Loose change: Trading coins for cash
Do you sometimes wonder if that small change
you dump on your dresser each evening is secretly reproducing
while you're sleeping? All those coins have to come from someplace.
And if you start throwing all your change into
a jar, it gets worse. That's where it starts to breed in earnest.
So now you've got a small mountain of pennies,
nickels, dimes and quarters and you don't know what to do
with them. Just try filling your SUV and then offering the
guy $21.76 in small change. Better have the engine running
The fact is that turning that coinage into paper
currency can be a hassle if you have to sort, count and roll
the coins. And the fees to have it sorted and counted for
you can add up to a pretty penny. But keeping the money in
a jar isn't a particularly good option, either.
There aren't any really good answers, but some
are less annoying than others. The best place to start is
your bank or credit union. You're in luck if they have a coin
machine so you don't have to sort and roll; and if the service
We didn't call every bank in the book, but what
a bank asks you to do with your coins often depends on whether
they have self-service coin machines that don't take up a
Some financial institutions that have machines
don't accept rolled coins. It takes time to count the rolls
and if a roll were short, the bank would have to eat the mistake
or deduct it from the customer's account. That could look
petty and annoy the customer, or the customer might challenge
On the other hand, some banks that accept rolls
give them to other customers who need coins. If that customer
comes back and says the roll was short, many banks will take
the customer's word and make up the difference.
Wells Fargo has coin machines in some branches.
Customers can dump their change and get cash; no fee is charged.
If the branch doesn't have a coin machine, you'll have to
sort and roll the dough -- but they'll give you the wrappers
If you're a Bank of America or Wachovia customer,
plan on sorting and rolling your coins.
None of those banks charge for processing, but
others do. For instance, Alpine Bank in Colorado charges customers
2 percent, or a $2 minimum for processing loose coins, while
noncustomers are charged 5 percent or a $5 minimum.
Generally, banks don't swap coins for cash for
folks who aren't customers. But there is one exception: kids.
It's a hard-hearted banker, not to mention one short on public
relations skills, who will turn down a tyke with a pocket
full of pennies.
Credit unions seem more likely to have coin
machines, but they usually put a limit on how much you can
convert without paying a fee.
Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union in Tampa,
Fla., charges members 5 percent of any amount over $100.
"Our reason for charging a fee is just
sheer volume. It's incredible," says Cindy Curtis, senior
vice president of service operations. "The cost to process
the coins and then get them bagged and shipped out to the
Fed was out of control.
"So we implemented a coin-processing fee
and made it self-service in the lobby. The fee discourages
commercial businesses -- laundromats, vending machines. Most
members don't have more than $100."
Arizona Federal Credit Union doesn't charge
a fee until you haul in more than $50 in unrolled coins. The
fee is based on the total dollar amount of the coins, but
is waived for Prime Investor and Superior Checking members.
An alternative to using a financial institution
is to tote your jug-o-coins to a supermarket that has a Coinstar
machine. Coinstar charges a hefty 8.9 percent to sort and
count all those coins you saved, but apparently a lot of people
think it's worth it.
"If you have $30 worth of coins, 8.9 percent
is $2.67. By the time you sort, roll and write your name and
account number on the wrappers, it's worth the $2.67 to most
people," says Coinstar spokeswoman Marci Kenny.
Coinstar started putting machines in supermarkets
in 1992. The company says it has machines in more than 10,000
supermarkets, and has turned nearly $7 billion in coins into
Speaking of writing your name and account number
on coin wrappers, many financial institutions don't require
that, but some do. Be sure the bank destroys the wrappers
afterward and doesn't distribute them to other customers who
need to roll coins. You could be leaving yourself open to
fraud by revealing your name and account number.