Coronavirus coin shortage has people cashing in on spare change

Banks are begging for spare change: How long coin shortage could last

Coronavirus coin shortage has people cashing in on spare change

In the midst of a nationwide coin shortage, some retailers are asking for customers to use exact change, if possible, or even better, use a credit or debit card for payment. Wochit

Banks are begging you to break open your piggy bank, dig through your seat cushions and unload those coffee cans full of change sitting in the closet. 

The COVID-19 change shortage has bankers all across the country asking customers to bring in rolled coins as a way to pump more pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters into circulation. 

 “If you have spare change, we encourage Michiganders to contact their local bank and make an appointment to exchange rolled coins,” said T. Rann Paynter, President & CEO, Michigan Bankers Association, in a statement.

A Wisconsin bank went so far in July as to offer an extra $5 for every $100 in coins that are brought into the Community State Bank, whose main office is in Union Grove.

The deal turned out to be incredibly popular and lasted but 7 days, ending at the close of business July 21. 

“People brought stuff in cans, bags and jars,” said Greg Wall, chief innovation officer for Community State Bank, which has $460 million in assets and 7 branches in southeastern Wisconsin. 

“People have been sitting on this stuff for a long time and they finally had an opportunity to do something,” Wall said. 

One person brought in $4,000 in coins – netting a $200 bonus. 

“At this point, we're going to pause the program,” Wall said, noting that the goal of building up coin inventory for local businesses was met and then some. 

It's quite a switch from a time when many banks didn't want your spare change.

In the past few years, many big banks phased out services that would count your coins for you. Some, Community State Bank, charge a 10% fee or so for non-customers to count their change. Other banks charge both customers and non-customers to count their coins.

Banks want you to roll up coins in paper wrappers yourself. Some banks may limit the dollar value of coins they're willing to take. 

But a lot has changed during the pandemic. 

Quite simply, we're not throwing around our money we used to ever since mid-March when huge chunks of the U.S. economy shut down in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. 

Laundromats, coffee shops, bank branches, and other spots where coins regularly changed hands either closed doors or significantly trimmed back operations when COVID-19 limits went into place. 

At the same time, the “U.S. Mint’s production of coin also decreased due to measures put in place to protect its employees,” according to the Federal Reserve. Production has been ramped up. 

Recirculated coins represent more than 80% of the supply; the rest involves new coins produced by the U.S. Mint.

Even as the economy reopens, change isn't rattling around the car it did last summer. 

The Ohio Turnpike continues flashing electronic signs that suggest that drivers use E-ZPass or a credit card, not cash, to pay their toll in light of COVID-19. 

“We will continue to discourage cash during the pandemic because handling it is riskier than our other methods of payment,” said Brian Newbacher, public information officer for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission.

Currently, he said, the turnpike is able to recycle the coins it receives to other customers who are using cash. But cash usage is down. 

Many drivers are responding to those electronic signs. During the month of June, Newbacher said, cash transactions at the toll booths were down 44% compared to last June. And credit transactions were up by 32%. 

“If customers are going to use cash we ask that they do their best to provide us exact change, if possible,” he said.

“That way, we can also do our part to not only keep everyone safe, but avoid adding to the coin shortage as well.”

Cash isn't always king

Some retailers are encouraging the use of plastic, not paper currency, due to fears that currency could spread the disease. So theoretically, the pandemic could help boost cashless, digital transactions.

Even so, some small businesses still prefer cash payments and may be hurt by the coin shortage because they want to avoid the extra fees charged to merchants when customers pay with a credit card.

And every shortage comes with its own conspiracy theory. Some say it's a grand plan to put a stop to the private nature of cash transactions.

One post stated: “Start saving coins, they will soon be worth more as a keepsake or remembrance of 'the old world.' The national coin shortage will be just the great toilet paper shortage — the only difference is, once the coins are gone, they will not be coming back.”

But Patricia Herndon, executive vice president for government relations for the Michigan Bankers Association, said the lack of coin simply reflects spending patterns. 

“People are just not really using coins and cash right now,” Herndon said. “This is truly an issue of money flow.”

Some are worried about transmitting germs by using cash. But Herndon said people just need to take precautions, such as washing your hands or using hand sanitizer after exchanging money. 

“You're not the first person to touch it; you're not the last person to touch it,” she said. 

Demand for change picks up

The Fed began rationing coins this summer to deal with the shortage since demand is expected to pick up as businesses reopen. 

