Collecting Coins for Cash

by Jessica Vozel, contributor (@JessicaVozel)

There is comfort in coins.  

People can now go for months — even years, theoretically — without touching physical money, and data-generated, decentralized currency, like bitcoins, may be the payment method of the future.

READ: What Is Bitcoin Anyway?

A familiar metal coin is like a talisman in a brave new world, connecting purses and wallets and cash registers across years and state lines.

As coinage’s presence in our daily lives decreases, they’ve become more sentimental than practical. But there are still ways to net a bit of profit from coins, and have fun in the meantime.

Today’s coin hobbies go in a couple different directions. There are those who save coins and cash them in for a financial boost, and those who purchase rolls of change at the bank or credit union and sort through them looking for “keepers” — the treasured coins (like pre-1965 half-dollars, which are 90% silver) found mixed in among the nondescript riff-raff.

READ: Dollar Coins to Replace Dollar Bills?

On the first, “saving all your coins and cashing out” end, collecting spare change and turning it into money you didn’t have before is not as popular as it used to be, but it’s worth the small effort it takes.

Aided by coin-cashing machines in grocery stores, like Coinstar, turning coins into usable funds no longer requires the burden of sorting and rolling. Just dump them into the Coinstar machine, pay a 9.8% fee, and use the money to donate to charities, or to get vouchers or gift cards (Coinstar subtracts no fee for the gift cards). And as of June 2013, those same kiosks offer the option to deposit the money directly into your PayPal account (minus the 9.8% fee).

READ: Living Life With No Cash

According to a spokesperson, Coinstar converts $3 billion in coins every year, a big number, but only a fraction of the $10 billion Coinstar says is languishing in American households right now. For those who do cash in their coins, the payouts can be substantial.    

Right now, says Coinstar, Edmond Knowles of Flomaton, Ala. holds the record for most pennies processed through one of their machines, totaling $13,084.59.

Meanwhile, in Milford, Mass., Thomas Daigle paid off his mortgage last year with 62,000 pennies. And across the border in Calgary, Alberta, Devin DeFraine paid for his $3,000 college tuition in rolled coins. For DeFraine, the goal was to prove a point to university administrators, who decided to charge a $60 processing fee to tuition bills paid with credit cards.

"If they're gonna nickel and dime us, I'm gonna nickel and dime them,” said DeFraine, who wheeled 230 pounds of rolled change into the registrar’s office.

Then, there are the treasure hunters.

These coin hobbyists dive into piles of coins they buy at the bank in search of valuable silver stowaways and other rare coins. Make no mistake, coin roll hunting (or CRH) is not necessarily about the potential payout. A thread for novice CRHers on the TreasureNet forums coaches beginners to “Have fun first! Profit is second.”  

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Which is a good thing, because hours of searching roll after roll of coins can yield nothing at all, as the amount of silver and rare coins remaining in circulation dwindles all the time.  

But the risk isn’t too great. When treasure hunters get a “skunked” batch — one with no keepers — they can then take them to Coinstar or their bank and recoup some of their money, or take it to a different bank for no fee (“never dump where you eat,” TreasureNet instructs). In that case, the only thing lost, really, is time, but for those who love the hobby, it’s not time wasted at all.

In fact, one hunter on TreasureNet cautions against the addictive nature of the hobby, saying, “I was just watching the football game thinking, ‘Man I wish I had a box of coins to search right now!’”

I predict that in the near future, coin hobbies will have hipster cred, akin to amassing a collection of vinyl records or creating outfits from used clothes. In the meantime, if you find a penny, pick it up. Because you just never know.

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