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Pandemic causes national coin shortage, impacts felt in Tennessee

Empty out your piggy banks and old purses because everyone needs your change.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pocket change. You hate it. You love it. You have it.

But a lot of businesses and banks don't.

A nationwide coin shortage is impacting people and businesses in East Tennessee.

"We're having to deal with it here," said Billy Carroll, President and CEO of SmartBank.

The lack of coins is due to a shortage of cash flow during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.    

"Basically the supply shrunk because coins were just out of circulation so when the economy restarted it really created a supply issue," said Carroll.

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The coins have to be somewhere, it's not like all the pennies and quarters disappeared.

But another part of the issue is not as many coins are being made.

"So the [U.S.] Mint, they were on their pandemic plan so their staff wasn't there to be able to produce the normal allotment and it really created that perfect coin storm," said Carroll.

Banks are helping those customers get the change they need, because even in a world of debit cards and online payments, cash is still very much used and needed.

"For example, our Sevier County market where you have a lot of tourism businesses, they're a little heavier cash utilizers, so some markets are heavier coin users than others," said Carroll.

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Anyone who has a cup holder full of change in their car or a piggy bank stuffed with coins at home can help with the shortage.

Most banks will trade your coins in for cash, or have coin counting machines in their lobbies that will do so. Those machines can be found at lots of area grocery stores, too.

If you're not rolling in pennies, there are other ways to help.

"Try to make exact change," said Carroll. "That's something we can all do to help. And then the other is just really look for opportunities just go ahead and use your debit cards or your ApplePay when you're purchasing things."

That should give the coins time to recirculate and fix the problem.

Carroll doesn't expect the shortage to be long lived.

He said the Mint should start operating again soon and the flow of coins will even out.

The Mint monitors how many coins are used each year, and can speed up or slow down production to keep it at an even level, not inflating any costs.

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