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Greenville Business Magazine

No Cash Payments? Now What?

Sep 30, 2022 12:29PM ● By David Dykes

At a local convenience store recently, I bought a soft drink and pack of gum for $3.17

I reached into my wallet – and paid with a debit card. I had five pennies in my pocket.

Gallup in August said Americans were using cash less often, and nearly two of every three of us believe it’s likely the U.S. will be cashless in our lifetimes.

I never thought I’d carry cash as infrequently as I do.

It just seems easier to pull out a debit (or credit) card than go to an ATM or into a bank lobby to get cash. The recent coin shortage only seemed to bolster that argument. 

And more retailers are accepting cashless payments to reduce exposure to high-touch surfaces. 

Writing for Gallup, Jeffrey M. Jones said sharply fewer U.S. adults reported they were using cash for purchases than five years ago. Thirteen percent said they made “all” or “most” of their purchases with cash, while 28 percent said they were using cash to the same extent five years ago.

Six in 10 said they make “only a few” or no purchases with cash today, nearly double the 32 percent saying they did five years ago.

Those results were based on a July 5-26 Gallup poll and, Jones said, consistent with trends seen in the Federal Reserve’s recent payment study that documented a decline in cash transactions since 2016. 

Greater use of online shopping, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, is likely one major factor leading to changes in cash use. 

Other factors might be a larger number of merchants accepting electronic payment, an increase in self-checkout registers in grocery and larger retail stores, and mobile pay options that allow people to pay for purchases using their smartphones, Jones wrote.

He also said:

Twenty-two percent of adults living in households with annual incomes less than $40,000 used cash for all or most of their purchases. That compared with 14 percent of those whose annual household income was between $40,000 and $99,999 and 5 percent of those whose income was $100,000 or more.

In most subgroups, the percentage reporting using cash for all or most purchases was about 15 points lower than the percentage five years ago. There has been a steeper decline among young adults: 11 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they used cash for all or most purchases today, while 37 percent of that group said that five years ago they mostly used cash.

According to Gallup, 64 percent of Americans said it is “very likely” or “likely” that the U.S. will be a cashless society at some point in their lives, meaning all transactions are done using an electronic method of payment rather than physical currency. 

The percentage expecting a cashless society today was essentially unchanged from the 62 percent who made that prediction in a 2016 survey.

Older Americans were somewhat less likely than their younger counterparts to believe the U.S. will become a cashless society. Fifty-six percent of those aged 65 and older, and 62 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64 believe it is likely, compared with 70 percent of those under 50.

If the U.S. became a cashless society, more would see it as a change for the worse than a change for the better, Gallup found. Forty-five percent of U.S. adults say they would be “upset” if the U.S. becomes a cashless society, compared with 9 percent who say they would be “happy” if that occurred. Meanwhile, 46 percent say they would have neither reaction.

Older Americans are much more inclined than younger Americans to want to carry cash. Seventy-three percent of those aged 65 and older said they like to have cash on them at all times, as do 64 percent of those aged 50 to 64. Majorities of Americans under 50 are comfortable venturing outside their homes without cash.

Meanwhile, Gallup says internet and smartphone technologies have transformed the way people pay for things, and they no longer need to visit their banks to withdraw money and carry it with them to make most purchases. 

The latest Federal Reserve payment study estimated that one in five U.S. transactions are made with cash, less than are made with credit or debit cards, but much more than are made with mobile payment apps, which account for three percent of all transactions.

To the extent that mobile payment apps increase in popularity, which would seem quite possible given the tech-savvy young adult population, the need for cash will decline, Gallup said. It said that would create the conditions favorable to a cashless society, something Americans expect to happen but may not be happy about.

So in a digital economy, what are my options?

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., one option available other than cash or traditional credit and debit cards is a prepaid card. 

That allows you to use a card to make purchases at stores or to pay bills online without accessing a bank account or using a credit card. These cards usually aren’t linked to a checking or savings account, and require you to load money onto the card up front. 

The FDIC says that if you have a bank account, there also are cashless payment options and features. 

But FDIC officials stress you should monitor your credit card bills and bank statements, as well as app and other online transactions for unauthorized purchases or withdrawals. Immediately contact your bank if you see anything suspicious.

Many credit card issuers, banks, and mobile app providers offer services that notify you about certain account activities, such as recent logins from unrecognized devices. Most banks that offer mobile banking also allow you to sign up for alerts on your mobile device or email to notify you if your account balance drops below a set dollar amount. That can help you avoid overdrawing your account. 

You might also be able to request text alerts, if your bank observes suspicious or potentially fraudulent transactions involving your account. Some banks even let you set spending limit alerts to help keep track of your spending.

Scammers often create fake websites or apps that are so similar to those of popular retailers; it easily tricks consumers into providing payment information. The scammers take your information and your money, but you never receive the products. The FDIC says be sure to deal with reputable companies you are familiar with to help avoid encounters with these types of scams.

So I’m headed to the store on my way home from work. 

Still have the five cents. And my cards.