Looking for Coinstar alternatives? Check your local credit union

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coinstar machine
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Coinstar is one of the top names in coin-counting machines. But you typically have to pay a fee for the service — and that fee can eat into your haul big time. That’s where Coinstar alternatives come in!

Fortunately, there are a couple other ways to pay less of a fee and maybe even have your coins counted for free if you know what to do.

How to find Coinstar alternatives that really are free

If you’ve got kids like I do, the easiest and most accessible of all the free Coinstar alternatives is to use child labor. That is, get the kids to count their jars of loose change and roll them themselves!

None of the nation’s Big 4 banks — Bank of America, Chase, Citibank and Wells Fargo — nor the super-regional banks like PNC or CapitalOne offer free Coinstar alternatives any longer.

Regional bank BB&T did offer free coin counting machines for customers at some locations as recently as last year. But it’s unclear if they’ll keep those machines as they get ready to merge with SunTrust.

So with all the uncertainty out there, your best bet is to find a local credit union or small community bank that will count your change for free.

MyBankTracker.com has a current 2019 list of the latter, but it only has a handful of institutions:

Community bank Fee for customers Fee for non-customers
Manasquan Bank Free N/A
Home State Bank Free 10%
First County Bank Free N/A
Shelby Savings Bank Free N/A
Cape Bank Free Free
Hancock County Savings Bank Free N/A
Republic Bank Free Free
People’s United Bank Free N/A
American Eagle Federal Credit Union Free Free
Westerra Credit Union Free N/A

Aside from that small list of community banks offering free Coinstar alternatives, many of the nation’s credit unions can be your ally in the fight to avoid Coinstar fees.

Recently, my children saved up a bunch of coins. I promised them we’d take the jar and cash it in and I made good on that promise this week.

coins in a jar

coins spilled out on table

My son guessed the whole jar would add up to $56.33. I guessed it would be somewhere in the $39 range, and my daughter guessed it would be $100.

Whatever it was, I knew we wanted the cash — not a gift card with the value of our money loaded on it. I mention that option because it comes with a special consideration that we’ll discuss in a moment.

But first, we had to track down a free coin-counting machine. My first thought was to check my local grocery store because I knew they had what looked at a quick glance to be a no-fee Coinstar alternative.

publix coin counter

But I was surprised to find the Publix coin counter would take 9% of what the kids had saved. So that was a no-go for us.

publix coin counter 2

Actually, when you think about it, paying 9% is like getting ripped off at a discount when you consider that Coinstar says you’ll typically pay an 11.99% fee to change your coins into cash!

But in reality, the fees do vary by retailer. So our search for Coinstar alternatives that didn’t beat us over the head with fees was still on.

(Editor’s note: Most Coinstar machines also offer the option to donate your money to charity. That usually involves a lesser fee of 7.5%.)

Look to your credit union for free Coinstar alternatives

After the grocery store, my next thought was to check the credit union down the street. I knew they had a machine, too.

In keeping with the credit union ethos of putting the customer first, I was pleased to see they would count the coins for free as a courtesy to members. Meanwhile, non-members would be subjected to a 10% fee. Ouch!

coinstar machine at credit union

Fortunately, we are members of the credit union. So we started the process of loading our coins into the machine…

kids putting coins into coinstar alternative machine

The loading and counting process took about five minutes in total. That’s a lot shorter than the five months it took my kids to save all of those coins!

After the machine spit out the rejects — which included a couple of half-eaten pennies and no less than four Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens — we finally had a tally.

coinstar cash value receipt

We were very happy with our haul — $56.14 — which was remarkably close to my son’s guess at the start of our coin-counting odyssey.

So, we took the cash and now we’re going to invest it with one of our favorite low-cost investment services.

How to avoid fees even when you’re at a Coinstar machine

I mentioned earlier that you can take your change and turn it into money that can be used at a specific retailer or restaurant.

The nice thing about this option is that Coinstar charges no fee to give you your cash value as an eGift card.

In fact, Coinstar partners with a variety of popular retailers and restaurants to make this a good option for some people who don’t want cold, hard cash.

Some of the fee-free restaurant and retail options include:

  • iTunes
  • Home Depot
  • Starbucks
  • Applebee’s
  • Amazon
  • Chili’s
  • Old Navy
  • Lowe’s
  • Game Stop
  • Chuck E. Cheese’s
  • Panera Bread
  • Nike
  • Sears
  • eBay

coinstar gift card screen 1

coinstar gift card 2

So this is another possible way to get around the fees!

Final thought

Putting your spare change in a container at the end of each day is a great way to pretty effortlessly save a bit of money for a rainy day or a special treat. Don’t let a machine take upward of 10% of your haul. Head to your credit union or cash out with a gift card to keep 100% of your money!

More money stories on Clark.com:

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