Federal Reserve payments study finds growth in card and automated clearinghouse payments

The growth of payments using debit and credit cards and the automated clearinghouse (ACH) system continued to accelerate from 2015 to 2018, while check payments continued their long-run decline, according to U.S. noncash payments data collected by the Federal Reserve.

The 2019 Federal Reserve Payments Study shows that the growth rate of core noncash payments, defined for the report as debit card, credit card, ACH, and check payments, was 6.7 percent per year between 2015 and 2018. During the prior three-year survey period, core noncash payments grew at a rate of 5.1 percent per year. These core noncash payment types have retained their ability to be used in traditional ways even while they increasingly function as the means of settlement for innovative types of alternative payment methods and services, such as smartphone and internet-based services.

Total card payments (both credit and debit), which represented 7.3 percent of core noncash payments by value and 75.3 percent by number in 2018, grew at a rate of 8.9 percent per year between 2015 and 2018-up from the 6.8 percent yearly rate of increase from 2012 to 2015. Debit cards, including both prepaid and non-prepaid, were used almost twice as often as credit cards in 2018, but the value of credit card payments exceeded the value of debit card payments by almost 30 percent.

For general-purpose (network-branded) cards overall, the value of remote payments in 2018 nearly equaled in-person payments, driven in part by growing e-commerce card payments and the use of cards for recurring bill payments. More than half of in-person general-purpose card payments were chip authenticated in 2018, compared to 2.0 percent in 2015.

The number of ACH credit and debit transfers grew by 6.0 percent per year between 2015 and 2018, exceeding the 4.9 percent per-year growth rate recorded for 2012 to 2015.

Payments made by checks fell 7.2 percent per year from 2015 to 2018, a faster rate of decline than the 2.8 percent yearly rate seen over the prior three years but in line with declines posted from 2003 to 2012. The number of check payments declined to 14.5 billion in 2018-falling for the first time below the number of ACH debit transfers.

The rate of decline for ATM cash withdrawals slowed compared with the previous three years, falling 0.9 percent per year from 2015 to 2018. The decline in the number, combined with an increase in value, resulted in average ATM cash withdrawals of $156 in 2018, compared to $146 in 2015.

The Federal Reserve Payments Study is a collaborative effort of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to track and document developments in the U.S. payments system through the collection of quantitative survey data. Reports for 2000 through 2018 and the annual supplements for 2016 and 2017 are available at: www.federalreserve.gov/paymentsystems/fr-payments-study.htm

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