21 Fun Facts About Money

By Marcy Lovitch · December 07, 2022 · 9 minute read

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21 Fun Facts About Money

We may not stop to think about money because it’s a part of our everyday life, but there are lots of fascinating facts about currency. Learning some interesting tidbits may change how you think about money and even come in handy the next time trivia night rolls around.

Read on for 21 fun facts about money that may just blow your mind.

Surprising Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Money

Maybe you already know only two non-Presidents grace the front of U.S. bills (Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill and Benjamin Franklin, the $100 bill). But did you know our paper currency isn’t really made out of paper? And that no living person can appear on a U.S. coin or dollar bill? It’s true! Here, learn more intriguing money facts you can spout to wow your friends.

1. Each Dollar Amount Has Its Own Lifespan

Money doesn’t last forever, but some dollar bills have a longer life cycle than others.

According to the U.S. Currency Education Program, a $10 bill has the shortest lifespan while a $100 bill has the longest. Here’s the estimated lifespan of the different denominations:

•   $1: 5.8 years

•   $5: 5.5 years

•   $10: 4.5 years

•   $20: 7.9 years

•   $50: 8.5 years

•   $100: 15 years

2. A Banknote Can Be Folded 4,000 Times

Our currency is pretty durable. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the sole producer of U.S. paper currency, says it would take 4,000 double folds, forward and backwards, for a dollar bill to tear. It might be because paper money isn’t actually made of paper. It’s actually a blend of 75% cotton and 25% linen with tiny blue and red synthetic fibers of various lengths evenly distributed throughout the bill.

3. There’s a Reason US Dollars Are Green

Dollar bills weren’t always green. Colonial money for example, was tan with black or red ink. It wasn’t until the Civil War the government started using green ink to print paper money where it got the name greenbacks. The color was selected because the ink didn’t fade or easily decompose, which protected against counterfeiting.

4. A Coin Can Last Around 30 Years

Coins stay in circulation for about 30 years, which is when they become too worn to use. At that time, the Federal Reserve takes them out of circulation and melts them down to use for other purposes.

Recommended: How Do Federal Reserve Banks Get Funded?

5. The Highest Bill Denomination Issued by the US Was $100,000

Printed in 1934 and featuring President Woodrow Wilson, this $100,000 bill was a gold certificate currency that was never intended for public use. Instead, it was meant only for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks. The last time this banknote was printed was in 1945, and it can’t be legally held by collectors.

💡 Quick Money Tip: Signing up for your paycheck to be directly deposited in an online bank account is a great way to help you pay your bills on time. After all, if your check is being deposited like clockwork, you can schedule bill payments ahead of time.

6. A Penny Costs More to Make than It’s Worth

A recent report from the U.S. Mint says it costs 2.1 cents to make a penny. Why the increase? Part of the rise could be the higher prices of copper and zinc, both of which are used to make pennies.

7. Money Is Dirtier Than You Think

Both paper currency and coins can carry viruses and bacteria that can live on the surfaces and easily transfer to your skin or onto other objects after touching it. Research has found physical currency changes hands at least 55 times a year or almost once a week. One recent study found banknotes made with cotton or linen fibers, such as U.S. dollar bills, present increased areas for germs and the capacity to retain moisture, which can make it an easier place for bacteria to thrive.

8. The Dollar Sign Was First Used in 1785

Here’s another fun money fact: The official adoption of the dollar sign in the U.S. can be traced back to 1785, when it evolved from the Spanish symbol for pesos. It’s believed the $ originated from the abbreviation PS, which was used to indicate Spanish pesos in the Americas. Gradually the “S” came to be written over the “P,” eventually morphing into the dollar sign we know today.

9. Martha Washington Is the Only Woman to Appear on a US Bill

America’s first First Lady, Martha Washington, is to this day, the only woman to have her likeness on a U.S. paper currency note. Her image appeared on the $1 Silver Certificate, first issued in 1886 and discontinued in 1957. It was the country’s second-longest issued paper money.

10. America Isn’t the Only Country that Uses the US Dollar

Besides the United States and its five inhabited territories, 11 countries in the world also use the U.S. dollar, the world’s reserve currency, as their official currency: The British Virgin Islands, Timor-Leste (or East Timor), Bonaire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Panama, Turks and Caicos, and Zimbabwe.