The Federal Reserve is projecting that we'll experience a gap between supply and demand that ranges from 2.3 billion to 3.5 billion coins each month through the end of 2020.

Nationwide, more than 4 billion coins were deposited – or recirculated – each month in the beginning of 2020, according to the Michigan Bankers Association. 

The numbers plummeted by more than half to essentially less than 2 billion beginning in April. 

The Federal Reserve has formed a U.S. Coin Task Force to “identify, implement, and promote actions to address disruptions to coin circulation.” 

The Dollar Tree store in Hazel Park posts a sign at the front door on July 20, 2020, telling customers that the store will purchase any rolled coins that they want to exchange for cash. Shoppers are asked to pay by credit or debit card or exact change when possible. (Photo: Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press)

During the pandemic even when many do go out, they tend to use debit cards or credit cards at the store more frequently because they want to avoid handling cash. My husband has taken to using a McDonald's gift card at the drive-thru window to limit physical contact when paying for his $1 Diet Coke and my $2 iced coffee. 

The change that we would have received – and later spent elsewhere – is no longer a steady part of our daily spending diet. 

We're seeing all sorts of signs at the cash register, as retailers take creative approaches to dealing with the shortage.

Dollar Tree posted signs at the door stating: “Dollar Tree will purchase any rolled coins you want to exchange for cash.”

A few customers have walked in the door with some coins wrapped in rolls to exchange for paper currency. “We're getting some, not many,” said Daisy Myers, assistant manager at the Dollar Tree in Hazel Park. 

The Dollar Tree, which also owns Family Dollar stores, asks customers to pay by debit or credit card or use exact change to cover a purchase when possible.

What happens when you shop could vary by where you shop. I visited a Dollar Tree in Hazel Park Monday morning and asked if I could use a $10 bill to cover a $5.59 charge and the clerk said she would have no problem offering me change.

But I decided that I could hand her $10.60 and she gave me $5 back and a penny. 

More: How a coin shortage is impacting retailers and grocery stores

Kroger said it can now load coin change onto a customer's loyalty card so the shopper can use that extra change on the card during the next trip for groceries. 

Kroger also asks customers if they want to round up a purchase to an even number to avoid a need for change and support The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, a public charity.

” many retailers and businesses, we are adjusting to the temporary shortage in several ways,” said Rachel Hurst, corporate affairs manager for the Kroger Co. of Michigan. 

Banks and credit unions want customers to help bring in their rolled coins to help out with a COVID-19 related change shortage. (Photo: Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press)

Kroger is also providing coin change at lanes in the store that have coins available, Hurst said. 

Self-checkout registers at many retailers may now only allow purchases with plastic cards and no longer offer change. 

Spare change can supplement any budget during uncertain economic times, too. Yet some traffic was down at coin counting machines too.

During the pandemic, Coinstar kiosks remained available but foot traffic at supermarkets and other locations was down so fewer people were exchanging coins, according to a statement from Jim Gaherity, CEO of Coinstar.

“As lockdowns end, coin transactions and volumes through Coinstar 

kiosks are growing and, accordingly, we've been making more frequent coin 

pick-ups to help get coins back in circulation,” Gaherity said.

If your hours are cut at work, it may be a good time to reconsider letting unused coins just sit there. It's best to avoid any fees, though, if using any coin counting machines. 

Coinstar kiosks offer eGift Cards in exchange for coins with no extra fee. Otherwise, you could face an 11.9% service fee to convert the coins to paper ; fees may vary by location.

Check online first at to understand the rules. Some gift cards require a minimum amount of change, such as $5 for an Amazon gift card or a minimum of $10 for an Outback Steakhouse eGift card. Again, you may need to count that change first to save the most money. 

Contact Susan Tomporat 313-222-8876 or Follow her on @tompor. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

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Why Is There a National Coin Shortage? Walmart and Kroger Stop Offering Change

Coronavirus coin shortage has people cashing in on spare change

Peter DazeleyGetty Images

  • The Federal Reserve is working to reverse a national “coin shortage” during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and retailers Walmart and Kroger are asking customers to pay with cards or exact change.
  • The U.S. Mint released a statement this week asking Americans “for your help in improving this coin supply issue.”
  • You may be able to earn extra cash by turning in coins to local banks or retailers in you area.

UPDATE 7/24/20: Weeks after retailers Walmart, CVS, and Kroger asked shoppers to pay with exact change or cards, the U.S. Mint has petitioned Americans to locate their spare change and turn it into cash as soon as possible.

