Do You Carry More Cash Than Most Americans?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Nearly eight in ten Americans (78%) carry less than $50 in cash on a daily basis, according to a new Bankrate.com report.

Consumers are opting instead to carry debit, credit or pre-paid cards or using their mobile devices to pay for discretionary items.

Nearly half (49%) of Americans carry $20 or less each day, including 9% who don't carry any cash at all. Only 7% of Americans typically carry $100 or more.

Also See: Why the Glacial Adoption of the Mobile Wallet?

"If we move to a truly cashless society, it won't be much of an adjustment for most Americans," said Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate.com's chief financial analyst. "The vast majority of Americans carry $50 or less on a daily basis, which seems to indicate that it's more out of necessity than a desire to pay with cash."

Women tend to keep less cash on hand with 86% who carry less than $50 on a daily basis, compared to only 70% of men. Women were more likely than men to say they carry less than $20.

"There is a continued migration away from cash into more convenient methods of payments such as debit and credit cards," he said. "That's one reason why people don't carry a whole lot of cash."

A lack of cash also signifies the number of people who simply don't have extra money in their budgets.

"A lot of people don't carry extra cash, because they don't have it," McBride said. "Their budgets are tight and their incomes are stagnant."

The survey results were fairly even across age groups, income levels and educational attainment. People with incomes of $30,000 or less were more likely to say they had less than $20 in their pocket than people with higher incomes.

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Respondents from the West were more than twice as likely as their counterparts in the Midwest or South to say they don't carry cash.

Not having any cash could put a consumer at risk in case of an emergency such as needing to pay for an unexpected toll, said Jason Fischbach, 24, who works in the public relations industry in New York.

Also See: 70 Million Americans Have No Emergency Savings

"This is pretty interesting. as I would have assumed the trend would be reversed given the increased fears about credit card and data security and the increased prices of just about everything," he said. "Obviously, more stores accept credit cards than in the past, but it still seems like an unnecessary risk to not have any cash on you."

Some consumers find that carrying cash means they spend a little less and are able to stick to their budgets better.

"It helps some people reign in their spending," McBride said. "They feel a little bit of pain. For other people, that cash burns a hole in their pocket."

One main disadvantage of carrying cash is being at a greater risk for loss and theft, he said.

"When that money is gone, it's gone," McBride said. "With debit and credit cards, you are not liable for unauthorized transactions."

Consumers who opt to maintain a cashless strategy could find that option to be detrimental and wind up forking $5 to $6 for out-of-network ATM fees.

 

"There is a cost to not carrying enough cash if you need it in a pinch," he said.

Using cash to pay for your purchases has its advantages since some retailers such as gas stations will give customers a discount for not using a credit or debit card.

"There is an argument for having some cash - not too much and not too little," McBride said. "Cash transactions are on the decline, but we are never going to get completely away from cash."

Bankrate.com also announced that its Financial Security Index clocked in at 98.7 in May, declining for a second month in a row (it was 100.5 in April) and indicating deterioration for only the second time in 2014. Readings below 100 indicate lower financial security than the previous year. The index's five components are savings, debt, net worth, job security and overall financial situation.

Feelings on job security turned negative for the first time since November 2013 since Americans were apparently not swayed by the strong April jobs report. The percentage of American workers feeling more secure in their jobs now than one year ago declined from 24% in April to 18% in May.

Also See: April Jobs Report Is Robust, But That Might Belie Truth

Savings declined further with the number of consumers who feel less comfortable with their savings level outnumbering those who are more comfortable by a two-to-one margin.

Men were more likely than women to say they felt more comfortable about their savings. Less than a tenth of people of retirement age said they felt more comfortable with their savings. People who attended college were more likely than others to say they were comfortable with their savings.

May is the second month in a row that Americans are less comfortable with their debt than one year prior. The survey found that men were more likely than women to say they were more comfortable with their debt. People making between $50,000 and $74,900 were the most likely to say they felt comfortable with their levels of debt.

Net worth is now the strongest component of financial security, with just one in six Americans reporting a lower net worth than one year ago.

"With rising home prices and stock markets near record highs, it's not surprising to see that net worth is the strongest component of Americans' financial security," he said.

Americans are neutral regarding their overall financial situations. Some 25% say they're better off than one year ago, while 25% say they are worse off and the remaining 50% say they are the same.

"The survey indicates that many Americans remain in an uncertain financial position," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C. "The overall index decline could be attributed to people realizing that their increased net worth remains on paper until they sell their home for a profit and cash out any stock market gains. Combine that reality with job insecurity, an uncomfortable amount of debt and a lack of savings and people have every reason to remain unsure about their financial future."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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