« Vulture Mentality of Piling On Fees or Countercyclical Diversification Strategy | Main | Foreclosures and More Bankruptcy Filings »

Can You Tell a $1 From a $20 with Your Eyes Closed?

posted by Adam Levitin

If you're vision-impaired it can be difficult or impossible to distinguish US paper currency of different denominations.  Unlike just about every other Western country, all of our bills are the same size, same color (excluding some recent changes to keep the North Korean government's counterfeiters at bay), and same texture.  The inability to distinguish between paper currency denominations makes the vision-impaired extremely vulnerable in cash transactions; they can easily tender too much money or receive too little change.  The American Council of the Blind sued and won in district court over the Treasury's objections to the cost and bother of having to change the currency.  (One wonders how that compares to the cost and bother of litigation....)  Now the D.C. Circuit has upheld the district court.  Treasury may yet appeal, but money might look and feel very different in coming years. 

Frankly, as someone who is not vision impaired, more easily distinguishable bills will make me feel much more comfortable dealing with cash--I won't having that nagging worry that I handed the cabbie a $20 instead of a $10.   

Curiously, the dissent seemed particularly concerned with the impact on third parties, like vending machine makers, if the currency were changed.  That strikes me as quite strange--isn't this a problem every time the currency is updated.  I know there are still plenty of machines that won't take the new $20s.  This just strikes me as a known risk of being in the vending machine business. 


The vending machine makers' claims seem particularly spurious when so many of them are switching to credit and debt cards over cash anyway. The U.S. Post Office vending machines don't even take cash at all anymore.

This reminds me of the battle pharmacies fought against putting child-proof caps on prescription bottles many years ago due to concerns about increased cost, increase time for prescriptions, etc. It's all a lot of hot air. Treasury will come around eventually. I bet they already have plans for the new bills drawn up. Maybe we will no longer have the ugliest money on the planet.

The comments to this entry are closed.


Current Guests

Follow Us On Twitter

Like Us on Facebook

  • Like Us on Facebook

    By "Liking" us on Facebook, you will receive excerpts of our posts in your Facebook news feed. (If you change your mind, you can undo it later.) Note that this is different than "Liking" our Facebook page, although a "Like" in either place will get you Credit Slips post on your Facebook news feed.



  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless ([email protected]) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.