It's one of the first moves that federal officials are taking during a coin “shortage” taking place during the novel coronavirus pandemic due to updated shopping habits. Most Americans are seemingly not spending cash right now; either because they're not shopping as frequently, or simply because they're using debit or credit cards instead. The U.S.

Mint, the federal group in charge of producing the nation's cash and coins, says much of the issue would be solved if people spent their change.

“We ask that the American public start spending their coins, depositing them, or exchanging them for currency at financial institutions or taking them to a coin redemption kiosk,” Mint officials shared in a press release. “The coin supply problem can be solved with each of us doing our part… We are asking for your help in improving this coin supply issue.”

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell explained that coins aren't flowing through the economy as they normally do: “The whole system has kind of come to a stop,” he explained to the public last month.

The Fed created an actual task force to correct the coin supply as fast as they can; this group is expected to announce new initiatives in August, but the Mint hopes that Americans will cough up any spare change they may have laying around first.

Some banks may actually be buying back coins in an attempt to restore their own vaults, which can then be redistributed to local businesses in the area. Read on for more info on how you might be able to turn your spare change into serious cash.

ORIGINAL 7/22/20: If you've shopped at Walmart or CVS recently, you may have noticed that many checkout lanes are designated as debit or credit only — that's because the United States Federal Reserve announced it was experiencing “low coin inventories” due to the pandemic. Per the organization, which is in charge of regulating the national inventory of change and how it's distributed to banks across the nation, the Fed is “strategically” rationing coins to banks for two reasons.

Social distancing and safety measures caused employees in the U.S.

Mint to slow production on new money, also compounded by the fact that many people have been spending less physical cash over the last few months (meaning cash doesn't make its way back to a bank).

“The flow of coin through the economy… it's kind of stopped,” Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said in a public forum in June. And The Wall Street Journal also reports that coin deposits are down 50% since March.

Local businesses are also being impacted by the shortage, from cashiers at major retailers to laundromats to gas stations.

According to NPR, many Walmart locations have converted its self-checkout registers to take cards only, Kroger is offering customers the change they're owed from their checkout back on loyalty cards, and Wawa stations are asking for coin rolls in exchange for bills.

There's a good chance you'll come across a retailer that asks you to pay with cards or exact change until the Fed shores up the shortage over the next few months.

But the solution to the shortage isn't necessarily all on the Fed: Fast Company reports that more than $47 billion in coins are already in circulation, which means many Americans are simply holding onto change that they're not spending at the moment.

In fact, an expert told Forbes that what we're experiencing is a circulation disruption rather than an actual shortage. “A disruption is a better way to describe it,” Yiming Ma, assistant professor in the finance division of the Columbia Business School told the outlet. “It’s reflecting the fact that, once circulation is resumed, these disruptions will ease out.”

Still, banks and even some retailers are working on programs where there's some good incentive to bring in spare change (or stocked coin banks!) that may be laying around.

Will banks buy spare coins and change?

It all depends on the area you live in, but there's a good chance that credit unions and local branches of national banks will actually pay you extra value for change.

A Wisconsin-based bank, Community State Bank, made headlines this week when it announced that it would offer a $5 bonus on $100 worth of coins, up to a $500 bonus.

Some banks have offer a percentage bonus on any coins customers bring in: In Maine, Gorham Savings Bank (a statewide institution) offers a 10% buy back for any coins you bring in.

According to American Banker, local branches of JPMorgan Chase in New York have also offered to buy back coins from customers, at various rates in different locations. And stores may also provide free counting services, such as Quick Trip, a chain of convenience stores spread throughout the South and Midwest, the Dallas Morning News reports.

When in doubt, call a local branch of a state or community bank or credit union to inquire about any buy back programs.

Other ways to turn change into cash:

If you can't find a local bank or retailer that is looking to buy back coins, or count them for free, head to your nearest grocery store — there's a good chance that a Coinstar machine is there. Coinstar allows you to do the following with your spare change:

  • Turn it into cash, minus an 12% fee for processing.
  • Turn it into a gift card, which can be used at Amazon, Lowe's, Starbucks, or Best Buy, for example. The company won't charge you a fee for doing so.
  • Donate your spare change. It won't charge you to do so, either. You can send your coins to be used by organizations the American Red Cross, Feeding America, and the Children's Miracle Network free of charge.

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