Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Money Laundering

OK, I know what you're thinking: Those bills look like they were part of a botched bank robbery dye pack explosion! No, we haven't started robbing banks. Let me explain:

Relatively recently we've decided to try to use cash rather than debit or credit cards as much as possible. There are a few reasons for this:
  1. We have a better sense of how much we are spending when we can see how much is in our wallets at the end of a week compared with the beginning. The money is "real" and not an abstract concept.
  2. The use of credit and debit cards enable banks and other financial institutions to track your purchases and create a very detailed profile of who you are, where you are and your (fill in the blank) preferences. I know, maybe paranoid but it's just a little creepy when you know that there are paid number crunchers who are making inferences from your purchases which they can then pass on to advertisers to better target you with more advertising, loan offers, credit card deals, etc.
  3. ATM fees and transaction fees that Visa and MasterCard charge are exorbitant and only possible through nearly monopolistic market share. Essentially they are enticing the banks with a higher cut of the transaction fees that they charge businesses to process each transaction. The businesses have the choice of paying the fees or accepting cash only. Most accept the cards and pass the fees on to the consumer. If there was real competition the services would be reduced to a commodity and the fees would be reduced accordingly. There isn't enough competition so there are huge profit margins on each transaction.

There are some obvious risks and inconveniences in using cash though.
  1. Cash isn't always convenient to withdraw.
  2. Your cash can be stolen.
  3. Going inside to pay for gas can take up to 3 times as long than paying at the pump.
  4. You might wash your wallet with the red felt lined bill pocket which would then stain your bills making them look like they were the object of an amateur bank robbery dye pack explosion.
Today I want to talk about number four. After washing my wallet (which held up remarkably well) my money was all stained red. Most of the bills were only stained around the edges but the bill at the front and the back, which were in direct contact with the felt, turned redder than a stop sign.

I took them to our bank (one of the big four) but the teller took it to another guy who appeared to be an acting manager. He came over to me and said "Yeah.... actually we're supposed to take these away and destroy them. You don't want to give this to us." He suggested that I try to deposit it in the ATM but not knowing the odds of success I wasn't ready to take the chance that my account would actually be credited.

I asked if there was a way to look up the numbers to make sure that these bills were not part of a robbery but he said no. I took them home and washed them again. I tried rubbing alcohol on them and vinegar and baking soda but none of that made a noticeable difference.

I am hoping that I can crowd source a solution here. Does anyone have a suggestion to either clean the bills or some idea for a safe exchange of the money. I thought that there were some rules about the legal tender of bills issued by the government. For instance, when I was a kid I remember hearing something about a minimum amount of the bill that must be intact for it to be tendered but that big chunks could be missing and it would still be OK. True? Not true?

It's alright to be creative with suggestions about removing the red color I'll try out any ideas on the $5 first. I am mostly concerned with retaining the value of the $100.

Oh yeah, and on a related note the Huffington Post is trying to get everyone to "Move Your Money" They have some good points. It's a financial take on the local movement and a response to the bailout mess.


  1. US currency is made from 100% cotton rag paper by the Crane company, and I know this because I used to sell Crane stationery. So- you should theoretically be able to wash it again, and hopefully, the stain will come out. You might try a non-chlorine bleach on smaller bills to see if that helps. Unfortunately, vinegar is sometimes used as a cheap mordant, so you may have set the stain. If something like Oxyclean doesn't work, I'd try a bleach solution next, again on small bills. I just don't know if it will remove the ink (I doubt it though, the bills are supposed to be able to come out of a wash okay).

    Re: missing chunks of tender: I'd always heard that you had to have at least three corners on it to be legal.

    Good luck, and please post what happens!

  2. How about trying hydrogen peroxide to bleach out the red...

  3. I work for a bank and know that you can usually send money to the US Treasury and they will send you back better bills. I would contact them and let them know the situation and see what they say. At the bank I work for we can only take ripped bills if both serial numbers are intact (which is really rare in a ripped bill) but I know the Treasury will replace ripped bills within a certain limit. (I think more than 50% intact)

    Hope this helps and kepp everyone updated!

  4. It'll probably be tough in the next few days, but the California sun does wonders on every (non-oil-based) stain I've had... I'm guessing even if you 'set' the stain, your techniques were not as resilient as the original ink?

  5. Thanks for all the great advice! I hadn't thought about the vinegar - that was a bad idea wasn't it?

    Nor had I thought about the hydrogen peroxide - that's a good one and something we have in the house right now.

    The bills are currently taped to the window that gets the most direct sunlight in our house without much apparent change but I think that's a good suggestion.

    In the meantime I am going to try to contact the Treasury and my bank to see if I can redeem these for fresh bills.

    I'll let you know how it goes.

  6. No advice for the bad bills, but thank you for the moveyourmoney.info post... got me to thinking and reading and thinking some more... not always good news for me, but this time I think I am going to make a move. Cool thing is that several of the IRA listed banks are downstairs in the building where I work or just a couple blocks down the street.. good stuff and thank you again.

  7. Here's the official story from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, on Submitting a Damaged Currency Claim:


    and some more info:


    It's actually surprisingly liberal as far as what they'll take... in part, bills in which "More than 50% of a note identifiable as United States currency is present" -- which surely you qualify for. I have no idea how the dye pack issue falls into this, though, so perhaps calling their toll-free number would be an advisable first step.

    Hope that helps...



  8. Just bleach them until they are completely white and then print the face back on with your home printer.

  9. You should try sodium percarbonate. If you can't get the pure stuff, use OxiClean (sodium percarbonate, soda ash, and blue crystals) and very hot water. I used the pure stuff to get beet stains out of a counter and towels after an accident that set overnight. If it got that out, it should work for you.

  10. contrary to jimmycrackedcorn's idea, the bills are printed with mineral pigments that won't bleach no matter what.

    I second the sun & chemical bleach ideas.

    If oxidizers like hydrogen peroxide, sodium perchlorate and sodium percarbonate don't work, you might try a reducing agent like ascorbic acid (a crushed up vitamin C tablet).

  11. I think you should dye them GREEN.

  12. I know it isn't a "green" option, but you could always take them to a casino, plug them into a slot machine, then cash out. it is an idea, and I bet the casino industry has better access to the treasury than we common folk. good luck.


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