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Should the United States Stop Using Pennies?

The debate over the penny's future is multifaceted, balancing nostalgia against economic efficiency. Pennies cost more to produce than their face value, and their purchasing power has dwindled. Yet, they remain a cultural staple. Considering the environmental impact and potential savings, is it time to retire this coin? How might this shift affect our daily transactions and charitable acts? Let's explore further.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The debate over whether or not the United States should stop using pennies has raged on for years. Defenders of the penny argue that as long as sales taxes and retail prices continue to be rendered in cents, consumers should not stop using pennies during transactions. Some opponents of the penny suggest that retail prices and taxes should be rounded up or down to the nearest nickel, thus eliminating the need for pennies as currency. This is only the opening salvo in the Great Penny Debate, however.

Some say the United States should stop using pennies because the cost of producing the coin is now higher than the value of the coin. Even the US Mint admits that the cost of producing a penny in 2007 could be as high as 1.4 cents. Pennies are no longer made from pure copper, which would make the minting of them prohibitively expensive, but rather from zinc and a thin coating of copper. Supporters of the penny often suggest that the US government should continue to produce the coin, only with cheaper metallic alloys than zinc or copper.

The American flag.
The American flag.

The US Mint has been producing a one-cent coin since 1793, and will continue to produce pennies until an official law orders a stoppage. Several bills have been introduced to stop production of the penny, but so far none have succeeded in becoming law. Opponents of the penny suggest that lawmakers from zinc or copper-rich states have economic interests in perpetuating the minting of a coin that has long since outlived its usefulness. Even switching to the five-cent nickel, which ironically is made primarily from copper with a zinc coating, would still not be cost-effective, since production costs of a nickel may reach 7 cents.

Stack of coins, including pennies.
Stack of coins, including pennies.

Other arguments against the penny include the added cost of processing rolled pennies, the additional time required to make change with pennies and the lack of vending machines which accept the coin. Those who say consumers should not stop using pennies suggest that rounding up taxes or prices would in itself be a form of tax hike. Pennies do have some nostalgic value for many people, and eliminating the coin altogether might prove more disruptive to the economy than anticipated.

Front and back of a US penny.
Front and back of a US penny.

Other countries have voted to eliminate their lowest-valued coins with little to no ill effects on their economies. Considering the raw cost of materials, processing and storage of the United States penny, it may actually be time to consider retiring the coin over time and encourage consumer to stop using pennies whenever possible. Perhaps a one-cent coin could be minted using cheaper metal alloys, but the current zinc and copper-clad Lincoln penny may have outlived its usefulness as currency.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main arguments for eliminating the penny in the United States?

The primary arguments for discontinuing the penny include its diminished purchasing power and the cost of production. According to the U.S. Mint's 2019 Annual Report, it costs 1.99 cents to make and distribute a penny, which is more than its face value. Additionally, pennies are often not used in transactions and can cause inefficiencies at cash registers, leading to lost economic productivity.

How might removing pennies affect the economy and consumers?

Eliminating pennies could streamline transactions and reduce the need for producing and circulating a coin that is used less frequently. Consumers might experience "rounding" at the cash register, where totals are rounded to the nearest nickel. Studies, such as one by economist Robert Whaples, suggest that rounding would have a negligible impact on consumers, as the rounding would average out over multiple transactions.

What do other countries' experiences with removing low-denomination coins tell us?

Several countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have successfully eliminated their lowest denomination coins. For instance, Canada phased out the penny in 2013 and implemented a rounding system for cash transactions. The transition was smooth, and according to the Canadian government, it saved taxpayers about 11 million Canadian dollars per year. These international examples suggest that the U.S. could also retire the penny without significant disruption.

Are there any sentimental or historical reasons to keep the penny?

Yes, some people argue that the penny holds sentimental value as it features President Abraham Lincoln, an iconic figure in American history. Additionally, the penny has been in circulation since 1793, making it a piece of the nation's heritage. However, these emotional and historical attachments must be weighed against practical considerations of the coin's current utility and cost.

What would need to happen for the United States to stop using pennies?

To eliminate the penny, Congress would need to pass legislation authorizing the cessation of its production. This would involve a detailed plan for phasing out the coin, including how to handle existing pennies in circulation and guidelines for businesses on rounding transactions. Public education campaigns would likely be necessary to ensure a smooth transition and address any concerns from citizens and stakeholders.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular UnitedStatesNow contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular UnitedStatesNow contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments


Yes we should get rid of stupid pennies - nickels and dimes too. I throw em in the ditch when I come out of the 7-11. Most of the kids I go to school with throw quarters too. Nobody cares about coins that are only worth 1 or 5 or 10 cents or even 25 cents.


You would round to the nearest 5 cents, not automatically round up. And it only needs to apply to cash payments, which are most likely a minority of payments today.

When we eliminated the half cent coin, it had more purchasing power than today's dime. Pennies and nickels should both go.


Get rid of it! Use the money to pay off that 17 trillion dollar debt!


Considering the popularity of copper these days, I'm surprised people aren't selling their jars of pennies for the value of the copper.


Perhaps keeping the idea of a penny is a good idea, considering how many places add taxes at 7 percent or whatever. If the actual cost of producing the current Lincoln penny is higher than it's worth, however, the government might want to consider using a cheaper metal. Maybe the treasury department can collect all of the existing pennies and melt them down into usable raw materials for industries.


If we get rid of pennies later on, and then we have nickles and dimes only. Then, a few years later, a nickel would be as worthless as a penny. What's the point in getting rid of pennies? Probably for the next 100 years or so, nickles will be the same position as pennies. No one would want nickles either.


