Dirty, filthy money

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If there was ever an argument for a 'cashless society' this may be it; germs on money could be making us sick. New research has revealed that some bank notes contain more than six times the contamination levels of a public toilet.

A Melbourne-based investigation, which tested the contents of shopper's wallets for germs, revealed one $10 note with a contamination count of 63,556 – that's 6.4 times higher than the average count from similar tests on public bathrooms in the city. A contamination reading below 500 is considered acceptable, according to reports.

Results of the 'swabs' found that credit and debit cards were cleaner on average than cash.

Conducting the results was Peter Guerin, director of Bio-Clean, who said diarrhoea-causing bacteria such as staphylococcus and E.coli were likely dangers: "You've got a lot of live cells sitting on an inanimate surface".

While cash remains an integral part of the modern economy, Australians are increasingly moving away from physically carrying cash. While hygiene is unlikely to be the sole driver, the latest Reserve Bank figures showed a marked decline in ATM cash withdrawals.

The total number of ATM withdrawals fell by almost 1 million in January, compared to the same time in 2011, and the average ATM transaction amount fell to a record low of $89.53.

Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, said consumers are trending towards contactless payments and therefore less likely to carry cash.

"We know that Visa and MasterCard in particular are trying to get us to go to the contactless type payments, we know that eftpos is looking at it and intending to make a foray into that area," he told ABC.

"So it really doesn't surprise us to see that there's less cash and people turning to some kind of either credit or debit card."

For those considering the switch away from germ-ridden notes, here are a few tips to ensure you get the best deal on plastic:

  • Consider the costs – most credit cards impose fees, including annual fees and late payment fees, as well as charging interest on purchases. On the other hand, the costs associated with withdrawing cash from a 'foreign' ATM (one not serviced by your bank's network) can outweigh the cost of owning a credit or debit card.
  • Do your research – before applying for a credit card, or signing up to a transaction account with a debit card, it pays to do your research to ensure you're getting a suitable product for your circumstances.
  • Finally, look online – with hundreds of credit cards and debit cards available on the market, selecting one to suit your circumstances can be difficult, but the internet has made this simpler. Check out financial products online, where you can compare credit card and debit card rates, fees and features.
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