AUBURN — Time to check beneath your sofa cushions. It would appear that a national coin shortage is starting to be felt in this area.

At some stores, there are signs on doors announcing the problem outright. 

“The U.S. is currently experiencing a coin shortage,” according to the sign posted at Lowe’s in Auburn. “Please use correct change or other form of tender if possible.” 

At Walgreens in Bridgton, it’s the same thing: “Due to the national shortage of coins in circulation,” according to their sign, “to pay for goods and services we encourage the use of electronic payments or exact change when possible.” 

At Walmart, cashiers are asking customers for exact change or encouraging them to pay electronically. It’s the same deal at the smaller stores, like Tilton’s market in Buckfield, the dollar stores and The Big Apple stores scattered across the area.

Even the Oxford Casino and Event Center has been hitting up customers for coinage and offering incentives to boot.

“For the rest of July,” according to a message on the casino Facebook page, “redeem at least $50 in U.S. coins in exchange for U.S. paper currency, and you will receive an extra $10 in free slot play”

But is this shortage the real thing? Is the country really running out of the kind of cash that jingles in one’s pocket? 

Probably not — not permanently, anyway. Most banks aren’t experiencing shortages, although some are — one area bank was running so low, they turned to Republic Jewelry and Collectibles, which was able to sell them $1,200 worth of coins.

Most banks aren’t yet struggling just yet with the issue, although they’ve been hearing stories about other businesses running low on silver. Some are encouraging customers to bring in coins to help combat the problem, such as Norway Savings Bank in Auburn, which has a digital sign asking customers to “bring in rolled coins for cash or deposit!”

At Dirigo Family Credit Union, there isn’t a coin shortage, but that doesn’t stop employees there from mulling the matter. Chief Financial Officer Kevin Joler even has a theory about it. 

In short: blame COVID-19. 

“It’s our thought that it’s due to bank branches and credit union branches having been closed now for a few months,” Joler said. “Customers no longer roll their coin. So when they can’t go to a branch and drop it into a coin machine to count for them, it’s just sitting at home.” 

To support this, several people quizzed about their personal coin supplies admitted to accumulating vast reserves of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters since coronavirus came on the scene. They keep them in jars, in coffee cans, in water jugs. One Auburn man reported that his coin stash is up to about $200. Another said he has accumulated around 50 pounds of pennies, while a Livermore man said he recently rolled $120 worth of coin but hasn’t yet cashed it in. 

Typically, these people would bring their coins to the banks and use the coin-counting machines, but when coronavirus shut everything down, they got out of the habit. 

To add to the problem, the Federal Reserve says that fewer coins have been minted in recent months and again, you can blame the virus — the U.S. Mint, like most businesses, was shut down for a time in an effort to keep employees clear of COVID-19. 

There are some who believe that the coin shortage may be the beginning of a move to move the country to a cashless system. But the Federal Reserve — and Joler too, for that matter —  suggest that the problem will likely resolve itself over time: the U.S. Mint will start cranking out coins again and people may get back to using bank machines to turn their coin stash into a more spendable form of currency. 

A sign announcing a coin shortage at Lowe’s in Auburn.

A sign announcing a coin shortage at Walgreens in Bridgton. Submitted photo

Norway Savings Bank in Auburn trying to help with the coin shortage hitting the area. Drew Gauthier photo

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: