Washington For the first time, Americans' use of credit cards, debit cards and other electronic bill paying has eclipsed paper checks.
The number of electronic payment transactions last year totaled 44.5 billion -- exceeding the number of checks paid, 36.7 billion -- according to Federal Reserve studies released Monday. That's a first, the Fed said.
"The balance has shifted from check writing to electronic payments, and we expect this trend to continue," said Richard Oliver, senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the Federal Reserve banks' product manager for retail payments.
In the Fed's previous research, the number of consumer and business checks paid in 2000 came to 41.9 billion, while the number of credit cards, debt cards and other electronic payments totaled 30.6 billion.
The shift seen in 2003 toward more electronic payments reflects the expanding role of technology in the retail, financial and banking businesses, private economists said. It also reflects the industry's efforts to make electronic payments more convenient for customers.
The Fed study said the 36.7 billion checks paid in 2003 had a value of about $39.3 trillion. The figures are based on the number of checks paid during the period, not written, the Fed said. The studies didn't provide a figure for the number of checks written.
The 44.5 billion electronic payments in 2003 had a dollar value of $27.4 trillion.
l The number of credit card payments totaled 19 billion in 2003, with a value of $1.7 trillion. The number of debt card transactions totaled 15.6 billion, with a dollar value of $600 billion.
l There were 6.1 billion ATM withdrawals in 2003, with a total value of $520 billion. Commercial bank customers accounted for 64.7 percent of ATM withdrawals.