NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The number of electronic payment transactions -- by both debit and credit card -- exceeded check payments last year for the first time, according to a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve and electronic payments companies.
Electronic payment transactions totaled 44.5 billion in 2003 versus 36.7 billion checks, said a statement Monday from the Fed Financial Services Policy Committee.
The Fed said payments by electronic transfer have risen at an annual rate of 13.2 percent since 2000, while payments by paper check have declined at an annual rate of 4.3 percent.
"The balance has shifted from check writing to electronic payments, and we expect this trend to continue," Richard Oliver, senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in a statement.
In total transactions, paper check payments still surpassed electronic payments by a margin of $39.3 trillion to $27.4 billion. But the Fed added that this, too, is changing.
"Indeed, at current growth rates, credit cards and debit cards will both surpass check in terms of total annual transactions in 2007. Such rapid change presents opportunities and challenges for an industry traditionally geared toward paper-based payment," Oliver added.
Debit cards are the fastest growing form of payment, with an estimated annual growth rate of 23.5 percent since 2000, the Fed said, although they account for only $600 billion of payment transactions.
Automated clearinghouse transactions, such as employees' direct deposit cards, rose at a 13.4 percent annual growth rate to $25.1 trillion, while credit card transactions grew at a 6.7 percent annual rate to $1.7 trillion, according to the Fed.
The results were gleaned from two studies, one of 1,500 financial instiutions and the other from 68 payment organizations.