Other data sources have tracked the decline in the use of paper checks since 2000. This report adds to that data by delving into the characteristics of 1,600 individual transactions—in particular, dollar amount, payee, and payer—made by a representative sample of U.S. consumers using checks. Among the findings:
- Consumers used checks for 7 percent of transactions overall in 2017 and 2018 and wrote about three checks a month.
- Check payments had a relatively high average dollar value, around $300, compared to other payments ($87).
- Three-quarters of checks in this sample were for less than $250.
All things being equal, older, low-income, nonminority group members are more likely to pay with paper checks. Allowing for demographics and household income, consumers are more likely to use checks for higher-dollar-value payments for utilities, rent, charitable donations, government taxes and fees and building contractors. Compared with other types of income, rental income and self-employment income are more likely to be paid by check.
From 2015 to 2018, the proportion of consumers who state checks are their preferred payment method declined by 23 percent for bills and 8 percent for purchases. (Keep in mind that consumers’ stated responses on payment instrument preference could be unrelated to their behavior in the moment.)
JEL classification: D9, D14, E42
Key words: U.S. consumer check use, paper checks, personal checks, paycheck, Diary of Consumer Payment Choice