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Should the United States Stop Using Pennies?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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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 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.

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.

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.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon991425 — On Jun 19, 2015

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.

By anon946944 — On Apr 23, 2014

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.

By anon348047 — On Sep 13, 2013

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

By amypollick — On Jun 30, 2013

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

By anon340173 — On Jun 30, 2013

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.

By anon332602 — On Apr 30, 2013

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.

By anon331695 — On Apr 24, 2013

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.

By anon323309 — On Mar 04, 2013

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?

By anon323131 — On Mar 03, 2013

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.

By glmike523 — On Dec 18, 2012

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.

By anon303391 — On Nov 14, 2012

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.

By anon257695 — On Mar 28, 2012

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

By anon244425 — On Feb 01, 2012

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

By anon200662 — On Jul 27, 2011

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.

By anon165813 — On Apr 06, 2011

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

By anon93884 — On Jul 06, 2010

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.

By Joe — On Mar 17, 2008

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.


By anon9923 — On Mar 16, 2008

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.

By GolfCabalist — On Mar 10, 2008

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.

By ivanka — On Mar 04, 2008

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

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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