oversight

U.S. Coins: Benefits and Considerations for Replacing the $1 Note with a $1 Coin

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-11-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                              United States Government Accountability Office

GAO                           Testimony
                              Before the Subcommittee on Domestic
                              Monetary Policy and Technology,
                              Committee on Financial Services,
                              House of Representatives
                              U.S. COINS
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 2:00 p.m. EST
Thursday, November 29, 2012



                              Benefits and Considerations
                              for Replacing the $1 Note
                              with a $1 Coin
                              Statement of Lorelei St. James, Director
                              Physical Infrastructure Team




GAO-13-164T
                                                November 29, 2012

                                                U.S. COINS
                                                Benefits and Considerations for Replacing the $1
                                                Note with a $1 Coin
Highlights of GAO-13-164T, a testimony
before the Subcommittee on Domestic
Monetary Policy and Technology, Committee
on Financial Services, House of
Representatives


Why GAO Did This Study                          What GAO Found
Since coins are more durable than               GAO reported in February 2012 that replacing $1 notes with $1 coins could
notes and do not need replacement as            potentially provide $4.4 billion in net benefits to the federal government over 30
often, many countries have replaced             years. The overall net benefit was due solely to increased seigniorage and not to
lower-denomination notes with coins to          reduced production costs. Seigniorage is the difference between the cost of
obtain a financial benefit, among other         producing coins or notes and their face value; it reduces government borrowing
reasons. Six times over the past 22             and interest costs, resulting in a financial benefit to the government. GAO’s
years, GAO has reported that replacing          estimate takes into account processing and production changes that occurred in
the $1 note with a $1 coin would                2011, including the Federal Reserve’s use of new equipment to determine the
provide a net benefit to the federal
                                                quality and authenticity of notes, which has increased the expected life of the
government of hundreds of millions of
                                                note thereby reducing the costs of circulating a note over 30 years. (The $1 note
dollars annually.
                                                is expected to last 4.7 years and the $1 coin 30 years.) Like all estimates, there
This testimony provides information on          are uncertainties surrounding GAO’s estimate, especially since the costs of the
what GAO’s most recent work in 2011             replacement occur in the first several years and can be estimated with more
and 2012 found regarding (1) the net            certainty than the benefits, which are less certain because they occur further in
benefit to the government of replacing          the future. Moreover, changes to the inputs and assumptions GAO used in the
the $1 note with a $1 coin, (2)                 estimate could significantly increase or decrease the results. For example, if the
stakeholder views on considerations             public relies more heavily on electronic payments in the future, the demand for
for the private sector and the public in        cash could be lower than GAO estimated and, as a result, the net benefit would
making such a replacement, and (3)              be lower.
the experiences of other countries in
replacing small-denomination notes              In March 2011, GAO identified potential shorter- and longer-term costs to the
with coins. This testimony is based on          private sector that could result from the replacement of the $1 note with a $1
previous GAO reports. To perform that           coin. Industry stakeholders indicated that they would initially incur costs to modify
work, GAO constructed an economic               equipment and add storage and that later their costs to process and transport
model to assess the net benefit to the          coins would increase. However, others, such as some transit agencies, have
government. GAO also interviewed                already made the transition to accept $1 coins and would not incur such costs. In
officials from the Federal Reserve and          addition, for such a replacement to be successful, the $1 coin would have to be
Treasury Department, currency                   widely accepted and used by the public. Nationwide opinion polls over the last
experts, officials from Canada and the
                                                decade have indicated lack of public acceptance of the $1 coin. Efforts to
United Kingdom, and representatives
                                                increase the circulation and public acceptance of the $1 coins have not
of U.S. industries that could be
affected by currency changes.                   succeeded, in part, because the $1 note has remained in circulation.
                                                Over the last 48 years, many countries, including Canada and the United
What GAO Recommends                             Kingdom, have replaced low denomination notes with coins because of expected
GAO has recommended in prior work               cost savings, among other reasons. The Canadian government, for example,
that Congress replace the $1 note with          saved $450 million (Canadian) over 5 years by converting to the $1 coin. Canada
a $1 coin. GAO continues to believe             and the United Kingdom found that stopping production of the note combined
that replacing the $1 note with a coin is       with stakeholder outreach and public education were important to overcome
likely to provide a financial benefit to        public resistance, which dissipated within a few years after transitioning to the
the federal government if the note is           low denomination coins.
eliminated and negative public reaction
is effectively managed through
stakeholder outreach and public
education.


