Paper or Plastic? The Definitive List of Cash Versus Credit Card Spending Statistics

Written By
Julija A.
February 11,2022

As is the case with so many aspects of life in the 21st century, physical money is slowly giving way to a digital replacement. And while mobile payments are most popular in increasingly cashless societies like Sweden and Norway, Americans still prefer plastic options. “Cash or credit?” is still the most commonly question asked by a waiter at the end of a meal in the USA, even though those smartphones resting on the table could do the job just as well.

Cash is the most popular payment method for face-to-face transactions and cheap, everyday purchases. It is still used in most transactions, but the value of those transactions is low. Credit and debit cards are used for 60% of transactions from $10 to $100. The biggest value is reserved for electronic payment methods, which cover major expenses like bills and mortgage payments.

It’s a transitional period and the market is volatile. Cash usage still makes up a significant part of America’s GDP: 12.7%, to be exact. At the same time, according to the PYMNTS Global Cash Index, credit cards are used by 86% of Americans at least sometimes.

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Key Points:

  • $2.36 trillion - the amount of cash US consumers used in 2015.
  • $1 trillion - the revolving debt milestone US consumers passed in 2019.
  • 30% - the volume share of cash transactions.
  • $6,028 - the average credit card debt for American consumers.

The data currently declares no clear winner; cash is widely used, but other methods of payment are rising in popularity. This is a transitional period and the outcome is difficult to predict. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of payment method statistics from the most relevant resources, focusing on the cash vs credit card stand-off.

(US Federal Reserve)

According to cash vs credit card spending statistics, cash is still king, although its share is declining on a yearly basis, from 33% of all payments in 2015 to 30% in 2017. Americans make an average of 41 payments per month, 12.4 of which they make with cash.

Credit card usage, on the other hand, increased by 3% in 2017 (from 18% in 2016 to 21% in 2017). Debit cards trail closely behind cash, making up 27% of all payments in the USA.

US consumers spent $2.36 trillion in cash in 2015.


The Global Cash Index published by PYMNTS in 2018 shows that speculations about the “death of cash” as a form of payment in the USA are greatly exaggerated. The world's largest economy still relies heavily on cash, with cash usage accounting for 12.7% of the country’s GDP in 2016.

Over-the-counter withdrawals accounted for $1.65 trillion, while $700 billion was withdrawn from ATMs.

Despite technological innovations breaking new frontiers in convenience and security, the feeling of hard cash at your fingertips isn’t going anywhere. According to predictions, cash usage will increase 1.5% year-on-year until 2021.

People use cash most often for everyday purchases, with more than half of transactions under $10 taking place in cash.

(US Federal Reserve)

While the question “What percentage of transactions are cash?” is valid, it’s not the only question. Cash represents a large volume of payments, but the value of those payments is still low.

It makes sense that the bigger the payment, the less likely one is to make it with cash. As the value of transactions rises, other forms of payment like credit and debit cards become more popular.

Credit cards and debit cards combined account for between 50% and 60% of payments in the $10-100 bracket.

Above that limit, people typically use checks or automatic electronic payments to cover their most significant payments, including mortgage repayments and debt installments. These two payment methods account for 50% of all transaction value.

The average value of credit card transactions is $57.

(Federal Reserve Bank of Boston)

There are twice as many individual transactions made by cash than by credit card.

The value of transactions, however, is more than double in favor of credit cards: $22 compared to $57. Debit cards sit somewhere in the middle, with slightly fewer total transactions than cash and a slightly smaller average payment amount than credit cards.

The monthly value of debit card transactions surpasses both credit cards and cash: $545.60 for average monthly debit card spending, compared to $473.10 and $310.20 for credit card and cash spending respectively.

Cash is used more frequently in low income households; 47% of transactions in households with less than $25,000 a year are made using cash.

(US Federal Reserve)

Credit card usage rises consistently with household income. From just 7% of transactions in the poorest households, this figure rises to 33% in households with an annual income greater than $125,000.

Debit cards are consistently used all over the income spectrum. They account for 27-31% of all transactions, with a slight drop-off in the highest income brackets.

Almost nine in 10 Americans say they use a debit or credit card payment method at least sometimes.


The move toward a cashless global society is underway. While most of the world is turning to mobile payments as a replacement for cash, Americans prefer to use plastic. Therefore, accepting plastic money and choosing an adequate credit card processing company is a must for any successful retail business in the States.

Revolving consumer credit in the USA has breached the $1 trillion threshold.

(US Federal Reserve)

Credit cards aggregate revolving debt. When you charge funds to your credit card, you borrow that money from the bank with interest. When you repay $100 of your $500 debt at the end of the month, you can re-borrow (revolve) it again.

Using a credit card responsibly is a great way to boost your credit score rating. Using it incorrectly, however, can cause huge problems.

There is $1.7 trillion worth of cash in circulation in the USA.

(Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

The advent of mobile payment platforms such as Apple Pay and Venmo has not hindered the increase of cash in circulation. From $240 billion in 1989 to $1.7 trillion in 2019, cash has not yet seen a year-on-year decline.

Even small denominations - including $1, $2, and $5 bills - have seen a 2.5% year-on-year increase.

13% of American consumers say they always have cash on hand.


The whole world is weighing in on the cash versus credit debate, and the cashless option is slowly but surely taking over.

Although 41% of respondents to LendEDU’s survey say they sometimes have cash on hand, 2.51% say they never do. That’s 9 million Americans who never use paper money.

