Woman using credit card to shop on her smartphone Source: Shutterstock.

Debit card spending and ATM activity rose significantly during the month as federal stimulus dollars began landing in many consumer bank accounts, according to new data from PSCU.

The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based CUSO's latest weekly snapshot showed that overall debit card spend was up 4.7% year over year for the week ending April 19, 2020 — the first time in weeks that debit spend has risen above 2019 levels.

That compares to the week of March 23, when year over year, debit spend was down 18.1% for the week; it was also down 12.1% for the week of April 5. And for the week of April 12, debit spend was down 11.7% year-over-year.

Overall debit spend wasn't the only thing that rose. For the week ending April 19, average debit card purchase amount was up 25.7% year-over-year, according to PSCU. Debit card spend on consumer goods was up 20% year-over-year for the week, too.

"This week's transaction analysis showed the impact of the federal government's coronavirus stimulus package," PSCU Advisors Plus SVP Glynn Frechette said. "Debit card spend and average debit card purchases saw year-over-year increases as money was automatically deposited into checking accounts — and consumers found ways to use it, with debit purchases on consumer goods notably increasing."

ATM Use Ticks Up

In addition, PSCU reported that ATM withdrawals shot up 18.1% in just one week, and ATM balance inquiries spiked 8.9% compared to the same week of 2019.

Many members were checking their accounts to see if their stimulus checks had been deposited, PSCU said.

Credit Card Spend Continues to Lag

Despite rising debit card activity, credit card purchase activity continued its year-over-year lag, PSCU said. Overall credit card spend was 28.9% lower for the week of April 19 compared to the same week last year, it found, and for consumer goods purchases, credit card spend was 7.7% lower.

"Spending behaviors have changed with 'stay at home' orders in place, as card-present versus card-not-present transaction (CNP) counts and dollars spent have seen a shift. CNP transactions increased at a higher pace on credit versus debit," it added. "Credit CNP transactions now account for 63% of overall credit transactions — up from an average of 35% prior to COVID-19."

Grocery Stockpiling Frenzy Largely Over

"Grocery stores/supermarkets have returned to more normal spending," PSCU reported. "The week ending April 19 finished at an increased rate of 4.1% over the comparable 2019 week for credit card and 15.9% for debit card. Debit card usage remains elevated, but not as high as increases that were realized during the peak March weeks of COVID-19 stockpiling."

The stabilization was even more noticeable at drug stores and pharmacies, which saw credit card spend fall by 14.6% year-over-year and debit card spend drop by 8.2%.

Fuel Purchase Declines Possibly Stabilizing

Although low gas prices and widespread work-from-home mandates have fueled big reductions in card spending on gas, those dips don't appear to be getting much deeper, according to PSCU.

Earlier, PSCU reported that during the week of April 5, for example, credit card spending on gas was down 55.5% year-over-year and debit card spending on gas was down 40.6%. In its latest data, during the week of April 19, those numbers were 60.1% for credit cards and 39% for debit.


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