Is It Legal to Burn Money?

While you may have enough money to burn because there is so much of it around you, actually burning money and turning it into ashes is not allowed. That is, according to the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the federal agency that makes all paper currency in the United States.

What the Law Says

Specifically, burning money is a direct violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. This law states that:

“whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined not more than $100 or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

Federal law seems to suggest defacing currency in a manner that is minor in nature and does not render the paper note unfit for circulation, or defacement that is accidental does not rise to the level of a punishable crime. This is because the law implies the defacement of the currency must be deliberate. This law specifically applies to bills, as coins are a separate issue.

The Secret Service is tasked with enforcing this law.

Not surprisingly, people who are running around the country burning money are not easy to catch. If you are stranded somewhere and need to start a fire and the only paper you have is money, you will likely not be charged and tackled by men in black suits if you burn up a few bills. Indeed, people have public burned paper money in the past - albeit in small amounts - for the purpose of political protest. While these demonstrations were picked up by the media, not many people have suffered legal consequences for the defacing of U.S. currency.

It Takes Money to Make Money

There are several reasons why the federal government looks down upon the burning or otherwise defacing U.S. currency. One reason is that once money is destroyed, the government has to spend money to replace those bills. In fact, it costs the government about a nickel per note. According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the demand for paper bills is high. The federal agency makes as many as 37 million notes per day. This has a face value of about $696 million.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York states there is approximately $675 billion in cash circulating around, but most of this money is outside of the United States. This amount changes, however, based on how much cash banks must keep in their ATMs and stocked to keep the U.S. economy going. As money is  circulated around the world, older tired bills are taken out of circulation and are replaced with new crisp notes. The average lifespan of a paper one dollar bill is less than two years.

Nevada Attorneys

In short, you should not burn U.S. currency. If you do in small amounts, you may or may not be punished by law enforcement. If you have any questions about this area of the law, or any other legal question, contact the Nevada attorneys at Parry & Pfau today.

(image courtesy of Olga Delaurence)