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 turn those coins into something more spendable.
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 use child labor. That is, get the kids to count their jars of loose change and roll the coins 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.
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 2020 list, but it includes only a handful of institutions, and most offer the service only to their existing customers:
||Fee for Customers||Fee for Non-Customers|
|Home State Bank||Free||10%|
|First County Bank||Free||N/A|
|Shelby Savings Bank||Free||N/A|
|Hancock County Savings Bank||Free||N/A|
|People’s United Bank||Free||Up to 11%|
|American Eagle Federal Credit Union||Free||Free|
|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 its 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!