The Hive Law

Why Is It Illegal To Burn Money In The US? (Fines And Criminal Charges)

Why Is It Illegal To Burn Money In The US - Is It Illegal To Write On Money - Is It Illegal To Rip Money - Is Destroying Money Illegal

Why is it illegal to burn money in the US?

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • federal laws about burning money
  • the laws that mention fines and jail time
  • how much you can get fined when you destroy money
  • how much time you can spend in jail
  • a list of things you do with money that are criminal offenses
  • whether burning money is protected by the First Amendment

Let’s dig in.

Table of Contents

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Statistics About Burning Money In The US

  • the total amount of money destroyed by the U.S. government in 2020 was $1.3 billion
  • ~$7.4 billion in cash is burned every year in the US alone
  • last year, the US government destroyed ~$3.2 billion in damaged currency
  • the US Treasury destroys an estimated $50 million per day in worn-out currency
  • 20% of all currency in circulation is considered damaged
  • it costs the US government about 1.2 cents to produce a single dollar bill
  • around 7 billion coins a year to be melted down to make new coins
  • per the Federal Reserve, it costs the government 11.5 cents to produce a penny
  • ~$200 million in counterfeit money is taken out of circulation every year
  • the U.S. government has printed over 13 trillion dollar bills since 1929
  • the Bureau of Engraving and Printing destroys over 6.2 billion notes every year
  • last year, the US Treasury collected approximately $70,000 in fines for destroying money

Is It Illegal To Burn Money In The US?

Yes, it is illegal to burn money in almost all countries.

Burning money is a form of destruction of the currency.

Under the United States code, burning money is a federal criminal offense and:

  • you can face fines

  • you can face prison time for up to five years

The government cares if you destroy their currency because it affects the entire economy.

(Imagine millions of people destroying the government’s money.)

Currency is a form of government-backed money.

And it gets used as a medium of exchange in the economy.

Destroying a currency note reduces the amount of money available in circulation.

This can lead to decreased economic activity and inflation.

Destroying money can lead to inflation because it reduces the amount of money in circulation.

When fewer dollars are available, the value of each dollar bill increases.

This can lead to an increase in the prices of goods and services in the economy.

An increase in the value of the dollar does not mean that:

  • the purchasing power of each dollar increases
  • things cost less

Why Is It Illegal To Burn Money In The US?

Burning money is illegal in the US.

This is because it is destroying US currency.

Burning money is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code.

Burning money is a form of vandalism under the criminal code and is punishable by:

  • up to six months in jail

  • a fine of up to $100,000

Title 18 of the United States Code states that:

“Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened—Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

This federal law states that you are not able to do the following to money:

  • burning cash (placing a bank bill in a fire)
  • cutting (cutting a coin in half with a pair of scissors)
  • tearing paper money (ripping a paper bill in half)
  • washing paper currency (putting money in a washing machine)
  • staining (pouring coffee on a paper bill)
  • ironing banknotes
  • defacing coins and defacing money (writing on a bank bill with a marker)
  • submerging in liquids (dipping paper money in water)
  • crumpling paper bills
  • bending (bending a coin until it breaks)
  • spilling corrosive materials on it (pouring acid on coins)
  • melting coins minted by the US

The Federal Reserve System And National Banking Association

Burning money and government regulations are not tied to:

  • the federal reserve bank
  • national banking association

The federal reserve system is the central banking system.

Its role is to regulate:

  • the money supply
  • interest rates

These regulations help:

  • prevent counterfeiters
  • prevent other forms of fraud
  • ensures national bank obligations are met

National bank obligations are regulated by the Federal Reserve Bank.

These obligations are enforced by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).

The national banking association is responsible for:

  • issuing currency
  • providing banking services to the public

The US government regulation is supposed to:

  • prevent counterfeiting of money
  • prevent other forms of fraud
  • ensure the banking system is safe and secure

How Long Does Money Last?

You can’t destroy, deface, or burn money in the US.

But, how long does money actually last?

Here is the average lifespan of money:

  • $1 bill: 6.6 years
  • $5 bill: 4.7 years
  • $10 bill: 5.3 years
  • $20 bill: 7.8 years
  • $50 bill: 12.2 years
  • $100 bill: 22.9 years

And here’s the average lifespan of newly minted coins:

  • Nickel: 25 years
  • Dime: 25 years
  • Quarter: 25 years
  • Half Dollar: 25 years
  • Dollar Coin: 25 years

When a dollar reaches its average lifespan, it’s taken out of circulation.

But, the Fed does not send it to money burners.

They shred the bill and recycle that paper for new currency.