View GAO-13-164T. For more information,
contact Lorelei St.James at (202) 512-2834 or
stjamesl@gao.gov.

                                                                                         United States Government Accountability Office
Chairman Paul, Ranking Member Clay, and Members of the
Subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here today to participate in your hearing that examines
the potential savings from replacing the $1 note with the $1 coin. GAO
has reported six times over the last 22 years that replacing the $1 note
with the $1 coin would result in net financial benefits to the government of
hundreds of millions of dollars annually. 1

In our prior reports, we recommended that Congress proceed with
replacing the $1 note with the $1 coin. We continue to believe that
replacing the note with a coin is likely to provide a financial benefit to the
government if the note is eliminated and negative public reaction is
effectively managed through stakeholder outreach and public education.
However, we realize that replacing the $1 note with the $1 coin is
controversial. We have previously reported on public opposition to using
the $1 coin and the challenges that private businesses such as vending
machine owners would face if such a transition were undertaken. Several
foreign countries have already transitioned from small note
denominations to coins, for a number of reasons, including the greater
durability of coins and inflationary pressures.

My statement today addresses (1) our most recent estimates of the net
financial benefit from replacing the $1 note with a $1 coin, (2) the long-
standing public and private sector considerations of such a replacement,
and (3) the experiences of other countries with replacing currency. This
statement is based primarily on our most recent reports issued in March
2011 and February 2012. For our March 2011 report, to estimate the net
financial benefit to the government, we constructed an economic model
with data from the Federal Reserve, and the Department of the
Treasury’s (Treasury Department) Bureau of Engraving and Printing and



1
 GAO, National Coinage Proposals: Limited Public Demand for New Dollar Coin or
Elimination of Pennies, GAO/GGD-90-88 (Washington, D.C.: May 23, 1990); GAO,
1-Dollar Coin: Reintroduction Could Save Millions If Properly Managed, GAO/GGD-93-56
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 11, 1993); GAO, Dollar Coin Could Save Millions,
GAO/T-GGD-95-203 (Washington, D.C.: July 13, 1995); GAO, Financial Impact of Issuing
the New $1 Coin, GAO/GGD-00-111R (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 7, 2000); GAO, U.S.
Coins: Replacing the $1 Note with a $1 Coin Would Provide a Financial Benefit to the
Government, GAO-11-281 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 4, 2011); and GAO, U.S. Coins:
Alternate Scenarios Suggest Different Benefits and Losses from Replacing the $1 Note
with a $1 Coin, GAO-12-307 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 15, 2012).




Page 1                                                                  GAO-13-164T
                        the United States Mint (Mint). We interviewed government officials from
                        Canada and the United Kingdom to obtain information about their
                        experiences with replacing notes with coins and used the information to
                        develop some of the assumptions used in our model. To determine the
                        effects such a replacement would have on the public and on private
                        business, we identified and interviewed officials from industries and
                        organizations that could be affected by currency changes. For our
                        February 2012 report, we updated our model to reflect actions taken by
                        the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. In its most basic form,
                        the model measures the difference between the status quo scenario––
                        where $1 coins are available, but $1 notes predominate––and an
                        alternative replacement scenario in which the $1 note is replaced with the
                        $1 coin, the $1 notes are phased out, and $1 coins are produced and
                        issued into circulation at a rate to match the way the public uses coins.
                        Although we recognize that such a replacement would have benefits and
                        costs for the public and for private businesses, the model was designed
                        to estimate the net benefit and costs solely to the federal government and
                        did not quantify the effects on the public or on private business. More
                        detailed information on our objectives, scope, and methodology for this
                        work can be found in the issued reports. 2 We conducted the work on
                        which this statement is based in accordance with generally accepted
                        government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan
                        and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide
                        a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit
                        objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable
                        basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.


