One of the minor annoyances of living on the West Coast is that most banks do not allow customers to deposit loose change. This was true when I lived in Bellingham, Washington and my San Francisco neighborhood Bank of America has the same rule — if you wish to deposit coins you must first sort and wrap them by denomination. How ridiculous is that? I actually bought a cheap coin sorting machine and did this for a while but it was entirely too slow, it ate c-cell batteries for lunch, and coins would routinely get stuck in the sorting chambers requiring me to perform regular “nickeloscopies” with tweezers, butter knives, and bent paperclips. Who needs it!
One alternative has been Coinstar, the greedy green and white change sorting machines located in many local area grocery stores. The problem with Coinstar is that they charge an outrageous 8.9% fee for the service of exchanging your coins for paper money. In absence of a reasonable solution I started collecting overflowing jars of coins not sure when I would ever get around to hand-sorting pennies for deposit.
Last month I was excited to learn that Coinstar has since partnered with retailers such as Amazon.com, Hollywood Video, iTunes, and others. So here’s the scoop — select Coinstar machines will now exchange coins for gift cards to partner stores with a 0% (free!) sorting fee. Hey! Not as cool as banks who sort your coins but at least a half decent option. (Note: not all Coinstar machines offer this service so check the Coinstar website for machines in your area that dispense gift cards.)
Today I finally decided to move my coins before they threatened to crash through the floor and injure the family in the apartment below. I hefted the collection into a messenger bag and lugged them to Molly Stone’s Grocery store located in the Fillmore district. Finding the Coinstar machine, I followed the onscreen instructions and began to pour coins into the buzzing tray. People at the nearby checkout couldn’t believe how many coins I had. It must have seemed like a slot machine running in reverse. It took a total of five minutes to sort through my entire collection. In the end I had 11 quarters, 678 dimes, 509 nickels, and 2,228 pennies. The change eating monster finally settled down and ask how I would like to exchange my coins. I chose iTunes and it printed a receipt and gift certificate number for the iTunes store. “One hundred and eighteen dollars”, I said proudly to the mid-forties lady patiently waiting behind me. “Oooh! Great for you!”. She was excited to try the machine for the first time herself but only looked to have a handful of coins.
As soon as I arrived home I put the groceries on the floor to melt and fired up my computer. Sure enough, the gift card worked. I now have $118.28 in my iTunes music account. (If your birthday is coming up and we generally exchange gifts…you know what you are getting. ;)) If you have an overgrown penny collection like I did and live in an area where banks don’t accept loose change, you now have an option.