Credit, debit cards slowly losing ground to digital payments

Young consumers adopt the technology, but retain a preference for cash

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller



Millennials are embracing digital payments at much higher rates than older generations.

No surprise there. But despite predictions of a cashless future, millennials’ shift to digital is coming mostly at the expense of plastic. In fact, when asked what their most preferred payment type is, more millennials said cash than any other form.

The findings come from a recent study by Cardtronics and Edelman Intelligence, which found cash, debit cards and digital payments vying closely for most-preferred status among Americans age 18-34. Cash was named as a first choice by 29 percent of respondents, debit cards by 27 percent, and digital payments by 25 percent. Credit cards trailed significantly at 15 percent.

While millennials’ preference for plastic (debit and credit combined) totals 42 percent of respondents, baby boomers’ preference for cards came in at 66 percent. Not only are more boomers sticking with plastic over digital, but they’re also less inclined toward cash than millennials.

Generation X reported a preference for cash similar to millennials. Cited as the favorite method by 30 percent of respondents, Gen X showed the strongest cash inclination of the three generations. But these Americans age 35-54 haven’t made as strong a shift away from debit and credit, preferring digital at less than half the rate that millennials do.

Cardtronics’ 2017 Health of Cash Study was conducted by Edelman Intelligence, administered as an online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults age 18 and older. The data were collected in May and June 2017, with results released Sept. 20.

See related: Poll: Pay with cash or card for $5 purchase?, More infographics

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Updated: 02-19-2019