CreditCards.com

Research, regulation, industry reports

20 surprising facts about how Americans pay for things

Matt Schulz

I’m not proud of this, but I can’t deny it either: It drives me bonkers when I’m waiting in line at a store and someone in front of me writes a check. 

Writing a check at checkout? Really? In 2014?

I mean, sure, I still write checks a few times a year, but those typically go to an individual — like a plumber or a handyman — or maybe to my son’s school or our church. Those are cases where plastic isn’t an option, and it’s sometimes easier to write a check than to go get cash. Still, by and large, checks are a relic of time gone by. 

20 Surprising Facts About The Way Americans Pay For Things

In case you needed further proof, the Federal Reserve released its “2013 Payments Study” in late July and it leaves no doubt. Payments made with paper checks have fallen from 41.9 billion in 2000 to 18.3 billion in 2012. Now, 18.3 billion is still a big number, but it’s less than half the number written just a dozen years ago.

That wasn’t the only eye-catching number in the nearly 200-page document. It touched on the myriad ways Americans pay for things.

Here’s a quick rundown (for more, see :

1. Consumers made 19.9 billion credit card transactions, totaling $1.5 trillion. That’s an average of $76 per transaction.

2. The average outstanding balance on an American credit card holder’s account was $1,900.

3. There were 775 million cards “in force” — in other words, issued, activated and not expired — in the United States. That includes credit cards, debit cards and prepaid cards.

4. Of those 775 million cards, 333 million were credit cards, 159 million were prepaid cards and 283 million were debit cards.

5. Just over half of those 333 million credit cards were active, meaning that they were used to make at least one payment per month.

6. Credit union customers used their credit cards less often (eight times versus 10 times) and made smaller average purchases ($68 to $76) on their cards than bank customers.

7. Just 7 percent of credit cards in force had EMV or “smart chips.” That number has grown substantially since 2012, and many experts expect that number to move to 70 percent by the end of 2015.

8. Debit card payments grew from 8.3 billion in 2000 to 47.0 billion in 2012. That’s a nearly sixfold increase.

9. If you add up the total number of debit and prepaid card payments in 2012, it equals more than double the number of credit card payments. In 2000, it equaled less than half.

10. The average person who uses a debit card uses it 23 times a month. Those who use prepaid cards use them 10 times a month. Those who use credit cards use them 11 times a month.

11. The average yearly spending on a consumer debit card as $10,885.

12. Americans made 250 million mobile payments using a mobile wallet application in 2012.

13. One out of every 11 credit card purchases is for less than $5.

14. The average consumer debit card transaction using a signature was $38. For those involving a PIN, the average rose to $42.

15. The average transaction on a general purpose prepaid card was $29.

16. Nearly 9 billion checks were deposited through “image deposits,” such as through mobile phones.

17. Americans made 5.8 billion ATM withdrawals, totaling $687 billion.

18. The average ATM withdrawal was $118.

19. There were 2.5 billion online or mobile bill payments made in 2012. Just 7 percent were done via mobile, either through an app or text message.

20. Americans prepaid for transportation — toll roads, subways, buses, etc. — 9.9 billion times in 2012. At least 5.2 billion of those transportation payments were made via toll road transponders — for example, a toll tag that you put on your windshield that is pinged every time you use a toll road.

(Note: The data from the Fed’s Payment Study reflects 2012 numbers. This study is conducted every three years.)

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, we ask that you do not disclose confidential or personal information such as your bank account numbers, social security numbers, etc. Keep in mind that anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

  • Kiat

    Oh no, the average outstanding balance is $1,900, that is why the banks are so rich.