More $100 bills in circulation than ever before

About 80 percent of U.S. currency is now printed in the $100 denomination.

If we bet you that almost 80 percent of U.S. greenbacks in circulation are $100 bills -- would you take that action?

Well, it's true. According to Matt Phillips, at least. He reported a story recently in Quartz, the new business website from the Atlantic. He found that the percentage of U.S. currency printed as $100 bills has steadily increased over the past 40 years.

Turns out, those Benjamins are being used for all sorts of things. They're popular in the black market and could be used to launder money. But they're also hoarded by people in developing countries where local currencies aren't as strong as the dollar.

Exactly how many of those $100 bills are floating around overseas? It's difficult to know for sure but Phillips says recent estimates suggest about 25-30 percent of U.S. currency is outside of the United States.

If this surprises you, you're not alone. Phillips says this "does seem to fly in the face that we were going to have a cashless economy," especially based on how people tend to shop in this country. "If you were going to make a purchase in the U.S. for a couple hundred dollars, you'd probably still use...plastic of some sort to do it. That's part of one reason why people think it might be a foreign phenomenon."

And one fun fact from Phillips that didn't make it into the interview that aired? The Federal Reserve ships $100 bills overseas on pallets, each one stacked with 640,000 bills. That means each pallet is worth about $64 million.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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