These days, it’s not people down on their luck who are asking that question.

It’s Vermont banks.

The pandemic has caused a coin shortage, and banks are asking people to deposit their change and to use exact change when paying for things they’re buying.

COVID-19 restrictions closed down retail shops, bank offices and Laundromats — the typical places where coins enter society. The normal rate of coin circulation slowed significantly.

Consumers then migrated to shopping online or, if in person, using debit and credit cards to avoid physical contact associated with using cash. The coins they would have received in change were not being circulated back into the system.

“In the beginning of 2020, more than 4 billion coins were deposited — or recirculated — each month,” said Christopher D’Elia, president of the Vermont Bankers Association. “Those numbers dropped to less than 2 billion beginning in April.”

As businesses reopen, merchant requests to stock their coins at higher levels are increasing, but a large number of coins remain with consumers. That is causing a critical issue because recirculated coins represent more than 80 percent of the supply, with the remaining amount being new coins produced by the Mint.

“There is adequate coin in the economy; however, the slowed pace of circulation means that a sufficient amount of coins is not readily available where needed,” D’Elia said. “If you have spare change, we encourage Vermonters to check with their local bank to see if they are accepting rolled coins, use exact amounts when purchasing items, or deposit them in coin-cashing machines.”

As of April, the U.S. Treasury estimates that the total value of coin in circulation is $47.8 billion, up from $47.4 billion a year earlier. 

The Federal Reserve projects the gap between supply and demand at between 2.3 to 3.5 billion coins each month through the end of 2020.

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