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posted by Steven Listino on February 23rd, 2010 at 8:51 AM

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If you're like tens of millions of other Americans, chances are you've got a collection of loose change somewhere in your house -- in a jar, a piggy bank, a dish--scattered in various places

And chances are, at some point, you're going to want to turn that change into more portable and usable dollar bills. And it's likely that when you add it all up it's going to amount to more than a few bucks.

One company that makes its living counting change estimates that the typical household has $90 in loose change lying around.

So, we tried to convert some change to show you the options out there and help you make an informed choice so you don't end up giving back a significant piece of the pile you've been accumulating.

We wrapped coins ourselves (manually and using a couple of coin sorting devices), went to some banks and used a coin counting kiosk at a supermarket.

Like a lot of things years ago, you didn't really have to think about this process. You really didn't have any choices. You just got some unformed wrappers from your bank, rolled up the coins (perhaps writing your account number on each wrapper) and then let the teller tally your rolls. It's not the old days and you have a lot of choices -- many with a catch.

You could still do it the old-fashioned way -- if your bank still allows you to turn in rolled coins. It costs nothing but your time. And if you have a big pile, that's a lot of time. You have to count the coins one by one as you drop them in the unformed rolls. Annoyance factor: high.

If your time is worth some money to you, you could invest in tools that make the counting and sorting go easier. Coin tubes (about $15 at an office supply store) help skip the counting part. When the tube is filled you slide in a preformed wrapper (cost about $5 per 100) and you're all set. Downside: you have to separate the change -- only pennies fit in the penny tube and only dimes fit in the dime tube. It does save you some time and avoids the problem of losing count, but is that worth $15 plus the cost of the wrappers?

Then there's the mechanical method. We paid $35 for a coin sorting machine that you can put 20-30 coins at a time into and it will sort and drop them into the proper tube with the preformed wrappers inside. No measuring or sorting for you to do. When the roll is full, the excess with go into an overflow tray.

Cheaper ones that we've used jammed from time to time and occasionally sorted a coin into the wrong slot, but this one worked pretty well. It's not commercial grade and its tiny motor can't run non-stop, but it should work for most change collectors. Downside: This is a big one: the price of the machine is the equivalent of 3,500 pennies or 350 dimes -- and that's not counting the price of batteries. So, can you get right with the idea of making that big an investment to count change? In other words, why bother accumulating coins if it's just going to cost you to turn them into usable cash?

Then there's Coinstar, which has thousands of kiosks at retail locations around the country. You bring your change however you care to -- in buckets, jars, bags, or whatever. And then you pour them into the machine and watch it count.

If that sounds just too easy -- don't worry, there is a catch. You'll pay for the convenience. After the machine is done counting, you get a slip that you then turn in at the store to get your cash. It will be 8.9% less than you poured in. That's about 9 cents of every dollar you collected.

But Coinstar is smart. They also offer the option of having no fee taken out. The catch: you have to take the money in the form of a gift card from a selection of retailers. Gift cards are a good bet for stores, not so good for consumers who leave billions of dollars on then unspent.

Of course, there's also the bank. Banks are all over the place. Some want your rolled coins. Some don't. Some have free coin counting machines for account holders. Some let anyone use them. Some charge non-account holders. Some take account holders' change, bag it and send it off-site for counting -- at no charge.

The bottom line: You have to sort out whether what your bank offers for converting coins to cash works for you. So, if you have a bank that will count your change and not charge you for the privilege, that's the best deal. Free is the best price, after all, and you also don't have to spend your hard-earned free time sitting at a table dropping coins into wrappers.

Still, it is a lot of fun using the coin-sorting machine.

- Mitch Lipka

last edited on February 23rd, 2010 at 8:57 AM


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