Who Does Money Belong To (You Or The Government)?

When you earn money, who does that money belong to?

The money belongs to you and it’s your own money.

And it’s not the US government’s money.

But, they do have regulations to protect the value of the money.

(Interesting since they print so much, eh?)

And to make sure it’s not wasted or destroyed.

The laws that state that money is owned by the people are:

  1. The Constitution of the United States: Article I, Section 8 states that “Congress shall have the power to coin money and regulate the value thereof.”
  2. The Federal Reserve Act: This act established the Federal Reserve System, which is responsible for the issuance and regulation of currency.
  3. The Coinage Act of 1965: This act established the U.S. Mint, which is responsible for the production and circulation of coins.
  4. The Monetary Control Act of 1980: This act established the Federal Reserve Board, which is responsible for setting monetary policy.

Is Burning Money Free Speech Under The First Amendment?

No, burning money is not considered protected speech.

Burning money in the US is considered:

  • vandalism
  • destruction of property

These acts are not protected by the First Amendment.

This is not the same as burning the American flag.

Burning the American flag is a form of symbolic speech.

It’s seen as a way of expressing dissatisfaction with:

  • the government
  • certain policies

Burning money is not seen as a form of expression.

And it is not protected by the First Amendment.

How Burning Money Affects Our Society

  • Social Impact: Burning money in the US is a form of protest that can have a big effect on society. It can be a symbol of resistance, a sign of desperation, or a way to express anger and frustration. It can show economic disparities or show the results of certain bad laws.
  • Psychological Effects: Burning money in the US can have psychological effects on people. It can make them feel left out, mad, and hopeless.
  • Religious and Cultural Implications: Burning money in the US is viewed as a sign of disrespect to God, the people who worked to earn it, and the government. It is also seen as wasteful. In some cultures, it is used as a form of protest against the government’s policies.
  • Economic Implications: Burning money in the US can have bad economic effects. It reduces the amount of money available to use, causing prices to go up and economic activity to go down. It also causes inflation, meaning that money doesn’t have as much value, and it’s a waste of resources that could’ve been used for something else.

Other Than Burning Money In The US, What's Illegal?

Let’s look at other things that are not legal.

Is It Illegal To Cut Money?

No, it is not illegal to cut money in and of itself.

(As long as it gets done in a legal manner.)

It is not illegal to cut paper bills to cancel or prevent them from getting used again.

It is also not illegal to cut a coin in half to prove its authenticity.

It is illegal to cut paper money into smaller pieces to use it as a form of currency.

This is because it’s considered counterfeiting and is punishable by law.

Is It Illegal To Deface Money?

Yes, it is illegal to deface money.

Under Federal law, it is illegal to:

“mutilate, cut, deface, disfigure, or perforate, or unite or cement together, or do any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve Bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued.”

It is illegal to try to pass the bill off as a large denomination by:

  • writing on it
  • stamping the bills
  • defacing the bills

This is counterfeiting, which is a federal crime.

The penalties for defacing currency can range from a fine to up to 6 months in jail.

Is It Illegal To Write On Money?

Yes, it is illegal to write on money in the United States.

The U.S. Secret Service investigates and prosecutes violations of the laws.

In particular, violations relating to currency and counterfeiting.

Is It Illegal To Rip Money?

No, ripping money is not illegal.

But it is not a good practice.

Ripping money can damage the currency.

This makes it harder for the money to get spent.

Is Destroying Money Illegal?

Yes, destroying money is illegal in the United States.

Money is a part of the national currency and gest protected by law.

Anyone destroying money can face legal consequences.

This includes tearing up bills or writing on them.

It is also illegal to deface coins by:

  • engraving
  • drilling
  • altering them in any way

If a person destroys money, they could face:

  • up to six months in jail
  • a fine of up to $100,000

Is It Illegal To Throw Away Money?

No, throwing away money is not illegal.

FAQs About Why Is It Illegal To Burn Money In The US

Here are some other questions we dug up in our research. 

Can You Burn Money?

No, it is illegal to burn money in the US.

It is considered to be destroying legal tender.

And this is against the law.

What Is Considered Defacing Money

Things that are considered defacing money are:

  • writing on money
  • drawing on money
  • cutting money
  • spilling anything on money
  • burning money
  • sticking stickers on money
  • tearing money
  • crumpling money
  • washing money
  • spitting on money (weird)

How Much Of A Ripped Dollar Can You Use?

You can use any amount of a ripped dollar.

So long as the important features of the bill are still visible.

But, some merchants may not accept a bill that is too damaged.

They can use their own judgment to accept a ripped dollar or not.

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