Coin shortage creates shopping challenge for low income, unbanked communities

More and more stores say they can't make change due to a coin shortage and urge shoppers to use credit or debit cards.

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While most people shop that way these days, it can end up costing you more. It's also creating problems for low-income people who depend on cash.

While most shoppers use a credit or debit card or a phone app to pay at the cash register, recent FDIC data shows nearly 8% of Texans don't have bank accounts or cards. The coin shortage can limit their ability to buy food and things they need.

Signs are going up on more store doors, asking you to pay with credit or debit cards or have exact cash, due to a lack of coins in circulation.  A Walgreens sign says the store may even have to give you change in the form a gift card.

When stores and businesses shut down for the pandemic, so did the flow of coins. The U.S. Mint says coin production slowed as workers had to stay home.

Many laundromats now have a lack of coins. So do grocery and convenience stores. Even restaurant food servers report fewer coins in their tips. The National Grocers Association and six retail trade groups called on the Treasury to take action as they rely on a percentage of sales made in cash.


Texas has one of the highest unbanked populations in the country, at nearly 8% according to 2017 FDIC data.

The unbanked are most often low-income Black and Latino people or families earning less than $15,000 a year. Advocates say they struggle to save up enough money to deposit or maintain a minimum balance that many banks require. Many are still waiting on paper stimulus checks to be mailed. Now buying food and things they need in stores just got a little harder.

The Federal Reserve has formed a U.S. Coin Task Force and is allocating coins to depository institutions.

But if you have a piggy bank full of coins, you can help by putting them back into circulation. You can roll them and deposit them into your bank account. Or you can turn them into paper cash using coin counting services such as Coinstar.

Coinstar takes a nearly 12% fee but waives it if you opt for a gift card to a store or donate the money to charity.

Some banks charge 5% to 10% to deposit coins.  But many banks and credit unions accept them for free and will even provide you free wrappers, so ask first.

And remember if you're making purchases using a credit card, pay off your balance so that you won't have to pay interest.

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