Electronic Payments Surpass Paper Checks

Americans made more payments electronically than with checks in 2003, making it the first year electronic transactions surpassed paper payments, according to studies released Monday by the Federal Reserve's (search) financial services policy committee.

The studies found that the number of electronic transactions — including debit cards (search), credit cards (search) and direct debits — increased 13.2 percent in 2003 to 44.5 billion, while check payments slipped 4.3 percent to 36.7 billion.

However, Americans were more likely to write checks for larger amounts. Checks written valued $39.3 trillion while electronic transactions totaled $27.4 trillion.

"People use their electronic options for a lot of smaller payments and still write checks for some larger payments," spokesman David Fettig said. Debit card use grew the most from 2002, rising 23.5 percent to 15.6 billion transactions, but accounted for only a small fraction of transferred funds at $600 billion.

The data were compiled from responses of more than 1,500 financial institutions and 68 organizations that process or manage electronic payments.