Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that about four out of every 10 Americans almost never use cash in a given week. That’s a major jump from 2018 when cashless consumers made up about 30 percent of surveyed shoppers.
The prevalence of card readers, payment-app options, and other cashless payment systems in brick-and-mortar retail spaces has readily accommodated and possibly fueled this shift. Just about everywhere, small-dollar transactions, like cups of coffee and fast food meals, are increasingly completed with a swipe or chip scan instead of exchanging cash and coins.
For customers, it’s convenient to make exact amount payments without needing to stop at a bank or ATM, while also building up their credit. Many businesses are happy to accept and will even encourage cashless payments.
Despite the additional fees and processing needed to accept digital and credit payment methods, some businesses see these requirements as preferable to the disadvantages of cash, which can include easy targeting by thieves, the potential for loss, and limited protection against fraud.
Some businesses have even adopted cashless payment as a strict policy, functioning as the polar opposite of cash-only businesses. But what if a consumer encounters a no cash accepted sign and they don’t want to or can’t pay with a credit card or payment app? Can a business refuse cash?
Is It Legal To Not Accept Cash?
Per the U.S. Federal Reserve, there is no federal statute legally requiring a private business, person, or organization to accept currency or coins in exchange for goods or services. Private businesses have the right to define their acceptable method of payment and can refuse cash transactions in favor of credit or other forms of legal tender.
However, legality at state and municipal levels will determine whether a business can refuse a cash transaction.
Major cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and the state of New Jersey have recently enacted laws requiring businesses to accept cash and coin. In Massachusetts, it’s been illegal for businesses not to accept cash since 1978.
Other cities and states have method-of-payment legislation in the works, some of which would be specific to shops and restaurants.
Proponents of cash transaction requirements argue that refusal of cash excludes people without access to credit and debit cards. This “unbanked” population includes over seven million or nearly five-and-a-half percent of U.S. households.
Opponents of this type of legislation argue that it infringes on the rights of business owners to operate as they choose.
Is Cash Going Away?
Regardless of cash payment mandates, if customer preferences continue to trend at the current rate, it may not be long before cashless options become a majority payment method. Does this mean we’re on the cusp of a cashless society?
Tech enthusiasts and proponents of strictly digital finance are often eager to propose a fully cashless economy, in which banknotes and coins have been rendered completely obsolete. Instead, all currency is passed from, through, and to connected devices.
While cashless payment systems are popular and preferred by young people, city-dwellers, and high-earners, there remains a significant portion of the population that cannot or simply chooses not to fully opt-in to this system. Access to broadband internet and mobile connectivity is still out of reach for many poor and rural communities in the United States, and elsewhere around the world.
Until full connectivity is realized, a cashless society is currently more of a futurist’s projection than it is a near-future inevitability.