Most U.S. consumers cite cash as their preferred form of payment despite increasing adoption of debit cards and other electronic modes, according to a report released last week by the Rockville, Md., consumer research firm Packaged Facts.
"Aside from barter, cash is humanity's most rudimentary form of paying for goods and services," the report said. "And while barter's presence in modern economies is negligible today, cash has proven to be far more resilient."
The report was based on a spring 2009 survey of 225,000 U.S. adults by Experian Simmons, a subsidiary of the credit reporting agency Experian PLC.
The research company found that 54% of people "often prefer to pay cash for the things they buy."
But the results were different when people pay their bills; 26% of respondents said they had always or sometimes used cash in the last 12 months, behind checks (60%) and online bill payment (27%).
That cash ranks above credit cards — 24% of respondents said they always or sometimes paid this way in the last 12 months — is not surprising, given the challenging economic conditions consumers have faced in the past year, analyst David Lummis said.
There are still "quite a few underbanked consumers and in general, less affluent consumers, who have fewer payment options available to them because they don't have a credit card and they're still probably not paying online," said Lummis, a project manager with Packaged Facts who co-authored the report.
Additionally, there has been a return to cash and account-tied methods such as debit cards and checks, he said.
Those methods have "built-in controls on spending" because they represent money that consumers have at their disposal, he added.
Consumers have grown especially wary of credit cards because of industry practices that have become more prominent, including sudden interest rate increases and credit-line reductions.
The percentage of consumers who reported using a credit card in the previous 12 months fell 3 percentage points from 2004 to 2009, to 58%, according to the Experian Simmons survey.
"Consumer frustration with credit card companies (if not an outright sense of mistreatment) has no doubt played a role in this declining usage," the Packaged Facts' report said.
Improving economic conditions and measures like the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009, which aims to make card-industry practices more transparent, should bode well for credit usage in the future, Lummis said.
Credit still faces "pretty stiff competition" from debit cards, which are gaining share rapidly thanks to marketing strategies that offer rewards programs, he said.
The survey found that 60% of adults had a debit card in 2009, up from 44% in 2004.