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Archive for Monday, August 17, 2009

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Positive change: Stray coins can help more than you think

August 17, 2009

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It can be in between couch cushions, stranded all over the car, collecting dust in old chewing gum tins or hiding behind ears — just waiting to be counted and used for some financial assistance. It’s spare change, and it could be part of your budgeting process.

With a struggling economy, even $20 of spare change could help avoid debt. Peggy Johnson, senior financial adviser at Ameriprise Financial in Lawrence, says the first action to take with some additional cash is to pay off credit cards with high interest rates of 15 percent or more.

If you do not have credit card debt, Johnson suggests putting the money into a savings account for emergencies.

“If their cash reserves are low, they should really set it in a savings account just because we need emergency money because things always happen — unexpected expenses,” she said.

If you do not need immediate cash, there are limited investment options. Johnson said most mutual funds have an initial payment of at least $1,000, but $20 to $30 will buy a handful of stock shares.

“But really nowadays with the market being extra volatile and the job market being uncertain, having a really good emergency reserve and paying off high-interest rate credit card debt is really your optimal actions right now,” she says.

While those options are financially sound, it’s hard not to spend the spare change on less important needs like DVDs, games or soda.

There are a few options for counting your spare change. Coinstar machines, which are located in stores such as Dillons, Hy-Vee and Wal-Mart, will count your change for 8.9 cents per dollar counted. At the Hy-Vees and Wal-Marts, the machines will count the money and let you exchange it for cash or donate it to a number of charities, including American Red Cross, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, March of Dimes, Operation Smile and the World Wildlife Fund.

The Dillons’ Coinstars offer those services along with a way to receive free coin counting. The machine will count change for free if it is targeted to go toward an eCertificate or gift card to retailers including Amazon.com, Eddie Bauer, iTunes, JCPenney, Lowe’s and Overstock.com.

A more traditional option is letting a bank count the change. Most banks in Lawrence will count change for customers of their bank but charge a percentage fee for non-customers.

For more control of their money, people can also count their change at home. Good coin sorters start at around $20, and packets of coin rolls are just a few bucks.

However people spend it, spare change could help in this time of economic concern. It may only take a few minutes to gather coins from around the house, but it could pay off large dividends for helping pay for rent, credit card debt, emergencies — or a CD on iTunes.

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