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

The COVID-19 coin shortage has many trying makeshift solutions, including a Wisconsin bank that temporarily offered bonus cash for coins.

8/2/2020 12:58:00 PM

'People are just not really using coins and cash right now,' said Patricia Herndon, an official with the Michigan Bankers Association. 'This is truly an issue of money flow.'

The COVID-19 coin shortage has many trying makeshift solutions, including a Wisconsin bank that temporarily offered bonus cash for coins.

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. Some, like Community State Bank, charge a 10% fee to count change for non-customers. Other banks charge both customers and non-customers.

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Banks want you to roll 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 like we used to. Since mid-March, huge chunks of the U.S. economy have 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 have either closed their doors or significantly trimmed operations.At the same time, the"U.S. Mint’sproduction of coin also decreaseddue 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 mint.Even as the economy reopens, change isn't rattling around the car like it did last summer.The Ohio Turnpike continues flashing electronic signs that suggest drivers use E-ZPass or a credit card, not cash, to pay their toll.

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

Drivers are responding to those electronic signs. In June, Newbacher said, cash transactions at toll booths were down 44% compared with June of last year. Credit transactions were up 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 kingSome retailers are encouraging the use of plastic, not paper currency, due to fears that currency could spread disease. So theoretically, the pandemic could help boost cashless, digital transactions.

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Even so, some small businesses still prefer cash, and may be hurt by the coin shortage because they want to avoid the extra fees charged to merchants when customers pay with a card.And every shortage comes with its ownconspiracytheory. Some say the coin shortage is a grand plan to put a stop to the private nature of cash transactions.

One Facebook 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 like the great toilet paper shortage – the only difference is, once the coins are gone,

they will notbe coming back."But Patricia Herndon, executive vice president for government relations for the Michigan Bankers Association, said the lack of coins 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 their 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 upThe 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 during the first three months of 2020, according to the Michigan Bankers Association.The numbers plummeted by more than half, to essentially less than 2 billion, beginning in April.

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The Federal Reserve has formed the U.S. Coin Task Force to"identify, implement, and promote actions to address disruptions to coin circulation."During the pandemic even when many do go out, they tend to use debit or credit cards.The change that we would have received – and later spent elsewhere – is no longer a steady part of our daily spending diet.

Retailers craft their own strategiesWe're seeing all sorts of signs at the cash register, as retailers take creative approaches to dealing with the shortage.Some Dollar Trees have posted signs at the door saying: "Dollar Tree will purchase any rolled coins you want to exchange for cash."

A few customers have walked in the door with 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, Michigan.The Dollar Tree, which also owns Family Dollar stores, asks customers to pay by debit or credit card or to use exact change to cover a purchase when possible.

More:How a coin shortage is impacting retailers and grocery storesKroger says it can now load change onto a customer's loyalty card so the shopper can use that extra change on the card during their next trip for groceries.Kroger has also asked customers whether they want to round up a purchase to an even number to avoid a need for change, and to donate the difference to The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger Zero Waste Foundation, a public charity.

Read more: USA TODAY »

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Most stores won’t let us. Give me 30 cents for every quarter and I will help you out. If people are not using coins and cash, then why do the banks need coins and cash? Right now, right now. Even though I am speaking in the present tense right now. There are no other temporal words to use just right now, right now.

does it really matter tho? we're heading into a tech-infused age anyways, so it seems kinda obsolete now.

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