Yes, get rid of the penny, and the nickel! A penny is worth basically nothing. If you're making federal minimum wage (ignoring taxes) you make a penny every five seconds. It's a waste of everyone's time to handle these small value coins. Today's dime is worth less than the half-cent coin was when it was eliminated in 1857, and we survived then!

Round the final total for cash transactions down or up to the nearest dime (and prosecute merchants who always round up), and leave electronic transactions alone. Mint a dime, 20-cent piece, smaller 50-cent piece, and dollar coin, with the current coins' presidents. Eliminate the dollar bill, but boost circulation of the two dollar bill to take its place. Done.


No. If a cashier tells you to pay $3.01 for a can of soda and you think if they got rid of the penny you would have to pay more like $3.05, $3.10? Should the the penny really go or will you pay the same and right amount you should pay? Or pay more?


I think the U.S should keep pennies. I have a penny collection that adds up to $1,100. If we remove pennies, that is a huge loss of money. and, what about homeless people? they sometimes rely on the pennies people give them to survive. So I think the U.S should keep them and find a way to lower the cost.


The penny should go the way of the two cent piece. Its time is over. When was the last time you went into a store and paid for anything using pennies? If I buy something for, let's say, 78 cents, even if I had three pennies in my pocket, I would naturally hand over a dollar to the cashier and take my change, which would, by the way, include two pennies which I would most probably never use.

Yes, round out to the nearest nickel and the government would save millions over the years in precious metals used to make the billions of one cent pieces every year.

However, as a money making idea for the US Mint, they can make a "new" legal tender one cent piece the size of the once minted Large Cent. This coin would be not minted for circulation; it should only be minted in MS-65 and Proof and sold to collectors at an inflated price. The price would cover the cost of making the coin, its design and delivery to the buyer. It also would add to the profits of the US Mint in their coin sales.


It's been awhile since this one has had a posting, but with the past four years seeing skyrocketing national debt, how about we implement the round up elimination of the penny and apply all of the round up to paying off the national debt? With monthly retail sales in our country exceeding $400,000,000,000 and the average roundup of two cents per transaction, we could theoretically see a $8,000,000,000 per month pay down on the national debt (assuming an average transaction of $99.98).

Now it would not pay off all of the debt, but any progress toward over $16,000,000,000,000.


When one considers accumulated inflation, I think we should go from cent based, 1¢ = $1/100, to dime based, 1đ = $1/10 (where the “đ”, “stroked ‘d’”, symbol = “& #273 ;” or “& #x111 ;”), get rid of the penny, nickel and quarter, create the US florin, a 20¢ piece, and define and reemphasize the 50¢ piece as the US crown.

So rather than the 1¢ penny, 5¢ nickel, 10¢ dime, 25¢ quarter and 50¢ half-dollar, there would be the 1đ dime, 2đ florin and 5đ crown. (symbol and names just a suggestion)

Thus, prices could be defined in tenths, rather than hundreds, in most cases (financially sensitive transactions that require $.01, $.001 or even $.0001 resolution, can certainly continue to do so).

I mean, really, other than pricing gimmickry (“...now only $3.99!”), how often do you see something for 57¢ or 72¢?——it is most likely for 59¢ or 79¢, which, when it is all added up at the end of the year, could just as practically be priced at 6đ (six dimes) and 8đ (8 dimes)! What do you think? --KMGC


Pennies are useless because they always lie around in the streets.


Some websites will bring about the end of the penny. They capitalize on the copper pennies that are worth three times their face value in metal value.


With all due respect to Ben Franklin, minting pennies at a cost of over 1.37 cents is foolish.


Yes, they should have been done away with years ago. They're useless. if I drop a penny on the floor I just throw it away. The us will be the last-as usual-of any country to modernize.


When I was a kid, they had mill tokens. They were not needed then and they went away. The spending power of our money has gotten less and less. We don't have to go back very far to where a penny would buy as much as a dime does today. If we were to go back to when the penny was introduced, what would we have to pay in today's money to equal it's value then? Get rid of nickels and pennies and maybe a dollar coin would finally work. It would be worth a dime of only a short time ago.



keeping the penny with the current cost is another example of government waste. nostalgia is OK, but at what cost?

tax hike? impact the poor? did we forget the concept of rounding? even if you were unlucky and everything were rounded up at a maximum loss of 2 cents, it would take 50 transactions to reach $1. if tax isn't applied to the product, all stores would price in multiples of $0.05.

the solution would be to stop minting the penny, and mint the nickel with more zinc to make it cheaper.

i would love to know the real political reason this change has little traction.


It would be *great* to get rid of pennies, and we would have done it long ago, except nobody has proposed the proper plan. I'll do so right here:

To get rid of the penny, you have to get rid of the 100ths decimal place. This action would get rid not only of the penny, but also of the nickel. Prices would look list this: $2.7 $199.9

Gasoline gallons have always been expressed in theoretical 10ths of cents values, yet nobody has demanded a 10th of a cent in change...

Green Stamps always had small print expressing the cash value in "mils", another theoretical monetary unit (1000th of a dollar) that is not represented by a coin.

As long as plans to do away with the penny do not also get rid of the nickel, they will not succeed.


And what would happen to "A penny saved is a penny earned" or "A penny for your thoughts" if there were no more pennies?

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    • The American flag.
      The American flag.
    • Stack of coins, including pennies.
      Stack of coins, including pennies.
    • Front and back of a US penny.
      By: Sascha Burkard
      Front and back of a US penny.