Got Loose Change?


 by Nick Taylor

Do your pockets or purses sag with coins at the end of every day? Ours do, and we got into the habit of saving them. We put them in a little pouch and stuck it in a drawer until it got too full.

Then we’d take it to our local TD Bank and pour the coins into one of the counting machines most TD branches offered the bank’s customers. The Penny Arcades, as TD branded them, were fun. You could hear them counting the coins with a satisfying “ka-ching, ka-ching” as you poured them in.

You could try to guess what they’d add up to and collect a little bonus if you came close. At the end the machines would spit out a slip giving you the total and you’d take it to a teller to collect cash or add to your account.

This week I lugged our coin pouch to a local branch, but no coin counter. I learned not only that the branch had disabled its machines, but that no TD branches had them any more.

When I enquired, TD Bank told me it had retired its coin counting machines in May 2016. In a news release they cited news reports about “inaccuracies with some of its machines.”

TD Consumer Bank head Michael Rhodes said concerns about the wrong coin counts and a decline in Penny Arcade use had led the bank to “retire the fleet and provide alternative coin-counting solutions to our customers.”

That’s where the coin wrappers came in. But even then there was a catch. The news release said TD “will continue to accept pre-rolled coins for deposit from retail, businesses and non-profit customers at no additional charge.” Hmm.

What about the kids who plunk coins into a piggy bank to learn good savings habits and then want to convert the coins into a savings account? 

Fortunately, there are a lot of other options. Anybody who doesn’t want to spend their time rolling their coins into paper wrappers can visit Coinstar machines at many supermarket and Walmart locations around the county. The Coinstar website lets you locate their coin counting machines by entering a ZIP code.

We found our closest machines at the Food Emporium on 14th Street in Manhattan just east of Union Square.  They give you three options. Choosing cash will cost you 10.9 percent of what those “ka-ching, ka-chings” add up to, and the Coinstar website says the fee may vary by location.

There’s no fee if you choose an electronic gift card. Or you can donate the value of your coins to charity.

We chose cash and started pouring coins from our little pouch into the delivery system. It took a few minutes because it’s a thin slot and too many coins will jam it.  At the end the screen showed $75.44. That was what we would collect at the cash register, but we’d put almost $85 in coins into the machine, $84.67 to be precise.

So that’s a cost of $9.23. Pretty high, we thought.  But it took us about ten minutes, and in the end the time we would have spent rolling 231 quarters, 162 dimes, 141 nickels and 367 pennies into wrappers would have cost much more. 

What’s clear from all of this is that banks and much of the commercial world would be happier if they didn’t have to deal with cash at all. It’s messy and inefficient and it would be so much easier to deal with money electronically, in the digital world of ones and zeros.

But that would mean more personal record-keeping, which takes time. That’s as annoying as lugging coins around in your pocket or purse, and counting them out every time you buy a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread.

The amount of cash could be reduced, though. Bills will be with us for some time to come, but pennies and nickles could be jettisoned and nobody would miss them. Both one-cent and five-cent coins cost more to make than they are worth. Canada, a very sensible country, doesn’t make its penny anymore.

Rounding purchases up or down to the nearest dime would save a lot of cost, time, trouble, and wear and tear. Gains and losses would even out. And our pockets and purses wouldn’t sag as much. 

In the meantime, we’ll see you at the nearest Coinstar location, or maybe at a bank with a carton full of coin wrappers.