More than three-fourths of all U.S. noncash payments in 2009 were made electronically, a new Federal Reserve study indicates, representing a 9.3% annualized increase since the Fed's previous study that revealed that in 2006 two-thirds of noncash payments were electronic.

Noncash payments in the study include checks, automated clearinghouse transactions, credit cards, debit cards (both signature and PIN), prepaid cards and electronic benefits transfer transactions. The study also estimated the number and value of ATM withdrawals.

All electronic-payment types except credit cards showed increased use from 2006 to 2009. The number of noncash payments overall increased to 108.9 billion in 2009 compared with 95.2 billion in 2006. The Fed estimates the value of all 2009 noncash payments at $72.3 trillion, up from $75.7 trillion. Credit card payments decreased slightly, to 21.6 billion from 21.7 billion.

The Fed expects to release more-detailed study results in early 2011.

Debit card payments increased to 37.9 billion from 25 billion. While the Fed did not measure cash use, it says some of debit card's growth came from displacing cash transactions.

"The results of the study clearly underscore this nation's efforts to move toward a more efficient electronic clearing system for all types of retail payments" Richard Oliver, executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in a statement.

The results likely reflect changing consumer behavior during a difficult economy, Oliver added.

Check use continues to decline as more consumers debit monthly bills from their checking accounts and use debit cards, the study notes. The number of checks paid decreased to 24.4 billion in 2009 from 30.5 billion in 2006. The number of check written decreased to 27.5 billion from 33.1 billion.

The number of checks paid differs from the number of checks written because use of the ACH system converts some consumer checks presented to billers and merchants into electronic payments, according to the study. ACH transactions increased  to 19.1 billion in 2009 from 14.6 billion in 2009.

Prepaid card transactions experienced the largest growth, as payments increased to 6 billion from 3.3 billion. The Fed included general-purpose prepaid, closed-loop and EBT transactions in the prepaid category.

Consumers made 2.7 billion purchases using proprietary closed-loop cards compared with 1.9 billion in 2006. EBT transactions increased to 2 billion from 1.1 billion.

Prepaid cards represent an increasingly significant part of noncash payments and meet a range of market needs, the Fed notes.

Cardholders initiated some 6 billion ATM withdrawals last year compared with 5.8 billion in 2006. The value of the withdrawals totaled $629 billion compared with $588 billion.

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