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Personal Finance Reports

How Are People Making Payments in 2017?

In 2017, there are more payment options available to consumers than at any other point in history. 

Seriously, the payment world is your oyster. Today, we have debit and credit cards, digital wallets like ApplePay, virtual currencies like Bitcoin, eChecks, and of course, the ole’ reliable: cash. 

But, with the advent of more and more payment options, cash is seemingly getting exiled to the outskirts of strip malls and casinos. Even Visa, who recently announced they would be awarding up to $500,000 to 50 eligible US-based food service owners that made their business 100 percent cash-free, is getting involved in the war on cash. 

As a general trend, it seems that even the way in which we pay is getting heavily influenced by the digitization of the 21st century. In a recent poll, LendEDU found that virtually a third of millennials are using the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo for drug-deals, a business that was forever monopolized by cash until a more tech-savvy solution came about. 

With such a litany of payment options that the American consumer must choose from, LendEDU sought to discover not only today’s most prevalent payment method, but also the predicted payment trends of tomorrow.

For Now, Debit is King, But Parody Will Be the Future

To get this study rolling, LendEDU asked the following question to 875 American consumers ages 18 and up: “What is your main form of payment?”

For both today (42.86%) and five years from now (45.71%), debit card received the plurality of votes, which makes sense. Debit cards offer the ease of credit cards without the headaches that come with utilizing credit. The payment method that experienced the biggest drop off in votes between today and five years from now was cash. In an ode to the future, nearly 11 percent less poll participants believed they would still mainly be using cash in five years when compared to how they are paying for things now. 

Credit cards also saw a slight decrease in potential users from today to five years down the road. While 23.31 percent of respondents said a credit card is their main form of payment today, only 21.83 percent said it would be their main form of payment in five years.

Both credit cards and cash received less votes from poll-to-poll, so where did those votes go? Digital wallets, mainly.

From one poll to the next, digital wallets, such as ApplePay, saw the biggest jump in the number of respondents that believed it would become the next big payment vehicle in five years. .91 percent of respondents said a digital wallet was currently their main form of payment, but 9.49 percent believed it would become their main payment form in five years. ​

Additionally, “Echeck” saw a poll-to-poll increase from .34 percent to ,8 percent, while “virtual currency” also saw a bump from .80 percent to 1.37 percent. 

With the exception of cash and digital wallets, the discrepancies between payment forms of today and payment forms in five years were not all too drastic. However, when we asked respondents to state how they believed future generations will be making payments, there was a seismic shift in the results. 

American’s Believe Digital Wallets, Virtual Currencies Will See Major User Growth in Future Generations

All 875 respondents were asked to answer the following question: “How do you think your children/future generations will be making payments?”

This particular question produced some really interesting results. Unlike the previous two questions, “debit card” no longer received the plurality of votes. Instead, “digital wallet” received the plurality of votes with 28.11 percent. If these three questions are taken collectively, digital wallets emerged as the clear winner. Despite digital wallets’ lack of popularity now (only .91% said it was currently their main form of payment), 9.49 percent of our respondents believed it would become their main form of payment in five years, and 28.11 percent believed it would be the main form of payment for future generations. Displaying a consistent upwards trajectory, expect to see more Americans using their phone’s digital wallet as you wait in the check-out aisles of the future.

While digital wallets trended upwards, cash went in the opposite direction. With each poll, cash received less and less votes until only 11.31 percent believed cash would be the main payment method of their children. Interestingly, cash only received a slightly higher percentage of the vote than did “virtual currency,” which raked in 8.80 percent.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more forward-thinking statistic than this: Only 2.51 percent more people believe cash will be more prevalent than virtual currencies in the future. The belief that virtual currencies, like Bitcoin, will become more mainstream in later years falls right in line with a previous LendEDU poll that found more Americans would be willing to invest in Bitcoin in the future, especially younger consumers.   

Another eye-catching statistic from this particular question was that 11.89 percent of the respondents believed “some other form of currency not yet invented” would be the main form of payment for future generations. That answer option actually received more votes than did “cash,” “Echeck,” and “virtual currency.” It is impossible to predict what the next big payment vehicle will be, and if someone had explained the idea of Bitcoin to you ten years ago, you probably would have called the nearest psychiatric ward. Nonetheless, the fact that the answer received a considerable amount of votes is indicative of the American belief in innovation, and that many consumers believe current payment methods are outdated and vulnerable to be replaced.

It is worth noting that two of the more popular vote-getters for the first two questions, credit card and debit card, both experienced a dip in their respective shares of the voter pool. 

Cashing Out

As it has been alluded to a few times already in this report, cash seems to be the payment form that will suffer the most as time goes on. Cash is currently being phased out by many small businesses, and our poll results showed a direct correlation between the progression of time and the percentage of people that think cash will still be the main form of payment.

31.77 percent of our respondents said that cash is currently their main form of payment, while the remaining 597 poll participants selected a different payment mechanism. We wanted to find out some cash-trends amongst those 597 respondents that have already moved on from paper money.

We asked that cohort of poll participants the following question: “How often would you say you have cash on hand?”

