Why Are (Some) Consumers (Finally) Writing Fewer Checks? The Role of Payment CharacteristicsWhy Are (Some) Consumers (Finally) Writing Fewer Checks? The Role of Payment Characteristics

A revised version was published in Journal of Banking and Finance 34, no. 8 (August 2010): 1745-1758.

Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. payment system has undergone a transformation featuring a significant decline in the use of paper checks that is quite uneven across consumers and not well understood. This paper shows that characteristics of payment instruments are the most important determinants of their use, by estimating econometric models of consumers' adoption (extensive margin) and use (intensive margin) of checks plus six other payment instruments, using data from a comprehensive new data source. Changes in the relative convenience and cost of checks can explain directly about 34 and 11 percent, respectively, of the 8.4 percentage point decline in check share from 2003 to 2006. Changes in the relative characteristics of substitute payment instruments also likely contributed indirectly to the decline in check use through an increase in the number of payment instruments adopted per consumer, but the exact magnitude of this indirect channel cannot be identified with available data.

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