What to do with damaged cash
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Since most of us don’t have money to burn, it’s good to know that charred, mutilated or even chemically altered cash can often be redeemed at full value by the federal government.
If the damage is minor, try spending it or getting it exchanged at a bank. Failing that, file a claim with the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing to get it replaced. It’s a free service, but will take three to 36 months.
Treasury’s website describes mutilated money as “currency which has been severely damaged – to the extent that its value is questionable or security features are missing. The most common causes of damage are fire, water, chemicals, and explosives; animal, insect, or rodent damage; and petrification or deterioration by burying.”
Every year the Treasury Department handles approximately 30,000 claims and redeems mutilated currency valued at more than $30 million.
You can either mail your damaged money to Treasury or take it in person if you’re in Washington, D.C. If more than 50% of the bill is intact, identifiable as U.S. currency, and mailed with “sufficient remnants of any relevant security features,” it will likely be replaced. The “security features” include color-shifting ink and watermarks visible on both sides. So include every bit of the damaged bills.
If less than half of the note is intact, but you include evidence that the rest of the bill has been destroyed, you still stand a good chance at full redemption.
If you mail damaged currency, “include a legible letter stating the estimated value of the currency, your contact information, and an explanation of how the currency became mutilated. The submission should also contain the bank account and routing number for an account of a US bank. For reimbursement via checks, provide payee and mailing address information.”
When you pack your botched bucks, don’t fold, tape or alter them further, lest you risk additional damage and make it harder for Treasury examiners to assess value.
A few more packing tips from Treasury:
• “If the currency is brittle or inclined to fall apart, pack it carefully in plastic and cotton without disturbing the fragments and place the package in a secure container.
• “If the currency was mutilated in a purse, box, or other container, it should be left in the container to protect the fragments from further damage.
• “If it is absolutely necessary to remove the fragments from the container, send the container along with the currency and any other contents that may have currency fragments attached.”
Don’t include any coins. The metal can “break up the currency,” the Treasury website warns. The U.S. Mint’s practice of replacing damaged coins is temporarily on hold, pending development of additional program safeguards.
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