As you can see from the above infographic, the plurality of voters, 41.37 percent, said that they have cash on them sometimes. The second lowest proportion of respondents, 13.57 percent, said they always have cash on hand, while the third lowest proportion, 16.92 percent, said they have cash on hand more often than not. The second highest percentage of respondents, 25.63 percent, said they have rarely have cash in their possession. Only 2.51 percent claim they never have cash on them. 

The purpose of that question was to clarify how prevalent cash still is amongst Americans that have a main form of payment other than paper money. As a general trend, it seems that most casual users of cash have a limited chance of having cash on their person, indicative of how increasingly unnecessary it is to have dollars on you when there are so many other viable payment options out there.   

The next question was only asked to the respondents that one, had a main form of payment other than cash, and two, selected any answer from the question immediately above other than “always.”

In total, 516 respondents were proposed the following question: “Would you say you go to a business less because they only accept cash?”

Although the plurality of poll participants, 49.81 percent, said that they would take out cash if they really wanted to go to a cash-only business, this question still produced some telling results. 15.31 percent of respondents stated they can never go to cash-only establishments because they never have cash on them. Another 34.88 percent said this predicament prevents them from going to a business more than they would if that business accepted card. 

Many of the establishments that do not accept anything other than cash are small, mom-and-pop businesses that are often toeing the line between going out of business and surviving the month. While many forward-thinking businesses are phasing out cash​, the cash-only businesses are heading backwards. Just imagine how much more comfortable these cash-only businesses would be if they accepted other payment forms and retained even half of those consumers that said they are prevented from going to their favorite places because of their payment practices. 

Spending Trends of Cash Users & Card Users

We wanted to compare and contract the spending tendencies of heavy cash users and consumers that usually use a credit card.

We asked the following question to respondents that said cash was their main form of payment and also to poll participants that said they always have cash on them: “What do you use cash for?”

We than asked this question to ​poll participants that stated they had either a credit or debit card: “What do you use your credit/debit card for?”

As is demonstrated in the above graphic, the spending tendencies between those who mainly use cash and those who mainly use a credit or debit card are almost identical. 74.37 percent of heavy cash users said that they use cash to pay for everything, including food, housing, and bills. Similarly, 71.68 percent of credit or debit users said they use their plastic for everything.

While the consequences for using a debit card for all expenses are not severe, consumers must be careful about swiping their credit card for everything. Utilizing a significant portion of your credit (which is what would happen if you are paying for everything with a credit card) not only makes you a risky, undesirable proposition for the credit card companies, but also puts you at risk of racking up serious APR fees if you overspend. 

For those respondents that were either using cash for some things or a credit/debit card for some things were asked to specifically identify what they were using either payment vehicle for. 

Interestingly, the percentages each spending category received were much more balanced for credit or debit cards than they were for cash. The most common expenditures for credit or debit card users were cell phone and cable bills (15.21%), housing and utilities (14.38%), gas (14.71%), and take-out food (11..57%). When it came to cash, the most prevalent expenditures were take-out food (18.93%), fast food (18.64%), department stores (14.20%), and discount stores (13.61%). 

It is worth noting that respondents were able to select as many answers as they saw fit.​

The most serious and hefty of expenses, such as cell phone and cable bills and housing ​and utilities costs,  were reserved for credit cards or debit cards. Further, those were the two categories that were the least typical expenditures for cash. Only 4.44 percent of respondents used cash for their cell phone and cable bills, while only 2.37 percent used paper money for housing and utilities costs. 

Overall, the expenditure trends from these two questions were pretty encouraging. Daily costs, such as fast good, discount store purchases, and take-out food were often reserved for cash use, which is good. Using a credit card for small, frequent purchases such as those things is not usually recommended as it is an easy way to quickly drive up your credit utilization rate. That being said, credit cards should not be used for large payments like a housing or utility bill, but our poll found that those were some of the most typical expenditures for credit or debit cards. Because we did not differentiate between a credit card and debit card, we will never know if the respondents were using either a credit or debit card for those expenses. Lets just hope it was a debit card. 

Miscellaneous Findings

There were two miscellaneous findings from this poll that are worth mentioned. The first being that we found 85.14 percent of poll participants have either a credit card or debit card, or both. Only 14.86 percent did not have either. All 875 respondents were polled on this question. In 2017, having that piece of plastic in your wallet is quite essential and our poll found that almost all of the respondents understood this.

Second, we asked both the poll participants that said cash was their main form of payment​ and those that said they always have cash on them the following question: “What do you like about cash?”

The plurality of respondents, 42.06 percent, said they like cash because it helps them limit their spending by seeing the physical transaction take place. Many frequent swipers of a credit card or debit card can understand this reasoning because sometimes using that tiny piece of plastic can seem like free spending. Using tangible cash really drives the point home that you are indeed spending money at that moment.

33.43 percent of poll participants answered, “I like the ease of paying with cash.” Another 19.50 percent said, “I like paying for things without creating a paper trail,” while 5.01 percent of respondents said “I like when people can see that I have a lot of cash on me.”​


All data that was used in this report originates from a poll that was commissioned by LendEDU and conducted online by polling company PollFish. In total, 875 American respondents from the age of 18 and up were polled over a two day span from September 6th, 2017 to September 7th, 2017. A screener question was not used as we were not seeking a specific cohort of respondents, simply American consumers. All respondents were asked to answer each question truthfully and to the best of their ability.

See more of LendEDU’s research.