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C-note goes high tech

By Sheyna Steiner ·
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

It's all about the Benjamins, or C-notes if you prefer. C is the Roman numeral for 100, hence the stately sobriquet. Whatever you call it, a freshly designed $100 bill goes into circulation today. The new bill sports the most advanced security features of any U.S. denomination, including a 3-D security strip that bisects the bill.

The blue strip shows tiny images of bells and the number 100 that shift as the bill is moved. "It's thousands of micro-lenses that make the images look like they are moving," says Sonja Danburg, program manager for the currency education program at the Federal Reserve Board.

Another updated security feature is a color-changing bell in an inkwell.banking-blog-100-front-redesigned-note

Additional features include:

  • A portrait watermark of old Ben Franklin himself.
  • The number 100, which shifts from copper to green.
  • Micro-printed words hidden around Franklin's face in the portrait.
  • Raised printing.
  • Plus, an extra-large 100 on the back of the bill that makes it easier for the visually-impaired to see what denomination they're grabbing.

Toss out the old bills?

It might go without saying, but all currency in circulation right now will continue to be worth the face value, regardless of how many new designs are issued.

"The Federal Reserve doesn't recall older designs. All designs from 1914 remain legal tender," says Danburg.

As you can imagine, not too many bills will last a century. But hundred-dollar bills tend to be the longest-lived as people use them less.

The average lifespan of a $100 bill is 15 years, according to the Fed. That's about three times longer than the average $5 bill, which gets passed around a lot more.

Confounding counterfeiters

It's not for aesthetic appreciation that bills are updated. According to Fed, all redesigns are driven with security in mind.

At one point in the country's history, as much as one-third of all currency may have been counterfeit. The problem was so bad that the Secret Service was created in 1865 to fight fake money.

Thanks to improved security measures, counterfeit bills are much less of a problem today.

As of September this year, there were $1.16 trillion in Federal Reserve notes in circulation, according to the Federal Reserve. "Less than one one-hundredth of the currency is reported as counterfeit," says Danburg.

It wasn't until the 1990s that the security measures we know today were implemented. Series 1990 added microprinting and a security strip. In 1996, the modern design entered circulation. At that point $100 bills with large portraits, watermarks and color-shifting inks debuted, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

I'm a little excited to see the new bills. How about you?

Follow me on Twitter: @SheynaSteiner.

Senior investing reporter Sheyna Steiner is a co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book written by Bankrate editors and reporters. It's available at all the major e-book retailers.

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