                        In February 2012, we reported that the increased seigniorage resulting
Potential Benefits      from replacing $1 notes with $1 coins could potentially offer $4.4 billion in
from Replacing the $1   net benefits to the government over 30 years. We determined that
                        seigniorage was the sole source of the net benefits and not lower
Note with the $1 Coin   production costs due to switching to the coin, which lasts much longer
                        than a note. Seigniorage is the financial gain the federal government
                        realizes when it issues notes or coins because both forms of currency
                        usually cost less to produce than their face value. This gain equals the
                        difference between the face value of currency and its costs of production,
                        which reflects a financial transfer to the federal government because it



                        2
                        GAO-11-281 and GAO-12-307.




                        Page 2                                                            GAO-13-164T
reduces the government’s need to raise revenues through borrowing. 3
With less borrowing, the government pays less interest over time,
resulting in a financial benefit. 4

The replacement scenario of our 2012 estimate assumed the production
of $1 notes would stop immediately followed by a 4-year transition period
during which worn and unfit $1 notes would gradually be removed from
circulation. Based on information provided by the Mint, we also assumed
that the Mint would convert existing equipment to increase its production
capability for $1 coins during the first year and that it would take 4 years
for the Mint to produce enough coins to replace the currently outstanding
$1 notes. Our assumptions covered a range of factors, but key among
these was a replacement ratio of 1.5 coins to 1 note to take into
consideration the fact that coins circulate with less frequency than notes
and therefore a larger number are required in circulation. Other key
assumptions included the expected rate of growth in the demand for
currency over 30 years, the costs of producing and processing both coins
and notes, and the differential life spans of coins and notes. We projected
our analyses over 30 years to be consistent with previous GAO analyses
and because that period roughly coincides with the life expectancy of the
$1 coin.

As shown in figure 1, we found that the net benefit accruing each year
varied considerably over the 30 years. More specifically, across the first
10 years of our 30-year analysis, replacing the $1 note with a $1 coin
would result in a $531 million net loss or approximately $53 million per
year in net loss to the government. The early net loss would be due in
part to the up-front costs to the Mint of increasing its coin production


3
 Traditionally, seigniorage is defined as the difference between the face value of coins
and their cost of production. As long as there is public demand, the government creates
this net value when it puts coins into circulation. Similarly, when the government issues
notes, it creates an analogous net value, equal to the face value of the notes less their
production costs. In this statement, we use the term seigniorage to refer to the value
created from the issuance of both coins and notes.
4
 Some observers have stated that seigniorage essentially represents a tax on the public.
The gains to the federal government through increased seigniorage occur because as $1
notes are replaced by $1 coins, the public will choose to hold more of their wealth in cash,
thus providing a transfer to the federal government. Thus, the financial benefit to the
federal government comes at a cost to the public, and there is not a net gain to society
from increased seigniorage. However, this transfer occurs as a result of voluntary changes
in how people are choosing to hold their wealth, which is different than in the case of a
tax, which is a mandated transfer to the government.