Recommended: Examining the Value of the U.S. Dollar

11. You Can Make Your Money Crisp by Ironing It

Ready for a surprising money fact that involves a little bit of fabric know-how? If you’ve got a creased, crumpled, or wrinkled dollar bill, you can make it look new by pressing it with your iron. As mentioned earlier, U.S. dollars are 75% cotton and 25% linen, so it’s actually fabric. To iron the money, dampen the dollar bill slightly with a spritz bottle, sprinkle water by hand, or use the spray function on the iron itself. Set the iron to a low heat, put a towel under the bill and another on top of it, then iron the money in a circular motion. Set aside to air dry. Presto! You should have a nice flattened bill.

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12. The Oldest Currency Still in Use Is the British Pound

The British pound dates back to 775 AD and was called the pound sterling, when Anglo-Saxon kings used silver pennies, or sterlings as money. Today, this foreign currency is the fourth most traded in the foreign exchange market, after the U.S. dollar, the euro and the Japanese yen.

Recommended: Here’s What You Can Do with Leftover Foreign Currency

13. There Are 1.4 Billion $2 Bills Still in Circulation

The first $2 bills were printed in 1862. Although they originally featured Alexander Hamilton, they were later redesigned to feature Thomas Jefferson. The bills are still in circulation – 1.4 billion of them in fact – and are considered to be the rarest currency denomination in the U.S. Some people believed $2 bills were bad luck and would rip off the corners of the bill to “reverse the curse,” making them unusable.

14. The First Universal Credit Card Was Introduced in 1950

Credit cards originated in the U.S. back in the 1920s, but were issued by individual firms, such as oil companies and hotel chains, to their customers, specifically for purchases made at company outlets. It wasn’t until 1950 when Diners Club founders Ralph Schneider and Frank McNamara issued a card that could be used at a variety of establishments. The Diners Club card sparked the modern credit card era. Others soon followed, such as American Express, which debuted their card of this type in 1958.

Recommended: 10 Credit Card Rules You Should Know

15. There’s an ATM on Every Continent on Earth

One interesting money fact involves how we access it. There are more than 3 million cash machines around the world today. You can get or deposit cash at ATMs in the most remote of places including Easter Island, central Australia, and two at McMurdo Station in Antarctica!

16. The Secret Service Originally Fought Counterfeiting

Today we typically think of the U.S. Secret Service as protection for certain political leaders, including the President and Vice-President and their immediate families. But the agency was founded for a very different reason. By the end of the Civil War, fake money was a significant problem, with nearly one-third of all U.S. paper currency in circulation being counterfeit. As a result, the financial stability of the country was in jeopardy, so in 1865, the Treasury Department established the Secret Service to suppress the counterfeiting. They didn’t start protecting the President until 1901, after the assassination of President William McKinley.

17. Most Americans Hoard Their Spare Change

One recent survey by MyBankTracker.com found 55.5% of people do nothing with the loose change they’ve accumulated. Interestingly, 60.3% of the male respondents said they’re more likely to leave their extra coins untouched compared to 51% of the female respondents.

Another survey from Coinstar says people estimate they’ve got an average of $113 worth of coins in and around their homes.

Recommended: Spare Change Savings

18. Only 8% of the World’s Currency Is Physical Money

Interesting money fact: With mobile banking and electronic payments becoming more and more common, people are earning and spending money without having to even touch it. Economists estimate only 8% of the world’s currency is literal cash with the rest existing on computer hard drives in electronic bank accounts.

19. Coins Didn’t Always Say “In God We Trust”

The original American penny, reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin, features a motto he popularized, “Mind Your Business.” The message wasn’t literally telling people not to be nosy. Instead, it was meant as a literal instruction about business and commerce, to keep focused on your livelihood.

20. US Airports Make Big Money from Loose Change

According to the Department of Homeland Security, airline passengers leave behind thousands of dollars in coins each year at U.S. airport screening checkpoints. In the most recent year studied, the Transportation Security Administration collected $517,978.74 in unclaimed money (mostly coins) from passengers who emptied their pockets while going through the security line. These funds get deposited into a special fund so that collection and spending can be easily tracked. After a period of time, this money is used for civilian airport security expenses.

21. This Century Is Transforming Money

The 2000’s ushered in a new way for us to pay for things: mobile payment technology like Venmo, PayPal and Google Pay. Approximately 25% of people worldwide use mobile and digital wallets, ahead of credit cards (22.4%), debit cards (22.3%), and cash (20.5%), says Moneytransfers.com. Globally, the mobile-payment market was worth $1.97 trillion in 2021, up 27.9% from the year prior.

Recommended: Mobile Wallets: How They Work & Their Benefits

The Takeaway

Learning fun facts about money reminds us there’s more to it than its face value. Finding out some fascinating money trivia might even change the way you think about it. These facts can enrich your understanding of the history of our currency system, how it’s evolving, and its place in the global market.

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Photo credit: iStock/bob_bosewell

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