You might not think twice about the money you use every day — but you should. There could be some facts about your bills and coins that might fascinate you.
Do you know what bills are made out of? (Hint: It’s not paper). What about how long the typical bill stays in circulation? Or even why the government puts out new types of coins so often? Or how much collectors will pay for rare coins?
From the hidden messages in money to the security features you never noticed, click through to discover some interesting facts about your money.
Last Updated Oct 10, 2018
$2 bills are often considered unlucky.
The $2 bill was first printed in 1862. Interestingly, $2 notes were considered unlucky and unpopular throughout most of history.
The back of the bill depicts the famous John Trumbull painting “Declaration of Independence” — sans five of the 47 people who appear in the original. So, although plenty of conspiracy theories about money have fixated on the $2 bill, perhaps the real controversy here is who was left out on the final design.
If you’re itching for more money facts, find out the cost behind America’s most recognizable landmarks.
A majority of U.S. bills have traces of drugs on them.
A 2009 study by chemist Yuegang Zuo of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that 85 percent to 95 percent of paper money in circulation contains traces of cocaine. In Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston and a few other major cities, bills showed traces of cocaine 100 percent of the time. Compare that to China and Japan, where the percentage was much lower at only 20 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
A bill’s life expectancy is no longer than 15 years.
After being used on a regular basis, bills wear out and are taken out of circulation. The $1 bill gets the most use and typically only lasts about 5.8 years.
However, it’s not the shortest life expectancy for a bill — that title belongs to the $10 bill, which surprising only lasts about 4.5 years. The $5 bill also has a shorter lifespan than the $1 bill, coming in at 5.5 years, whereas the $20 and $50 bills start to trend upward at 7.9 years and 8.5 years, respectively. The longest lifespan belongs to the $100 bill, which lasts an average of 15 years.
Your damaged currency can still be valuable.
If you have money that’s been badly damaged, don’t be too quick to throw it out. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing might redeem it at full value.
To qualify for the redemption, you must have more than half of the original note, including any relevant security feature. Or, you can qualify if you have less than half but are able to prove how the note was mutilated and that the missing portions were destroyed.
It takes about 10 years to become a banknote engraver.
The responsibility to approve all U.S. currency designs belongs to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. However, banknote engravers are the ones who handle the complex and intricate job of engraving the money.
If this sounds like your dream job, you better get started: It takes a 10-year apprenticeship to become a banknote engraver. But, if that sounds like too much time, check out these high-paying finance jobs.
Commemorative coins help raise money for various causes.
From time to time, Congress authorizes the U.S. Mint to make a limited production run of special commemorative coins. These coins are still legal currency, but they’re generally not intended for general circulation.
By selling commemorative coins to collectors, the U.S. Mint has raised over $500 million to fund various museums, monuments and other programs.
People have sued over the "In God We Trust" motto on currency.
The motto “In God We Trust” hasn’t always been a staple on U.S. currency. It wasn’t until 1957 that it first appeared on paper bills, but it has appeared on the penny since 1909, the dime since 1916 and all full-, half- and quarter-dollar coins since 1908.
However, the motto isn’t appreciated by all. Kenneth Mayle, a self-described satanist from Chicago, filed a federal lawsuit in May 2017 that claimed the implicit religious message behind the motto violated his rights. A judge threw out the case, and then Mayle lost his appeal with the 7th Circuit Court of U.S. Appeals.
Harriet Tubman might appear on the new $20 bill.
In case you missed it, the Department of Treasury announced plans to reveal new designs for the $20 bill, $10 bill and $5 bill in April 2016. Harriet Tubman was chosen to grace the front of the $20 bill — replacing Andrew Jackson, who would then appear on the back.
However, the fate of Tubman on the new $20 bill might be up in the air, with the present administration failing to voice a firm commitment to the redesign but also not suggesting those plans would change.
The new $10 will celebrate the women’s suffrage movement.
When it was first announced that the $10 bill would feature a new design, some predicted Tubman would appear on that bill instead of the $20 bill.
However, the back of the $10 bill will actually honor Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott — all heroes and leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. Alexander Hamilton will still appear on the front of the $10 bill.
And, the new $5 bill will celebrate other historic U.S. events.
In addition to the $10 and $20 bills, the $5 bill will also get a makeover to celebrate history at the Lincoln Memorial. The reverse of the bill will include images of Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson, who were all involved in pivotal moments at the landmark. Abraham Lincoln’s portrait will remain on the front of the bill.
People were initially against putting famous faces on coins.
We’re so used to seeing portraits and faces on our currency today. However, early coins produced by the United States used images of Liberty and the bald eagle rather than the faces of prominent figures. That’s because the British used pictures of the monarchs on their currency, and having just won their independence, Americans didn’t want to be reminded of that.
The $1 bill hasn’t been redesigned in more than 50 years.
In 1996, the government began redesigning the $100 note, as well as other notes in the following years, to better protect it against counterfeiting — the first major change in 67 years. The $1 bill, on the other hand, is so rarely counterfeited that there are not only no plans to redesign it, but it was actually made illegal to change the bill in the 2015 omnibus spending bill — an appeal to the vending machine industry that would require a costly overhaul if the $1 bill was redesigned.
Hold your bills up to the light to see hidden faces.
Hold up your bill to the light, and you’ll see a second image of the portrait. For example, with a $100 bill, you can see Benjamin Franklin from both sides of the bill in the blank space located on the right side of the portrait.
Security threads on bills glow in different colors.
Want to learn how to spot counterfeit money? Embedded security threads are also used to protect against counterfeiting. If you have a UV light, hold it up to your bill to see the thread glow.
- On the $5 bill, the thread glows blue.
- On the $10 bill, it glows orange.
