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Changing change

Posted: January 21, 2014 8:08 a.m.
Updated: January 22, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The change jangling around in your pocket might be looking different soon, as the U.S. Mint is exploring ways to change the composition of metals it uses to make quarters, dimes and nickels. It now costs almost a dime to make a nickel -- that’s in metal costs alone -- and combined with the excessive cost of the penny, it’s costing the mint more than $100 million each year. Changing the mix of metals has drawn protests from vending machine operators, who say the new coins could foul their machines, but mint officials are said to be working with them to try to come up with the best combination so they won’t have to make wholesale changes to coin mechanisms in machines across the country. For instance, it plans to make the weight and thickness of new coins the same.

Things might look different, however. The mint is experimenting with a nickel that would have copper plating, which would give it a brown tint, like a penny. Other combinations are being tested, and the mint is churning out millions of these exploratory designs to see which works best. But the biggest cost saving, one not even being considered by Uncle Sam, could come from simply eliminating the penny, which through decades of inflation has become virtually worthless. All costs between five-cent increments could be rounded up or down, and the penny could drop out of sight. But for some reason, the mint won’t consider that option. That doesn’t make much sense; but then again, many of the things done by government don’t make much sense.

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