Short on cash? Join the club

How much cash are you carrying right now? If you're like most Americans, the answer is not much.

A new survey from personal finance site Bankrate.com shows that nearly 80 percent of Americans have less than $50 in cash on hand at any given time. And about half of Americans carry less than $20 around on a daily basis. Some 9 percent of us have gone completely cashless, while 7 percent usually have more than $100 in their wallets.

Men generally prefer to have more cash on hand, the survey showed. About 86 percent of women carry less than $50 in cash, while only 70 percent of men are comfortable doing so.

"If we move to a truly cashless society, it won't be much of an adjustment for most Americans," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com's chief financial analyst, in a statement announcing the survey results.

Credit card companies couldn't be happier with where things are headed. Less cash often means more charges on credit cards, which could lead to more debt and more financing charges and fees.

That would be welcome news for the financial sector, especially as Americans have become particularly good about paying off their credit cards. The amount of U.S. credit card debt has fallen to $659 billion, the lowest level since 2003, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Credit card companies are anxious to shore up business, and offered customers $81 billion in credit in the fourth quarter of last year. That's 32 percent more than they offered in the year-ago period.

It's also getting easier to skip cash altogether because companies are giving consumers more ways than ever to pay. At Home Depot (HD), for example, customers have the option to use online payment service PayPal to pay for purchases. Google (GOOG) and Square are pushing mobile wallets that let you pay with your phone in seconds.

Starbucks (SBUX) offers rewards to customers who pay with their mobile phones. The company says more than 11 percent of store transactions now place with a mobile device.

Bankrate.com shows another reason why people aren't carrying as much cash: They may not have that much to spend anymore. American workers are less secure in their jobs now, according to the survey, with feelings on job security turning negative for the first time since last November. More people are tapping savings, as well, contributing to a feeling of having less money to shell out.

When people were asked if they were better off financially than a year ago, half of respondents said they were about the same, while a quarter said they were better off and a quarter said they were worse off.

  • Kim Peterson

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