Eliminating $1 Bills Could Save Billions

Seth Fiegerman

Washington has come down with a case of fiscal fever as the Obama administration proposes everything from spending freezes on domestic programs to selling off unused government property to bring the budget back in line. Now, one study argues that the government can save billions of dollars simply by making a change to the currency itself.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a formal proposal to the Treasury and Federal Reserve noting that if it eliminated the $1 bill and replaced it with the $1 coin, the country could save roughly $5.5 billion during the next 30 years. The reason, according to the agency's report, is that dollar bills have a shorter lifespan than dollar coins because they wear much faster, which in turn requires the government to spend more to print new bills.

The GAO estimates that phasing out dollar bills in favor of coins would require a four-year transition period, during which the government invests in the new currency, but following that, the government would save an expected $522 million each year from the change.

Unfortunately, as the GAO notes, there is one problem with the plan: When given a choice between dollar coins and dollar bills, Americans always choose bills.

"GAO has noted in past reports that efforts to increase the circulation and public acceptance of the $1 coin have not succeeded, in part, because the $1 note has remained in circulation," the agency wrote in its report. So if we are ever going to make the switch to dollar coins, as other countries like Canada have done, the GAO suggests the only way to do so is to phase dollar bills out of circulation altogether.

Before you start hoarding your dollar bills though, keep in mind that the GAO has made similar proposals four times during the past two decades, and obviously dollar bills are still in circulation. The only difference this time is that the overall climate in Washington is more geared toward budget cutbacks now, but given that it would take several years for the savings to kick in, this seems unlikely as well.

Still, we'd like to pose the question to readers. Would you be willing to eliminate dollar bills and switch to coins if it meant improving the country's balance sheet?


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