Dumping all of your loose change in a jar at the end of the day is a pretty easy way to save some dough, but what do you do when you’re ready to deposit your mountain of coins? Are you ready to sit there for hours, packing your change into rollers, or would you rather feed it into a coin-counting machine, like Coinstar?
While Coinstar is convenient (located at 57,000 grocery and retail stores), they also charge an 11 percent fee. If you have a decent amount of change to unload, you need to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck.
Calculate Coinstar’s 11 percent fee
Coinstar’s fee is currently set at 10.9 percent of the value of the coins you’re exchanging. Basically, that’s nearly $11 for every $100 in coins you feed to the machine. You’d have to guess how much change you have accumulated to calculate the Coinstar fee. If you think you have $500, for example, you’d need to hand over $55, leaving you with $445. That’s a pretty big bite taken out right off the top, so why do people use these machines in the first place?
For one thing, they’re convenient since fewer banks are accepting coin deposits these days. Even if your bank is willing to take your coins off your hands, they may charge you a fee for processing them. (Some banks ship coins off-site to be counted, which means part of the cost gets passed on to the customer.) For another, not everyone has the time or patience to sit around and fumble with those paper wrappers for hours on end.
Still, there’s no denying that what Coinstar charges is pretty outrageous when you consider that they’re basically just switching out money you already have. It’s kind of like paying $10,000 for a car that’s only worth $9,000 — the numbers just don’t add up. The good news is that there are a some alternatives for cutting down on the fee or sidestepping it altogether when you’ve got a big chunk of change to cash in.
Alternative #1: Convert your coins to a gift card instead, for free
If you’ve uncovered a small fortune in loose change under your couch cushions, Coinstar now gives you the option of exchanging your coins for gift cards or eCertificates for some of the most popular brands around. You just put your change in, select the gift card you want and the machine prints out a receipt with a unique code that you can use the same way you would a physical gift card. The best part is, there’s no fee to get rid of all your unwanted change this way.
Coinstar limits how much change you can swap out for a gift card so it pays to know what the limits are for each one. We’ve highlighted five of the most popular picks, along with the minimum and maximum limits for each one:
- Amazon – $5 minimum, $1,000 maximum
- Lowe’s – $5 minimum, $1,000 maximum
- Home Depot – $10 minimum, $500 maximum
- iTunes – $5 minimum, $500 maximum
- Starbucks – $5 minimum, $500 maximum
Alternative #2: Scope out a TD Bank
(UPDATE: TD Bank removed its Penny Arcade coin-counting machines as of May 2016.)
As mentioned earlier, some banks offer free coin counter machines in their branches, but most will either ask you to roll the coins yourself or, like Coinstar, will charge you a fee for cashing in your change if you don’t have an account. If you live in an area that’s close to a TD Bank, you should call ahead to find out if they have a Penny Arcade machine, which is similar to Coinstar.
Did you know? Next time you’re at the grocery store or cruising the aisles of Walmart, for instance, head to the self-checkout area and use your change to pay for your purchases.
TD Bank allows their customers to count coins with their Penny Arcade machines, for free. If you are not a customer, you will get hit with an 8 percent fee, which is less than Coinstar.
If you’re lucky enough to have a bank that offers a coin counting machine in its branches, you need to look at how the bank’s fee compares to the one Coinstar is charging to see which is the better deal.
Alternative #3: Make a donation
Coinstar also allows you to donate your loose change to charity, which is a great way to give back. You’ll still pay a fee, but instead of 11 percent, it tops out at 7.5 percent. That’s about $8 for every $100 you donate.
Paying money to support your favorite charity might not have been the goal when you first started throwing your change into your piggy bank, but it’s less of a fee that you’d have to fork up. Besides, Coinstar isn’t the only place that charges a fee to donate. If you donate through Network for Good, for example, you’ll have to cough up a 5 percent credit card transaction fee or a $10 check processing fee for the money you give. PayPal charges the receiving organization a flat 30 cents, along with another 2.2 percent of the total transaction amount. Credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard also charge charities an interchange fee for direct donations made with plastic.
Unless the charity you want to donate to is willing to let you hand over your change, the odds are good that either you or the receiving organization is going to have to pay something anytime you give. With Coinstar, you might be paying a little more, but the fact that it’s convenient and you can write it off on your taxes are two pluses worth considering.
Did you know? You can also swap out unwanted gift cards for cash through Coinstar. There’s a $20 minimum to use the service and you can get as much as 85% of the card’s value back.
The bottom line
When it comes to figuring out what to do with your change, be sure to factor in how long you think it would take you to roll those coins against the fees that Coinstar or your bank would charge. After all, time is money!