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New survey shows just 16% of people carry cash on them at all times.

A third of Americans have gone cashless over health concerns during the COVID pandemic.

After the pandemic ends, 58% of respondents plan to stop using cash entirely.

VACAVILLE, Calif. — It appears the old saying “cash is king” may be dethroned in the 21st century. A new survey finds a majority of Americans, especially younger adults, want to move to a cashless economy. Researchers find more and more people are carrying less paper money, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic.

Travis Credit Union’s poll of over 2,000 Americans reveals the average person is now twice as likely to buy goods with a debit or credit card than with cash. Just 16 percent of respondents say they always carry cash, while 37 percent say they only “sometimes” keep paper money in their wallets.

Who carries money seems to have everything to do with how old they are. A majority of baby boomers (59%) and nearly half of Generation X (45%) have cash on them most or all the time. For millennials, that number is down to 40 percent.

Although older adults most often carry paper bills, they also carry the least amount with them. The survey finds the average American has $46.29 in their pockets. The average baby boomer however, carries about $42 with them. Respondents add any amount under $66 is fine to carry in public without fears for their safety.

How are people paying for goods?

Researchers for the credit union say the overwhelming majority (92%) of respondents had paper money with them when the survey was conducted in late August. Despite carrying money, just 29 percent say they pay for goods with cash. Six in 10 respondents now pay with a debit and credit card. Another six percent are opting to use a digital wallet and five percent pay by check.

Nearly two in three Americans (64%) say they regularly use a digital payment platform like Venmo or Zelle to handle their purchases. For those still using paper bills, over half say they do it because cash is more secure and provides more privacy. A third of cash users add paper money is still more widely accepted than digital currency and 14 percent say it helps them better budget their spending habits.

The survey finds the biggest reason people give for carrying paper money is for making small purchases. Another 35 percent carry cash just in case of an emergency. One in 10 carry bills so they can leave tips and eight percent keep money on hand in case they enter a cash-only business.

Paper money obsolete in cashless stores

A decade ago it might have seemed unthinkable to enter a store that doesn’t accept paper money. In 2020, researchers find most Americans have now shopped in a cashless business despite public opposition to the practice.

The most common customers at cashless shops are millennials (68%), followed by 60 percent of Generation X, and 46 percent of baby boomers. Fifty-eight percent of Americans in the poll believe the country should move to a cashless system. While that stance is more controversial, 69 percent say they believe it will happen one day.

More convenient, but less secure?

One of the biggest reasons Americans are opting to pay by card is the convenience. Over 50 percent say using a credit card is easier than carrying cash. Another 24 percent believe it’s safer than using paper money, but that opinion isn’t widely shared.

Seven in 10 Americans worry about a data breach when using their debit card, credit card, or a digital payment system. Among those who refuse to use a digital platform, six in 10 say it’s because of privacy and trust issues.

While most Americans foresee a cashless future, even more believe it should be illegal to refuse paper money. Over three in four (77%) say all businesses should be required to accept cash as a form of payment.

Will COVID-19 lead to a cashless America?

The survey finds health and hygiene concerns may be the new reason Americans start avoiding cash. Fifty percent of respondents say they’re using less cash during the COVID-19 pandemic. One in three are not using paper money right now due to health concerns and half the poll say they’re avoiding situations that call for cash.

How long COVID-19 can live on the surface of paper money is still up for debate, but it’s causing many to reevaluate their purchasing habits. Fifty-eight percent of respondents plan to stop using cash after the pandemic. That group includes 64 percent of millennials and just over half of Generation X.

Another casualty of the pandemic may be the nation’s coin reserves and it’s making it harder for Americans to make small purchases. The current coin shortage is also making it tough for 26 percent of the survey to get change and 22 percent to do their laundry.

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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