If you’ve tried to buy anything at a store with cash lately, you’re probably aware there is a significant shortage of coins in circulation.

According to John McWeeney, the president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Bankers Association, the problem is not an actual shortage of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. It's just that a lot of folks are hanging onto them.

He said after the novel coronavirus pandemic began in March, “people stayed at home when they were shopping for goods and services. For the most part they were using cards online.”

He said after Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the state's stay-at-home order “all of a sudden the economy opens up and the merchants and the banks didn’t have the money that normally flows through the system, and therefore we have this disruption.’

He said another reason for the coin shortage is the U.S. Mint, in an effort to protect its workers from the virus, cut back on production of new coins in April.

To fix the problem, he said consumers are being encouraged to “visit their local banks and empty out their piggy banks, go to merchants and just start to do things the same way they’ve done them in the past. We think we’ll work ourselves out of this in the next month or so.”

He noted several bank chains now how coin-counting machines in their lobbies. McWeeney said you can also bring coins to your local retail store, but the most important thing is just to start to get them back into circulation.

He said some people may enjoy collecting change at home, “but you’re not earning any interest on those coins and you might as well get them back in the system — put them in your bank account, earn a little bit of interest and help us get over this disruption in coin service. If people can just start taking their coins into their local bank I think that will make a big difference.”

He also noted the Federal Reserve has created a formal working group that has partnered with financial institutions and large merchant organizations to look at the problem.

Some retail stores have placed “we need change” signs on their doors to encourage customers to use coins, but others have taken a more proactive approach.

Wawa has been offering customers a free coffee or fountain drink in exchange for $5 in coins. If you fork over $50 in coins, you'll be offered a free small hoagie in some stores.

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