American consumers and businesses make 80 billion retail payments annually, according to a market research report just released by the Fed. Nearly 50 billion of these payments are made by check, and the remaining 30 billion are handled by electronic instruments, such as credit cards, debit cards and ACH. Overall, Americans are increasingly using electronic forms of payment; checks have declined from approximately 85 percent of non-cash payments in 1979 to about 60 percent today.
This information is part of a comprehensive retail payments research project, the first of its kind in more than 20 years. The data collection effort was commissioned by the Reserve banks and consisted of three main studies—the Depository Financial Institution (DFI) Check Study, the Check Sample Study and the Electronic Payment Instruments Study.
The DFI Check Study was designed to count the total number of checks processed in the United States for a 12-month period. The Check Sample Study gathered information on the composition of the check market, namely, who (consumers, businesses or government) writes checks to whom (consumers, businesses or government) and why (remittance, point-of-sale, income or casual payment). The Electronic Payment Instruments Study gathered data on the volume and value of electronic payments processed during 2000.
More than 1,300 financial institutions and 89 electronic payment processors responded to the surveys. Additional details are available on the Federal Reserve System's web site, www.frbservices.org.