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Money: How Many Dollars Are Printed and Destroyed Each Year?

Just Explain It

The $100 bill is about to get a facelift.

Despite production problems, circulation of the redesigned bill will begin next month on October 8th. About 30 million defective bills, which contained too much ink, were sent back to the facility where they were printed.

When the notes are released, they will incorporate two new security features such as a blue, 3-D security ribbon, and a color-shifting bell in the ink well. You’ll also find a portrait watermark of Ben Franklin and an embedded security thread on the left side of the bill.

Last year, over $300 billion worth of $100 notes were delivered for circulation. And today over one trillion dollars of U.S. currency is in circulation.

But how many U-S dollars are printed and destroyed each year? We’ll answer that question and more in this Just Explain It.

The creation of money in the United States is handled by two agencies -- the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the United States Mint. The bureau designs and produces Federal Reserve Notes - or paper money – for circulation. Coins, on the other hand, are the responsibility of the Mint.

[Related: Unclaimed Money: 12 Sources of Forgotten Funds]

More than 90 percent of the notes that the bureau delivers each year are used to replace money already in, or has been taken out of circulation.

And according to moneyfactory.com, approximately 8.4 billion notes were printed in 2012. That includes every denomination and totals over $358 billion. So what’s the average cost to produce each of those bills? The answer is 8.7 cents.

Normally we refer to dollar bills as paper money. But it’s not the type of paper we use to scribble notes on in a meeting.

Currency paper is more durable and is made up of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen. It would take about 8,000 folds before a note will tear.

It’s estimated that the average life span of, let’s say, a $1 bill is almost six years. Compare that to a $100 bill which can stay in circulation for about 15 years. That’s because smaller denominations change hands more often and endure more wear and tear than larger bills.

One of the responsibilities of the Fed is to keep our money in tiptop physical shape. In order to do that, it has to circulate newly printed money throughout the system. At the same time, it destroys unfit money like torn or mangled bills that can’t be used at an ATM or vending machine. Money processing and authentication machines are used to determine if currency taken from circulation is genuine but too worn for recirculation.

Last year the Fed shredded about seven thousand tons of retired money. In the past, shredded money has been recycled by private companies and used to make everyday items like particle board, stationary and roofing shingles.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing even sells currency by the bag! Each bag contains about ten thousand dollars worth of shredded notes. If that's not your thing, you can also buy sheets of uncut money. The 32-note sheet is the largest size available.

Did you learn something? Let us know what you think. Or, do you have a topic you’d like explained? Give us your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter using #JustExplainIt.

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