A Return to Cash is King

Businesses Offer Discounts to Customers Who Pay with Cash

As a response to rising credit card transaction fees, some businesses are encouraging customers to move away from plastic by offering an incentive: discounts for paying in cash. And more consumers, carefully managing their budgets in an environment of higher prices, may be amenable to the offer.

Cafe owner taking cash payment from customer

The perfect storm

“It may be the perfect storm for a return of cash,” said Paul Keenan, GRB’s Senior Vice President Retail Operations. “You have cost-sensitive businesses and price-sensitive consumers. Combine that with surcharge-free ATMs and the table is set for a cash resurgence.”

Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta released in 2023 noted that the share of cash purchases that included discounts jumped 66% between 2015 and 2022.

“It makes sense to stop at an ATM for three minutes and take out cash if you’re going to get a discount,” said Keenan. “At GRB, we offer surcharge-free ATMs through the STAR, Allpoint and MoneyPass networks. That’s upwards of 100,000 ATMs available across the U.S. and around the world. Without ATM surcharges, it’s much easier to decide to pay with cash.”

Who offers cash discounts?

Smaller service providers are more likely to offer a cash incentive than larger chains or nationwide providers. This is because larger chains can negotiate a better fee structure for credit card purchases than local retailers. But if you’re already focused on supporting local establishments, a lower price for paying in cash may just be an additional benefit.

Most businesses offering a discount will post it prominently. Often, professional services companies (contractors, plumbers, etc.) deliver quotes with a discount option for payment in cash. But even if a cash discount policy isn’t posted, consider asking for one if you plan on making a large purchase.

“Small businesses know the cost of credit card processing fees and usually have the ability to be flexible in how they accept payments. Offering to pay with cash to receive a discount can be a win-win,” said Keenan. “As long as you respect the answer you receive, whether it’s yes or no, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

If you want some first-hand information on cash-friendly businesses, consider posting on local social media sites or talking to friends and neighbors.

Privacy weighs in

Another trend working in the favor of cash is the desire for more privacy in our financial footprint. Data security and privacy breaches have been rampant the last few years and consumers are more cautious. The emphasis on privacy makes a cash purchase more appealing.

“Cash payments offer privacy, which resonates with many consumers,” noted Megan Antonitto, GRB’s Rick Management Officer. “Whether your concern is limiting your financial risk or just not ruining a surprise gift for your spouse, cash offers anonymity.”


But before you cut up your credit cards and vow to only use cash, it’s essential to acknowledge that cash isn’t a solution for every situation. Carrying large amounts of cash can also be risky and online purchases aren’t possible. In addition, credit card companies may help intervene with a retailer if a purchase made with their card does not meet expectations.

“There will always be a place for credit cards,” said Keenan. “But using cash can help consumers and small businesses save some money. That helps everyone.”