Page 3                                                                         GAO-13-164T
                                         during the transition, together with the limited interest expense the
                                         government would avoid in the first few years after replacement began. 5

Figure 1: Discounted Net Benefit to the Government of Replacing the $1 Note with a $1 Coin




                                         This estimate differs from our 2011 estimate, which found that
                                         replacement would result in a net benefit of about $5.5 billion over 30
                                         years (an average of about $184 million per year) because the 2012
                                         estimate takes into account two key actions that occurred since our 2011
                                         report, specifically:

                                         •   In April 2011, the Federal Reserve began using new equipment to
                                             process notes, which has increased the expected life of the $1 note to
                                             an average of 56 months (or 4.7 years), according to the Federal
                                             Reserve, compared with the 40 months we used in our 2011




                                         5
                                          The large net benefit in 2016 would occur because we assume that the Mint’s production
                                         at maximum capacity during the 4-year transition period would lead to some
                                         overproduction and thus production would drop dramatically in 2016. Because of the far
                                         lower coin production costs, the net benefit to the government would temporarily spike in
                                         that year.




                                         Page 4                                                                       GAO-13-164T
    analysis. 6 The longer note life reduces the costs of circulating a note
    over 30 years and thus reduces the expected net benefits of replacing
    the $1 note with a $1 coin.

•   In December 2011, the Treasury Department announced that it would
    take steps to eliminate the overproduction of dollar coins by relying on
    the approximately 1.4 billion $1 coins stored with the Federal Reserve
    as of September 30, 2011, to meet the relatively small transactional
    demand for dollar coins. This new policy would reduce the cost
    associated with producing $1 coins that we estimated in the status
    quo scenario and, therefore, would reduce the net benefit, which is
    the difference in the estimated costs between the status quo scenario
    and the replacement scenario.

However, like all estimates, there are uncertainties involved in developing
these analyses. In particular, while the up-front costs to the Mint of
increasing its coin production during the transition is reasonably certain––
in large part because it is closer in time––the longer-term benefits,
particularly those occurring in the later years, involve greater uncertainty
because of unforeseen circumstances that could occur farther into the
future. Nonetheless, looking at a longer time period allows for trends to be
seen.

Moreover, changes to the inputs and assumptions used in our analysis
could significantly change the estimated net benefit. For example, in
2011, we compared our status quo scenario to an alternative scenario in
which the growing use of electronic payments—such as making
payments with a cell phone—results in a lower demand for cash and
lower net benefit. If Americans come to rely more heavily on electronic
payments, the demand for cash could grow more slowly than we
assumed or even decrease. By reducing the public’s demand for $1
currency by 20 percent in this alternative scenario, we found that the net
benefit to the government would decrease to about $3.4 billion over 30
years. 7


6
 When notes are returned by commercial banks as deposits to the Federal Reserve, each
note is processed to determine its quality and authenticity. During processing, worn and
counterfeit notes are removed from circulation and the rest are wrapped for storage or re-
circulation.
7
 We did not have any evidence to suggest how much demand might transfer to electronic
use, but a 20 percent transfer to electronic use would appear to be a reasonably
substantial change in the public's use of money. The actual number, however, could be
higher or lower.




Page 5                                                                       GAO-13-164T
                 In another scenario, we reported in 2012 that if interest savings because
                 of seigniorage were not considered, a net loss of approximately $1.8
                 billion would accrue during the first 10 years for an average cost of $179
                 million per year—or $2.8 billion net loss over 30 years. While this
                 scenario suggests that there would be no net benefits from switching to a
                 $1 coin, we believe that the interest savings related to seigniorage, which
                 is a result of issuing currency, cannot be set aside because the interest
                 savings reflects a monetary benefit to the government.

                 Our estimates of the discounted net benefit to the government of
                 replacing the $1 note with a $1 coin differ from the method that the
                 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) would use to calculate the impact on
                 the budget of the same replacement. In the mid-1990s, CBO made such
                 an estimate and noted that its findings for government savings were lower
                 than our estimates at that time because of key differences in the two
                 analyses. Most important, budget scorekeeping conventions do not factor
                 in gains in seigniorage in calculating budget deficits. 8 Thus, the interest
                 expense avoided in future years by reducing borrowing needs, which
                 accounts for our estimate of net benefit to the government, would not be
                 part of a CBO budget-scoring analysis. Additionally, CBO’s time horizon
                 for analyzing the budget impact is up to 10 years—a much shorter time
                 horizon than we use in our recent analyses.


