Why Americans Are Picking Cash Over Plastic

Anna Williams

cash dietThe “all-cash diet” is usually one of the strategies consumers take on when they want to cut down on credit card debt.

But this year, more Americans are trading in their plastic for an entirely different reason.


The new motivation? Security. A poll by The Associated Press and GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications finds that 37% of Americans are now making an effort to use cash instead of credit or debit cards as a result of the recent widespread data breaches.

Overall, the poll found growing public concern about the safety of cards: Almost half of Americans now say that they are “extremely or very concerned” about a store’s ability to protect personal information. Of course, their concern isn’t unfounded: In December, hackers gained access to the accounts of roughly 40 million customers who had swiped their cards at Target. It was later discovered that similar breaches also occurred at Neiman Marcus and Michael’s stores.

Still, there are downsides to an all-cash existence: LearnVest often recommends that the strategy only be used temporarily for those serious about paying down debt, as credit card use is one of the easiest ways to build your credit. Cash is also easier to lose track of in your budget (although LearnVest’s free Money Center, available through the free LearnVest app, lets you add cash transactions on the go).

For a less extreme way to help protect yourself against identity theft, make sure to monitor your spending with a daily Money Minute to keep an eye out for any unusual charges. Also make sure to check your free credit report on a regular basis and update your passwords routinely.

  • papillon

    Why is using cash considered extreme? It’s what everyone used before credit became so widely available. Some people LIKE paying with cash–doesn’t mean they’re all in debt. Sometimes I just want to pay for something and be done with it, not wait for it to show up on a bill and then pay for it. I use credit when paying with cash is inconvenient or unsafe, and that’s the way I think it should be.

  • Quamm

    I agree, people have gotten lazy and banks have marketed to convince people that cash is always inconvenient, because it cuts them out of the transaction.

  • pamb

    Nope to cash. I pay for everything (we’re talking McD’s and dry cleaning) by credit card. First of all, a percentage of what I spend goes into a 529 for my daughter. Second, I have a record of the transaction if anything goes wrong and I can’t find the receipt. Stores like Gap and Target will swipe your card to do a return if you can’t find the receipt.

    I still need to watch what I spend, because I pay the bill, in full, every month. That’s the key. Don’t want to pay late fees or interest.

    • Greg Haney

      Agreed. Takes a disciplined approach, but completely worthwhile.