Use exact change. Credit/debit only. Have you seen these signs at some stores or restaurants lately? It’s because many vendors are running short on change. Why are coins hard to find during the pandemic?
The Federal Reserve reports a significant decline of coins in circulation right now. It’s not just because so many coins are lost in couch cushions around the nation. Instead, it’s because people are not spending them as regularly at businesses. Many of those businesses are temporarily closed—so that they aren’t taking cash and putting it back into banks where it can be circulated. Or some are not accepting paper and coin money right now because people fear handling it will transfer germs.
So are coins gone? No, the U.S. Treasury says there’s not an actual shortage. Coins are still plentiful. In April, the Treasury estimated more than $47.8 billion in coins were in the market. That’s over a billion dollars-worth more compared to last year.
But in recent months, people haven’t been out and about. So they have not been spending those coins at places like coin-operated laundromats, vending machines, banks, convenience stores, restaurants, or shops. Many purchases have gone online, where cash and coin don’t change hands at all.
“The typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin,” says the Federal Reserve, which manages coin inventory, in a June statement.
The Reserve is encouraging banks to order only the coins they need and to make depositing coins easy for customers. One Wisconsin bank system offered its customers a $5 bonus for every $100 in coins they brought in to exchange at a branch.
The offer worked. In fact, it was so successful, the bank suspended the program after only a week.
(Fewer coins in circulation during business shutdowns made it appear to some that there’s a coin shortage in the United States. But the Federal Reserve says that’s not actually the case. AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin)