Consumers are paying far more of their monthly bills electronically than with checks, a study by Hitachi Consulting of Boston shows.

Electronic payments have already surpassed checks at the point of sale and for online purchases. The study, which Hitachi Consulting (formerly Dove Consulting) published Monday, found that checks account for only 30% of bill payments this year, down sharply from 49% in a 2005 Dove study. By contrast, 62% of bills are being paid electronically this year.

"It's no surprise to us that bill payment has crossed over. What was surprising was the size of the jump," said Chris Allen, a director of Hitachi's financial services practice.

The fastest growth came at biller-direct payment sites, whose share of recurring monthly bill payments more than doubled from 2005, to 23%. Use of bank Web sites grew 5 percentage points, to 18%, according to the study, which was commissioned by the Bank Administration Institute and based on an online survey of 3,300 consumers in June.

Automatic payments, such as preauthorized debits, held steady at 21% of recurring payments.

Asked how they preferred to pay bills, consumers were divided almost equally into four camps: biller direct and bank sites (20% each), automatic payment (22%), and check (25%).

"For people who have paid bills with checks for 30 years, that's their habit," said Melissa Fox, a senior manager in Hitachi's financial service practice.

She attributed the growth in biller-direct payments to new users of online payments. Past studies have shown that someone paying a single bill online is more likely to use a biller's site, but consumers who pay multiple bills prefer to use a single site.

Retail stores account for 41 of the average consumer's 52 monthly transactions, Hitachi said. At the point of sale, 63% of purchases were made using a card, up from 56% in 2005.

This year slightly fewer consumers reported using a debit card at the point of sale. Hitachi said this indicates the base of debit card users may be stabilizing.

The study was sponsored by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.'s First Data Corp. and its Star debit network, Harland Clarke Corp., MasterCard Inc., Metavante Technologies Inc., and Discover Financial Services' Pulse Network LLC.