through market research provider Ipsos MORI. The data was collected from April-May 2016, with the results released Oct. 27.

See related: More infographics

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Updated: 03-22-2019