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Is Cash Still King?


Cash might not be the king of retail anymore, but Americans still believe it’s “unbeatable” for savings and lending.

A poll of 2,000 U.S. adults found 51% have cold hard cash stored away in their homes. Of them, the average person has $1,010 stashed somewhere safe in their home.

Over half of respondents (58%) said they prefer keeping their savings in cash, just in case of an emergency.

Meanwhile, 29% said they find cash useful for lending to friends and people they know, compared to mobile payments (17%) and old-school checks (15%).

For the 37% of respondents currently lending cash to people they know, the maximum they’d willingly lend is a whopping average $1,499. And only 38% would only ask to be paid back if it was a large enough amount of dough. Fifteen percent wouldn’t ask to be paid back at all.

Commissioned by Alliant Credit Union and conducted by OnePoll, the study found for more general purposes, a quarter still prefer using their credit cards, while 24% prefer their debit cards — all over cash (20%).

Nearly half (45%) have used cash just within the past week, based on when the survey was fielded. An additional 38% have used cash within the past month.

However, cash was also found to burn a hole in the wallets of 55% who said they’re “more inclined” to use cash if they have it with them.

Fifty-three percent said they’d be likely to shop at a business that is cash only. Meanwhile, 17% said they wouldn’t be likely and 30% felt neutral on the issue.

Yet, before deciding to shop at cash-only businesses, 61% admitted they’d look for a nearby competitor that isn’t cash only first.

For 43% of cash users, purchases consist of smaller items, like coffee or conveniences. Meanwhile, more than a third use cash for grooming appointments (39%) and smaller, non-critical emergencies (35%).

“What I think we’re seeing here isn’t that cash is dying out — instead, its uses are evolving,” said Chris Moore, director of deposits and payment product strategy at Alliant Credit Union. “Seeing that people still opt to use cash for savings, emergencies and lending to friends and family tells us that cash’s usefulness is the fact that it’s liquid and instantly available.”

The results show a quarter of people (28%) find credit cards the most practical form of payment, closely followed by debit cards (27%). However, 21% still find cash to be the most practical.

The average cash-carrier has $70 in greenbacks in their wallet. Respondents said they’re most likely to use $20 bills (30%), $10 bills (24%) and $50 bills (13%).

When asked what makes money feel significant to them, people like being able to use it immediately (38%), having earned it through work (35%) and its impact on their budget (35%).

Nearly a third (30%) said it has to be over a certain amount — for them, anything over $200 is considered “impactful” to their budget.

“There’s no denying the convenience of pulling out a card or your smartphone instead of fumbling with cash,” continued Moore. “But knowing people still see cash as a reliable backup option can tell us a lot about how we view resiliency with our personal finances.”


  • Smaller purchases - 43%
  • Personal grooming appointments - 39%
  • Smaller emergencies - 35%
  • Public transportation - 32%
  • Grocery shopping - 30%
  • Entertainment - 30%
  • Gas - 25%
  • Clothing - 23%
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