The coin shortage that started during the COVID-19 pandemic actually hasn’t gone away. While the situation has improved since 2020, there is still a lack of change currently circulating in the U.S.
Initially fueled by the pandemic and a growing trend towards cashless transactions, the current coin shortage is causing a problem for businesses and many others.
Here’s what’s happening with the national coin shortage, why it matters, and what you can do about it.
Are More Coins Available Now?
Yes, but, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve , there still isn’t enough loose change making the rounds.
Indeed, in May 2021, the U.S. Federal Reserve acknowledged that businesses and banks in various parts of the country were once again having a hard time getting their hands on enough coins.
The current coin shortage, however, isn’t the same as it was during the height of the pandemic when fewer coins were being produced.
The U.S. Mint has been operating at full production capacity since mid-June of 2020. Last year, the Mint produced 14.8 billion coins, up 24% from the year before.
The problem, says the U.S. Coin Task Force (a group established by the U.S Mint and Federal Reserve in July 2020) is that much of this change isn’t making the rounds.
Instead, it’s “sitting dormant” in the pockets, jars, and couch cushions of America’s 128 million households.
What Caused the US Coin Shortage?
One of the chief causes of the 2020 coin shortage was that production at the United States Mint was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Business and bank closures associated with the pandemic also significantly disrupted normal circulation patterns for U.S. coins, according to the Federal Reserve.
The other problem was that early in the pandemic, very few coins were circulating in the economy.
Due to stay-at-home orders, fewer people were going out and spending money. As a result, there was a major shift in consumer behavior from shopping in person to making purchases online and via delivery apps, where it isn’t possible to use cash.
Even when businesses reopened, concern about COVID-19 transmission led many people to want to touch fewer things, and that included cash. This continued to increase the popularity of cashless transactions.
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How the Coin Shortage Affects Consumers?
A coin shortage can disproportionately hit lower-income families that don’t have debit or credit cards, and that rely on cash for getting paid and making payments. If you mostly use credit or debit when making in-person purchases, then the coin shortage may not have impacted you much.
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) , roughly 5.4% of American households (roughly 7.1 million total) are unbanked, which means they don’t have a credit or debit card and rely solely on cash.
Small businesses have also suffered. These businesses, which often deal in cash, are not able to complete cash transactions if they don’t have enough coins to make change. They also don’t have the same systems in place as larger retailers to provide gift cards or other solutions in lieu of change.
What You Can Do to Get Coins Moving Again
The U.S. Coin task force is recommending a simple solution to the national coin shortage–breaking open your piggy bank, coin jar, or change cup, and starting to spend all those quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies.
According to the task force, “if just a fraction of the coins sitting dormant in households and businesses is redeemed and reused, this problem can be greatly reduced.”
By spending or depositing your coins, or redeeming them at a coin kiosk, consumers can help close the circulation loop that has been disrupted in recent years and get a small but important part of the market moving again.
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Even before COVID-19, there was already a change in the way consumers were using coins, due to the increasing popularity of cashless transitions.
But a national shutdown and stay-at-home orders, coupled with concern about how COVID-19 was transmitted, led to an abrupt pause in the way coins were naturally being circulated throughout the economy.
While there are plenty of coins being minted today, much of the supply is sitting unused in people’s homes or wallets. This has a negative effect on small businesses as well as people who, out of necessity or preference, rely on cash for making purchases.
Buying items in cash, and handing over your spare change when you do, can help ease the current coin shortage.
As an added benefit, you may also find that using cash (rather than always relying on debit or credit) can also be good for your budget. When you can literally see your money going somewhere, you may find yourself becoming much more intentional in the way you spend it.
With a checking and savings account with SoFi, getting cash is easy and convenient. Members have access to 55,000+ fee-free ATMs worldwide within the Allpoint Network.
Photo credit: iStock/Christian Horz
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