Coinstar Coin-Counting Machine

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's just 9.8 bucks on the hun.

The Long Version: When I was growing up in suburban Toronto, I was always surprised to see the occasional Poverty Mart cheque-cashing places dotted around downtown - companies that charge about 3% commission to turn one form of money into another. Times have changed, and now these places are everywhere and have moved on to business models that allow them to go after people who have bank accounts and direct deposit. But the basic idea of charging people to change one form of money into another is too good to go away.

Coinstar has put vending-machine-style coin counters in stores all across Canada, the US, and UK. The American ones can dispense 'gift' cards without the 9.8% charge, but in Canada we're limited to only getting vouchers that can be redeemed at the check-out registers of the grocery stores that they're invariably in. The irony is that the amount of change counted, less 9.8%, is almost never going to work out to an even dollar amount, so after paying money to convert coins to cash, you'll get some back in change.

To use the machines requires some time, effort, and the ability to feed the coins through a narrow little slot. It seems to work on the same principle as the fabulous Sort`N`Bank, except that it's mechanized and makes a lot more noise in the process. The two items actually make a decent pair, since using the Sort`N`Bank (or some other sorting device) is an easy way to make certain that the more valuable coins don't get 9.8% of their value clipped from them. I only dump pennies and nickels, since the effort and time involved in counting, wrapping, and then finding a bank that will accept them simply isn't worth the amount of money that Coinstar charges. I'm not a fan of their business model, but I do have to concede that it serves a purpose.

updated 7 jan 2011:

I've checked a couple of these machines recently, and the rate has gone up to 10.9%. I was quite annoyed - but I paid it anyway. From here on, though, I'll be using my Sort'N'Bank's awesome powers to screen out the dimes, and start spending them along with the quarters. It's still better than rolling them and taking them to the bank, and it still leaves the machine with just the heaviest and lowest-value currency. I just worry about what I'll do with the nickels when the rate hits 14.9%.


  1. I LOVE the CoinStar!!
    But then I don't have a bank account, so finding a way to get rid of my change was difficult until these machines showed up.
    When I gave my coins to Syl I never got the cash back, so 8.9% was an attractive alternative.

    I keep my quarters for soda machines, the car wash, etc, but never carry the other coins around--just dump them in a tip jar when I get home. Maybe $10 a month.

    Here, you have to redeem the cash voucher the same day you use the machine, which strikes me as odd.

    Drawbacks--having to wait while some dillhole from a business processes a box with a thousand quarters in it, and when the machine is full so you have to make two trips and buy two items when you really just want a quick twelvepack of "free" beer.

    The check cashing places are popular here--mostly with illegal aliens, criminals, and losers.

  2. I was debating mentioning the same-day redemption thing with the voucher. I can't decide if it's a reasonable protection against forgeries and fraud or a blatant attempt to rip off people who don't read the fine print. I decided to err on the side of discretion, and not make any guesses.

    Here we also have $1 and $2 coins - fantastic for vending machines, but not something I'd want to lose 10% of their value by dropping it through the little slot on one of these things.

    I still have far more dimes and quarters than I know what to do with, but I'd rather pay at the corner store with a ridiculous amount of only one denomination - $4 in dimes, say - because I think it makes me look less like a broke-ass loser than if I'm using an assortment of coins.

    Come to think of it, when I gave Penny an assortment of change to wrap and take to the bank, the service fee was also 100%. These coinstar machines are expensive, but they're close to home and they work, so it's a convenience tax as much as anything else.

    Here there's no need to buy anything, so I just take the voucher to the cashier. It doesn't solve the line-up problem, but it does save me from having to shop in a store that I don't particularly enjoy.

  3. I don't know what area you're in, but I know that in the Idaho/Utah area where Zion's Bank exists, all of the Zion's banks have similar coin counting machines with no fee at all. Once you're done it prints out a tiny receipt you take the the teller who cashes it or, if you're a Zion's bank customer, deposits it to your account. It's pretty nice. FYI.


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