According to an MIT study, credit cards make people spend more money - sometimes up to 83% more.

(Marketing Letters)

In this study, researchers asked subjects to bid on various items, including tickets for sporting events, in a blind auction. They were all told that the highest bid would get the item. One group was told that they would need to pay in cash and the other that they would have to pay by credit card.

The conclusion of this cash vs credit battle was that paying with plastic makes people willing to spend more money. The average cash bid for Celtics tickets was $29, while card payers offered $61.

It looks like the heavy marketing campaigns for credit card rewards programs have really done the trick. This, combined with the fact that it’s much easier to part with intangible money than it is to let go of physical paper, means that even the average tip amount is 13% larger when paying with a credit card.

The average credit card debt in America in 2019 is $6,028.


Credit cards are a means of purchasing a line of credit from loaners. Paying off credit card debt on time can do wonders for your credit score rating, but at the same time can quickly spiral out of control if not tended to on a regular basis.

This is one of the reasons why a large number of people use cash or debit cards, so they can have a better overview of their expenses and avoid overspending.

In 2017, Americans held an average of $59 in cash daily across all age brackets.

(US Federal Reserve)

A cash holder is someone who carries more than $1 in their pocket, purse, or wallet.

How much cash do you carry around with you? It seems that if you’re a US citizen in the 65+ age bracket, the answer is $101 on average. The older you are, the more money you are likely to hold, according to cash spending statistics.

The percentage of people who hold cash daily has remained stable from year to year, except in the lowest and highest income brackets, where they have a slight upward trajectory.

40% of in-person payments are made using cash.

(US Federal Reserve)

Online shopping has not yet completely conquered the market. In fact, it isn’t even close; three-quarters of all transactions still take place in person.

Cash is still the preferred payment method for these transactions. However, from 2015 to 2017, the share of in-person transactions that took place in cash dropped by 1% per year, while credit cards experienced a 4% increase in popularity during this period, according to cash vs credit card spending statistics.

80% of gifts and person-to-person transfers take place in cash.

(US Federal Reserve)

It seems there’s still something magical about receiving a wad of cash as a present, as opposed to getting that same amount via your online checking account. Four times out of five, that’s how people choose to treat someone they care about.

However, in the cash vs credit card battle, credit cards are winning when it comes to general merchandise transactions. That’s a broad term describing all retail items that are not groceries. For these types of transactions, credit and debit cards are used 66% of the time, while cash holds a 23% share.

Cash accounts for 82% of consumer transactions in Austria and Germany.

(Federal Reserve Bank of Boston)

A comparative cash global usage survey that focused on seven economically developed countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA) has shown that the German-speaking countries favor cash the most.

In these two countries, the credit card to cash transaction value also skews heavily toward cash, with credit cards holding a meager 4% share in transaction value. Cash represents 65% and 53% of transaction value in Austria and Germany respectively.

Nearly 90% of consumer transactions in Mexico are completed with cash.


Cash accounted for 26.7% of the Mexican GDP in 2015, compared to around 13% in the USA

Online retailers are trying to find new ways to tap into the 14th-largest consumer market in the world. Mexicans love to use cash to pay for almost everything, so Amazon started selling gift cards in convenience stores six months after its launch in the Central American country. Business models that allow people to buy online and pick up in person are becoming increasingly popular.

Even though alternative payment methods are slowly eating away at cash’s share of the Mexican market, cash usage is still projected to grow 3.1% by 2020 from its 2015 level.

Only 2.5% of the money supply in Norway and Sweden is cash.


Cash almost never changes hands in these two Nordic countries. When someone wants to lend their friend some money, they zap it over using a mobile app. When they pay for in-store items, they use cards. The amount of Swedish krona in circulation has dropped from 77 billion in 2015 to 55 billion in 2017.

Even banks are contributing to the cashless goal by removing cash from their branches and downsizing.

The Deloitte experts who analyzed the use of cash in these countries believe it will still remain legal tender for some time, but that its presence will continue to deteriorate in the coming years. They predict that at least one Nordic country will become de facto cashless by 2025.

Credit card usage statistics by country show that Canadians hold the largest credit card share per capita: 82.5%.

(The Global Economy)

The most significant reason why people and businesses use credit cards is because they represent the easiest way to procure a line of credit. Canadians lead the way globally when it comes to credit card usage, while Myanmar (Burma) is at the bottom of the list. Just 0.06% of Burmese citizens older than 15 years have credit cards.

Mobile payments in China doubled in a year, from $8.4 trillion in 2016 to $17.4 trillion in 2017.

(Financial Times, eMarketer)

Despite the efforts of the Central Bank of China to crack down on merchants who no longer accept cash, mobile payment giants Ant and Tencent are growing at an astronomical rate.

When you consider the booming smartphone industry in China, the fact that 80% of Chinese consumers use proximity mobile payments is jaw-dropping. The USA pales in comparison, at just 25.3%,

Only 46% of US citizens believe their country will become a cashless society.


While Nordic countries like Sweden and Norway are well on the way to becoming completely cashless, not even half of Americans believe that cash in the USA will one day disappear.

Cash vs credit card spending statistics published by YouGov show that Indonesians - nine out of 10 of whom use cash exclusively - are much more optimistic that their country will become cashless one day. Indeed, 80% answered in the affirmative to the question: “Do you believe that your country will be a fully cashless society?”


About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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