Another surreal banking experience today: If you’ve tried to get your hands on the new golden dollar coins, you might have noticed how rare they are compared to dollar bills and/or quarters. According to an article I read yesterday, there are approximately 700 million dollar coins in circulation. If you assume there are roughly 260 million people in the US, then each of us should have approximately two dollar coins at any given point. The reality, however, is that most people haven’t even seen a single dollar coin yet, even though 90 percent of Americans are aware of the coin’s existence.
Several news organizations have tried to figure out why there are so many coins in “circulation” and yet so few in actual circulation. The US Mint and Federal Reserve say that banks aren’t asking for them. Businesses say that they can’t get them from banks. Ordinary people say that banks don’t carry them and that businesses never have them to give out as change. Banks say that people and businesses don’t want the dollar coins so they don’t bother getting them from the US Mint. Where is the bottleneck, then? At the banks, of course. For instance, I called my local branch today to see if I could buy a single roll of dollar coins. A roll consists of twenty-five dollar coins. (For regular readers of this sordid drama, the story of how I actually got the phone number of my local branch is another long drawn out story for another time and place.) My local branch informed me that they never have dollar coins on hand, so I had to call the “main” office. I called the main office and asked if they had rolls of dollar coins for sale. The Cheerful Bank Lady (hereafter, CBL) informed me that they did have rolls of dollars for sale. “Great! What are your hours,” I asked. “We’re open hours that are only convenient for the elderly and the unemployed, just like other banks” she answered (not really, that’s my interpretation of her answer). “Oh. Is there any chance you could send a roll of dollar coins down to the branch, which is open on Saturday, so I could buy them there,” I asked. “Oh, no. We have no way of transporting currency between branches,” CBL answered. “A roll of dollar coins can’t weigh more than a couple of pounds and is about the size of a roll of quarters. It doesn’t really take a forklift, does it,” I countered. “No, sir. We don’t exchange currency between branches for any reason,” CBL answered. “All of our branches buy currency directly from the Federal Reserve Branch. The Federal Reserve will only sell us dollar coins in 1000 coin increments. Your branch doesn’t have a vault big enough to hold 1000 coins, so they never order dollar coins,” CBL said. “Okay. Another question: can I buy Italian Lire at my local branch,” I asked. “Of course, sir. It might a couple of days to fulfill that currency order, but you can get foreign currency at your branch,” CBL replied. “So, I can get Italian lire at my local branch, but I can’t get US currency at my local branch. Does that sound strange to you in any way,” I asked. “No, sir. That doesn’t sound strange at all. In fact, I’m sure you’ll find many banks have similar policies. You can order dollar coins from the US Mint’s web site, sir. Many of our customers order their coins directly from the US Mint,” CBL said. Enough of the surreal world of banking, I thought, and hung-up the phone. Sure enough, I can order dollar coins from the US Mint web site. A [single roll of 25 dollar coins costs $35.50](http://www.usmint.gov/catalog/catalogb.cfm?
Urlcategory=Dollar%20Coin&Urlsubcategory=Golden%20Dollar%20featuring%20Sacagawea&Urlproductcode=SA4), a 62 percent mark-up over the face value of the coins. It only costs eight cents to mint one golden dollar coin. So, the US Mint is making a 92 percent markup on each coin that it sells to the Federal Reserve or anyone else through the US Mint web site. Then, if you buy direct from the US Mint’s web site, they want to stick it to you for an additional 62 percent! So, my choices are:1. Become elderly or unemployed so I can get to my bank’s main office during the fifteen minutes every other Tuesday that the teller windows are open so that I can buy a roll of twenty-five dollar coins for face value.
- Give the US Mint an additional 62 percent markup on the face value of the coins and have them shipped to me in six to eight weeks. Given these choices, it’s no wonder that no one has too many of the golden dollar coins.