- On the $20 bill, it glows green.
- On the $50 bill, it glows yellow.
- On the $100 bill, it glows pink.
You can talk to the Secret Service if you think your money is counterfeit.
Think the Secret Service’s only job is to protect the president? Think again. If you suspect someone is using a counterfeit note, you are asked to report it and hand it over to the Secret Service.
70 percent of new bills replace worn-out bills.
As money flows into the Federal Reserve, the bills are checked to make sure they are fit to return to circulation. Unfit bills are removed and replaced, and more than 70 percent of the new bills printed are used to replace worn-out currency.
Here’s how many banknotes of each denomination are ordered for print in 2019:
- $1 bills: 2.5 billion print orders
- $2 bills: 153.6 million print orders
- $5 bills: 729.6 million print orders
- $10 bills: 339.2 million print orders
- $20 bills: 1.5 billion print orders
- $50 bills: 224 million print orders
- $100 bills: 1.5 billion print orders
Bills cost less than 20 cents to produce.
The cost to print bills depends on the denomination, but the price ranges from about a nickle a bill to over a dime:
- $1 and $2 bills: 5.6 cents per note
- $5 bill: 11 cents per note
- $10 bill: 11.7 cents per note
- $20 bill: 10.8 cents per note
- $50 bill: 12.9 cents per note
- $100 bill: 13.2 cents per note
It’s worth noting that, while the $100 costs the most to produce, it’s not the costliest in terms of the the proportion of the final project. While 5.6 cents represents — get this — 5.6 percent of the value of a $1 bill, the 13.2 cents required to print a C-note comes to just 0.132 percent of the value of a Benjamin.
Paper money is not made out of paper.
Though people commonly refer to bills as “paper” money, they actually aren’t made from paper. Instead, each bill is a combination of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen.
U.S. bills are printed in only two places around the world.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints money, and it has facilities in both Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas. The Fort Worth facility was opened in 1990 and helps serve the Western United States, providing a backup in case something happens to the D.C. facility.
Coins are minted in only a handful of cities.
There are six mint facilities in the U.S. The Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point, N.Y., locations are production facilities. There’s also a bullion depository in Fort Knox, Ky., and the headquarters is in Washington, D.C.
There used to be a money shortage problem in the U.S.
Under English rule, the colonies were banned from making their own currency and were forced to use their existing coins or creatively barter with each other, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
However, in 1652, Massachusetts started making its own coins against the British directive. In an attempt to mitigate any punishment they would receive if the British ever found the currency illegal, they dated all of the coins with the year “1652” — even though they continued to be produced for many years.
States almost had their own currencies.
The initial Articles of Confederation — aka the predecessor to the Constitution — gave both Congress and the states the right to coin money. Can you imagine the hassle of having to get new currency every time you crossed a state line? Ultimately, it was decided there should be only one national coinage.
There have been weird nicknames for money throughout time — and around the world.
Under the Coinage Act of 1792, gold coins had different values, including $2.50 (called a quarter eagle), $5 (half eagle) and $10 (eagle).
If you think those names are weird, wait until you find out what people call money in different parts of the world. Some of the terms used to describe money include toad (Denmark), pasta (Spain), lobster (Australia) and mosquito (Germany). It’s almost as weird as calling money cheddar or dough…
At one point, the only way you could tell a coin’s value was by its size.
Early silver coins didn’t even have denominations marked on them and were all identical — except for their size. So, the only way you would know how much they were worth was by their size. It wasn’t until 1804 that quarters started bearing “25c” on them to show how much they were worth.
The Civil War sparked paper money circulation.
Though the colonies issued paper money prior to winning independence, the federal government didn’t start circulating paper money (greenbacks) until 1861. That’s because the government needed to finance the Civil War — which was expensive — and needed the “Demand Notes” issued by the Treasury to secure loans from Northeastern banks.
As such, any and all U.S. tender issued in 1861 or later remains legal tender to this day, redeemable at its face value.
The government once accepted postage stamps as payment.
During the Civil War, there was a shortage in the supply of coins. At the time, they were still made of silver and gold, so people were holding on to them because the metals were valuable. To address this, the government started accepting postage stamps as payment for debts.
Ironically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this caused a shortage of stamps. So, the government authorized printing “fractional currency,” which were bills with denominations under $1 starting in 1863.
"Special currency" has been used during wartime.
War has been a motivating factor for making changes to currency for many reasons. During World War II, the U.S. government created “special currency,” which had distinctive markings, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Hawaii notes, for example, had a “HAWAII” overprint on the face and back. If the enemy acquired large amounts of this “special currency,” it could be easily identified and considered nonlegal tender.
Today’s bills are small change.
Since 1969, the $100 bill has been the largest bill issued by the government. However, it’s far from the largest denomination ever printed. From 1934 and 1935, the government printed a $100,000 Gold Certificate that was only used for transactions among Federal Reserve Banks.
Prior to 1969, the government issued $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 notes. Though they are still considered legal tender, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing expects that most are in the hands of private collectors.
Two-thirds of all U.S. currency is held abroad.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing estimates that between half and two-thirds of the value of U.S. currency in circulation is held abroad.
There are a number of countries and territories that use the U.S. dollar as their official currency, including Ecuador and Guam. So, depending on where you’re traveling, you might not need to exchange your currency.
There’s nearly $1.7 trillion worth of U.S. currency in circulation.
As of Sept. 26, 2018, there was an estimated $1.69 trillion in circulation, including $1.64 trillion worth of Federal Reserve notes.
That’s a lot of money. In fact, that’s only slightly more than the estimated student loan debt in America, which is approximately $1.3 trillion.
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Joel Anderson contributed to the reporting for this article.
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