                 Two factors merit consideration moving forward. The first factor is the
Considerations   effect of a currency change on the private sector. Our 2011 and 2012
Moving Forward   reports considered only the fiscal effect on the government. Because we
                 found no quantitative estimates that could be evaluated or modeled, our
                 estimate did not consider factors such as the broader societal impact of
                 replacing the $1 note with a $1 coin or attempt to quantify the costs to the
                 private sector. Based on our interviews with stakeholders representing a
                 variety of cash-intensive industries, we believe that the costs and benefits
                 to the private sector should be carefully weighed since some costs could
                 be substantial. In 2011 we reported that stakeholders identified potential
                 shorter- and longer-term costs that would likely result from the
                 replacement. Specifically, shorter-term costs would be those costs
                 involved in adapting to the transition such as modifying vending


                 8
                  Budget scorekeeping is the process of estimating the budgetary effects of pending and
                 enacted legislation and comparing them with limits set in the budget resolution or
                 legislation.




                 Page 6                                                                      GAO-13-164T
machines, cash-register drawers, and night-depository equipment to
accept $1 coins. Such costs would also include the need to purchase or
adapt the processing equipment that businesses may need, such as coin-
counting and coin-wrapping machines. Longer-term costs would be those
costs that would permanently increase the cost of doing business, such
as the increased transportation and storage costs for the heavier and
more voluminous coins as compared to notes, and processing costs.
These costs would likely be passed on to the customer and the public at
large through, for example, higher prices or fees. Most stakeholders we
interviewed said, however, that they could not easily quantify the
magnitude of these costs, and the majority indicated that they would need
1 to 2 years to make the transition from $1 notes to $1 coins.

In contrast to the stakeholders who said that a replacement would mean
higher costs for their businesses, stakeholders from the vending machine
industry and public transit said that the changeover might have only a
minimal impact on them. For example, according to officials from the
National Automatic Merchandising Association, an organization
representing the food and refreshment vending industry, many of its
members have already modified their vending machines to accept all
forms of payment, including $1 coins. In addition, according to transit
industry officials, the impact on the transit industry would be minimal
since transit agencies that receive federal funds were required under the
Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 to accept and distribute $1 coins.

The second factor that merits consideration is public acceptance. Our
2012 estimate assumes that the $1 coin would be widely accepted and
used by the public. In 2002, we conducted a nationwide public opinion
survey, and we found that the public was not using the $1 coin because
people were familiar with the $1 note, the $1 coin was not widely
available, and people did not want to carry more coins. However, when
respondents were told that such a replacement would save the
government about half a billion dollars a year (our 2000 estimate), the
proportion who said they opposed elimination of the note dropped from 64
percent to 37 percent. Yet, two more recent national-survey results
suggest that opposition to eliminating the $1 note persists. For example,
according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2006, 79 percent of respondents
were opposed to replacing $1 notes with $1 coins, and their opposition
decreased only slightly, to 64 percent, when they were asked to assume
that a replacement would result in half a billion dollars in government
savings each year. We have noted in past reports that efforts to increase
the circulation and public acceptance of the $1 coins—such as changes



Page 7                                                         GAO-13-164T
                       to the color of the $1 coin and new coin designs—have not succeeded, in
                       part, because the $1 note has remained in circulation. 9


                       Over the last 48 years, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, the
Experiences of Other   Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Spain, and the United
Countries              Kingdom, among others, have replaced lower-denomination notes with
                       coins. The rationales for replacing notes with coins cited by foreign
                       government officials and experts include the cost savings to governments
                       derived from lower production costs and the decline over time of the
                       purchasing power of currency because of inflation. 10 For example,
                       Canada replaced its $1 and $2 notes with coins in 1987 and 1996,
                       respectively. Canadian officials determined that the conversion to the $1
                       coin saved the Canadian government $450 million (Canadian) between
                       1987 and 1991 because it no longer had to regularly replace worn out $1
                       notes. However, Canadian $1 notes did not last as long as $1 notes in the
                       United States currently do.

