Plastic Nation

Robert J Samuelson in Newsweek Magazine, writing about how plastic cards & e-transactions have virtually created a 'cashless' society :

From 1999 to 2005, the number of card-swiping terminals nearly tripled to 6.8 million, says the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Habits and mind-sets change. In 1990, most Americans regarded paying for groceries by credit card as unnatural. Now cards cover about 65 percent of food sales, says the Food Marketing Institute. There's electronic banking (83 percent of Social Security beneficiaries receive their monthly payments by automatic deposit), Internet buying, prepaid cards and automatic identity tags for toll booths.

In 2005, Americans held 1.7 billion credit and debit cards (about seven for everyone over 15), says The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter, and in the past decade, debit-card use has soared. In 1996, checks and cash represented almost 80 percent of consumer payments, estimates Nilson; they're now less than half. (The latest firm figures for 2005 show all paper payments at 50.3 percent of the total, with cash at 20.7 percent; by 2010, Nilson expects electronic payments to exceed 70 percent of the total.)

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