Fewer coins are circulating through this pandemic economy. That’s hurting small businesses

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A sign at Home Depot in northeast Los Angeles says the store is taking only credit card payments due to a national coin shortage. Photo by Sarah Sweeney.

At the start of the pandemic, it was tough to find toilet paper anywhere. Last week, KCRW talked about how outdoor camping equipment has become scarce. Now something else is apparently running low: coins. 

“A lot of people have been saying there’s a coin shortage. But really what’s going on is there’s been a disruption in how the coins are circulating through the economy,” says Kelly Anne Smith, personal finance writer for Forbes Advisor. 

She says this disruption makes sense because when the pandemic started, many local economies shut down, people stayed at home, so the exchange of cash and coins dropped significantly. “We’re starting to see the consequences of that. It’s just taking longer for the coins to exchange hands through the economy now.” 

She says one concern is the effect on small businesses. “Even pre-pandemic, they were struggling with swipe fees or interchange fees. And that’s the fee they pay to a processor every time there is a credit or a debit transaction. So that’s why you are seeing businesses request exchange change.”