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A shortage of coins circulating in the U.S. economy is prompting more retailers to ask customers to avoid paying with cash or to use exact change. Signs posted locally at some stores, including Lowe’s Home Improvement and 7-Eleven, are reminders that the COVID-induced coin scarcity is still a real thing.

In response, some banks are offering a bounty on quarters, nickels, and dimes to encourage people to bring in their small change for deposit or in exchange for paper bills.

Bank Offers Bonus of Up to $500

Amarillo National Bank in Texas is paying a 10% bonus for coin exchanges at all of its branches across the state. They’re offering a bounty of up to $500 to anyone who brings their change to the bank, whether they’re an account holder or not. And they’re waiving all exchange fees, too.

The cash incentive seems to be working.

A post on the bank’s Facebook page this week said, “Everyone’s bringing in their coins! Don’t forget: We’re paying an extra 10% when you exchange your coins for cash (no fees). All branches are participating through September 1.”

“We have people coming in about every 15 minutes which we are so thankful for,” said bank operations manager Sarah Engels in an interview with TV station KFDA. “We do provide coin to a lot of businesses in the (Texas) Panhandle so we are just so grateful.”

Coin Shortage Rooted in Pandemic Lockdowns

The coin shortage is rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses shut down and people were ordered to stay at home, cash transactions plummeted. And, concerns over the possible spread of the coronavirus through the handling of coins and bills accelerated an existing trend toward digital payments.

A sign at a Fresno Lowe’s Home Improvement store asks customers to pay with exact change or use a debit or credit card. (GV Wire/Randy Reed)

“While there is adequate coin in the economy, the slowed pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coin are not readily available where needed,” the Federal Reserve explained on the agency’s website.

“With establishments like retail shops, bank branches, transit authorities, and laundromats closed, the typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin.”

In early July, the Fed created a U.S. Coin Task Force, “to identify, implement, and promote actions to reduce the consequence and duration of COVID-19 related disruptions to normal coin circulation,” the agency said.

It also created the social media hashtag #getcoinmoving to encourage more people to spend or cash-in their small change to help address the shortage.

Banks and credit unions across the country have responded by posting messages encouraging their customers to bring their coins in for deposit or to exchange it for bills. Some banks are offering to waive fees, but a search of social media posts turned up just one other, Gorham Savings Bank in Maine, offering a cash-in bonus similar to Amarillo’s.

Grocery Chain Nixes Small Change

Meanwhile, the country’s largest grocery chain, Kroger, has stopped returning coins as change to shoppers in their stores. The company is giving customers the option of loading the amount they are owed back onto a loyalty card that can be applied to a future purchase. Or, Kroger will donate the money owed to charity.

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