If you listen to trend pieces in the news and online commenters, cash is on its way out. There are coffee shops and restaurants that don’t accept it, and most people don’t carry very much cash at any given time. Yet it turns out that retailers still generally prefer cash, since it’s the cheapest way to accept payments.
What about the extra expenses of dealing with cash, which include security, keeping a safe, and an armored car pickup for big enough businesses? Polly Mosendz over at Bloomberg News learned that even when you account for theft and the extra work of counting and preparing deposits, cash is still better for the bottom line.
“There are certainly costs involved with handling cash, but they are microscopic compared to the costs of accepting plastic,” explained a spokesman for trade group the National Retail Federation.
Going plastic-only also makes a symbolic statement. It says that you don’t want business from the estimated 7% of adults in this country who are unbanked, meaning that they don’t have a bank account, and use cash and reloadable debit cards to get by and pay bills.
That might not be the what the few businesses that have gone plastic-only intended, but it’s the effect that banishing cash has on a business.
It’s not just unbanked people who are still using cash, though. There was $1.49 trillion in U.S. cash in circulation as of last month, and it’s still the most common method of payment used across the country for purchases under $50. Maybe this tendency will fade over generations, like our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ Great Depression-induced mistrust of banks, and plastic-only establishments won’t be unusual or implicitly classist.