In the years before the Great Recession, many Americans piled up too much credit card debt. Now, they seem to be a little wiser about using plastic, says Richard Cordray, who heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Richard Drew/AP hide caption

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A customer fuels his car at a gas station in Pembroke, Mass. Economists say Americans have been slow to spend the money they saved from lower energy prices. Stephan Savoia/AP hide caption

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Apps like Venmo promise easy, carefree money transfers between friends. Noah Nelson/Youth Radio hide caption

toggle caption Noah Nelson/Youth Radio

More Americans are ditching traditional cash and plastic, opting instead for new mobile payment applications. But new research indicates cash isn't completely dead. Amy Sancetta/AP hide caption

toggle caption Amy Sancetta/AP

Consumer spending rose in 2012, but not by as much as the year before. In December, these shoppers were out and about in Glendale, Calif. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Nov. 17: A sign in a Staten Island storefront tells a lot. It was still closed because of the damage done by Superstorm Sandy in late October. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

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