                       Stopping production of the note and actions to overcome public
                       resistance have been important in Canada and the United Kingdom as
                       the governments transitioned from a note to a coin. While observing that
                       the public was resistant at first, Canadian and United Kingdom officials
                       said that with the combination of stakeholder outreach, public relations
                       efforts, and ending production and issuance of the notes, public
                       dissatisfaction dissipated within a few years. Canada undertook several
                       efforts to prepare the public and businesses for the transition to the coin.
                       For example, the Royal Canadian Mint reached out to stakeholders in the
                       retail business community to ensure that they were aware of the scope of
                       the change and surveyed public opinion about using coins instead of
                       notes and the perceived impact on consumer transactions. The Canadian
                       Mint also proactively worked with large coin usage industries, such as
                       vending and parking enterprises, to facilitate conversion of their
                       equipment, and conducted a public relations campaign to advise the


                       9
                       GAO/GGD-90-88, GAO/GGD-93-56, and GAO/GGD-00-111R.
                       10
                         Lower-denominated currencies tend to be metal based rather than paper based
                       because, among other reasons, these denominations tend to circulate more rapidly than
                       higher denominations. Over time, inflation erodes the purchasing power of any particular
                       denomination of currency. As the real value of a note declines with inflation, its more
                       rapid circulation may wear paper notes more quickly and can make a switch to a coin cost
                       effective.




                       Page 8                                                                      GAO-13-164T
                   public of the cost savings that would result from the switch. According to
                   Canadian officials, the $1 and $2 coins were the most popular coins in
                   circulation and were heavily used by businesses and the public. In our
                   analysis of replacing the $1 note with a $1 coin, we assumed that the
                   U.S. government would conduct a public awareness campaign to inform
                   the public during the first year of the transition and assigned a value of
                   approximately $7.8 million for that effort.

                   In addition, some countries have used a transition period to gradually
                   introduce new coins or currency. For example, the United Kingdom
                   issued the £1 coin in April 1983 and continued to simultaneously issue
                   the £1 note until December 1984. Similarly, Canada issued the $1 coin in
                   1987 and ceased issuing the $1 note in 1989.


                   In our prior reports, we recommended that Congress proceed with
Concluding         replacing the $1 note with the $1 coin. We continue to believe that the
Observations       government would receive a financial benefit from making the
                   replacement. However, this finding comes with several caveats. First, the
                   costs are immediate and certain while the benefits are further in the future
                   and more uncertain. The uncertainty comes, in part, from the uncertainty
                   surrounding key assumptions like the future demand for cash. Second,
                   the benefits derive from seigniorage, a transfer from the public, and not a
                   cost-saving change in production. Third, these are benefits to the
                   government and not necessarily to the public at large. In fact, public
                   opinion has consistently been opposed to the $1 coin. Keeping those
                   caveats in mind, many other countries have successfully replaced low
                   denomination notes with coins, even when initially faced with public
                   opposition.


                   Chairman Paul, Ranking Member Clay, and members of the
                   Subcommittee, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be
                   pleased to answer any questions at this time.


                   For further information on this testimony, please contact Lorelei St.
GAO Contact and    James, at (202) 512-2834 or stjamesl@gao.gov. In addition, contact
Staff              points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may
                   be found on the last page of this statement. Individuals making key
Acknowledgements   contributions to this testimony include Teresa Spisak (Assistant Director),
                   Lindsay Bach, Amy Abramowitz, Patrick Dudley, and David Hooper.



(544187)
                   Page 9                                                           GAO-13-164T
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