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.
Fortunately, there are a couple of other ways to optimize those coins.
How To Find Coinstar Alternatives That Really Are Free
If you’ve got kids as I do, the easiest and most accessible of all the free Coinstar alternatives is to get the kids involved: Get the kids to count their jars of loose change and roll the coins themselves!
You’d be hard-pressed these days to find a free coin counting service at a national or super-regional bank.
So 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 2020 list, but it includes only a handful of institutions, and most offer the service only to their existing customers:
|Financial Institution||Fee for Customers||Fee for Non-Customers|
|American Eagle Federal Credit Union||Free||Free|
|First County Bank||Free||N/A|
|Hancock County Savings Bank||Free||N/A|
|Home State Bank||Free||10% fee|
|People’s United Bank||Free||8% fee|
|Republic Bank (NJ/PA)||Free||Free|
|Shelby Savings Bank||Free||N/A|
|TCF National Bank||Free||8.9%|
|Westerra Credit Union||Free||N/A|
It’s worth a phone call to check a credit union in your area to see if it offers the service; many credit unions not on this list do offer free coin exchange to members (and sometimes to non-members).
A few years back, my children saved up a bunch of coins. I promised them we’d take the jar and cash it in.
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’ll discuss that option later in this article.
So my kids and I started the hunt for a free coin-counting machine. My first thought was to check my local grocery store because I knew it had what looked, at a quick glance, to be a no-fee Coinstar alternative.
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.
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 11.9% fee to change your coins into cash!
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 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 it had a machine, too.
In keeping with the credit union ethos of putting the customer first, I was pleased to see it had a machine that would count the coins, and the service was free as a courtesy to members. (Non-members have to pay a 10% fee. Ouch!)
Fortunately, we are members of the credit union. So we started the process of loading our coins into the machine…
The loading and counting process took about five minutes 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 fewer than four Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens — we finally had a tally.
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 something you can use to make a purchase at a specific retailer or restaurant.
The nice thing about this option is that Coinstar charges no fee to give you your full cash value as an eGift card.
Coinstar partners with a variety of popular retailers and restaurants to make this a good option for some folks.
The fee-free restaurant and retail options include:
- Home Depot
- The Gap
- Outback Steakhouse
So this is one way to get around the fees!
Putting your spare change in a container at the end of each day is an easy way to save a bit of money for a rainy day or a special treat. But don’t let a machine take a big chunk of your haul. Head to your credit union or cash out with a gift card to keep 100% of your money!
This article was originally written by Theo Thimou and was first published on June 1, 2018.