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Why are (some) consumers (finally) writing fewer checks? The role of payment characteristics



Since the mid-1990s, the US 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 instrument use by estimating econometric models of consumers' adoption (extensive margin) and use (intensive margin) of checks plus six other payment instruments with a comprehensive new data source. Changes in the relative convenience and cost of checks can explain directly about 34% and 11%, 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 per consumer, but the exact magnitude of this indirect channel cannot be identified with available data.

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