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VERIFY: Coins are harder to come by, but, technically, it's not a shortage

The pandemic has made a lot of things more scarce, and coins are one of them. However, experts say it's not quite accurate to call it a "shortage."

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It seems like all sorts of supplies are harder to come by these days, and coins are not exempt from those pandemic impacts.

Some have called it a "coin shortage." In fact, this month, beloved Charlotte restaurant Price's Chicken Coop announced it was closing its doors for good, and one of the many reasons the cash-only establishment cited was a coin shortage.

The Question

Is there a coin shortage in the U.S. right now?

The Sources

  • The Federal Reserve
  • Kevin McColly, President and CFO of Coinstar

The Answer

While it seems like there is a shortage of coins, experts say there are billions of dollars in U.S. coins out in the world. The problem stems from a pandemic-related change in the circulation pattern.

"We call it a circulation disruption," McColly said. "It's there. It just isn't in the right places at the moment."

As the COVID-19 pandemic kept many people from going to places in person and spending their physical money, McColly said a key part of the coin supply was failing.

"The bulk is really coming from consumers putting it back into circulation, and that's the part that's been influenced by the pandemic," McColly said.

In fact, in its informational page on the coin disruption, the Fed writes: "There is currently an adequate overall amount of coins in the economy. But business and bank closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted normal circulation patterns for U.S. coins."

The Fed states that, close to the start of the pandemic, the total estimated value of all coins minted and put into the world topped $47 billion.

"Coinstar, who's close to the coin-counting business, estimates that $18 billion are sitting idle in people's homes. So, that's the proverbial couch cushion, piggy bank, cup holder in the car," McColly said.

He states that the captive capital is enough to throw businesses and cash-dependent consumers off-kilter. Fortunately, the solution is simple.

"You can go to a Coinstar machine," McColly said, noting there are roughly 370 in the Charlotte area. "You can take them to banks... You can even spend the coins if you want, but really doing anything to get them back into the circulation is the key here."

"You can't really mint your way out of this," McColly said. "There are so many out there, there's no reason to spend taxpayer money to produce more coins."

VERIFY is dedicated to helping the public distinguish between true and false information. The VERIFY team, with help from questions submitted by the audience, tracks the spread of stories or claims that need clarification or correction. Have something you want VERIFIED? Text us at 704-329-3600 or visit /verify. 

 Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram