How to Spend Your Coin Currency

Coin currency has a long history as the medium of exchange in commerce and for government payments. Almost every civilization has used coins as money since the Lydians minted their earliest incarnations nearly three thousand years ago. Today, coins have lost a lot of their purchasing power and are found mostly as collectors’ items or in coin-operated machines. But plenty of them exist—about forty-eight billion dollars worth, according to the Federal Reserve. And while the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted how they move through the economy, that doesn’t mean coins are disappearing. They just aren’t being spent as they would be in a healthy economy, and instead remain stuffed into piggy banks and change jars, under couch cushions and in drawers at home.

The Fed is trying to keep the supply of coins moving, even as it works on new safety protocols at mints and limits hours at banks. But despite fewer people visiting stores and restaurants, there’s still not enough loose change for many businesses to collect. Restaurants are turning to cashless tipping systems, toll booths are changing over to pay-by-plate, and laundromats are turning to self-service coin terminals. But a year into the pandemic, it’s still not enough to satisfy demand.

While the Fed and its partners are rushing to keep new and existing coin in circulation, they’re also trying to find ways to encourage Americans to spend their old coins. This involves a complicated mix of incentives, rewards and education. Some businesses are offering discounts and freebies for people who bring in their change, while some are working with social media to get the word out. In the past, some merchants and organizations have even offered to pick up people’s bags of change and deliver them to their homes.

Aside from helping to promote spending, a big reason for bringing in your spare change is that it can help you build up a cushion for emergencies or put some money into savings. Some banks will allow you to deposit loose coins directly into your checking or savings account, though most only accept them if they are rolled and in the right denominations. (You can buy rollers at some dollar stores or order them online.)

Heather Hennerich is a senior editor at the St. Louis Fed and writes this blog, which explains everyday economics, consumer topics and the Federal Reserve System. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the Fed.

She can be reached at [email protected].

This story is part of the Behind the Fed series, which highlights the people and programs that make the Federal Reserve System central to America’s economy. It’s produced by the External Engagement and Corporate Communications Division of the St. Louis Fed and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. To report corrections and clarifications, contact the editors. Read other Behind the Fed stories.