Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has experienced shortages of many goods, from used cars to toilet paper. One of the most surprising things to run low: quarters.
There were many factors behind this coin shortage. For one, many retail businesses — the main places where coins circulate — temporarily shut down or reduced their hours. Also, customers became wary about using cash, fearing bills and coins might spread the virus. And social distancing rules at the U.S. Mint reduced its production of coins.
When stores reopened, the demand for coins went up again — but the supply did not. Coins, especially quarters, became a precious commodity. People who needed change for bus fare or laundry often found themselves searching frantically for the nearest change machine.
Where Can You Get Quarters?
The coin shortage has created problems for many consumers. Tasks as simple as feeding a parking meter or washing a load of laundry have become a logistical challenge. Some apartment dwellers have even resorted to asking their landlords to “sell” them back the quarters from their building’s coin-operated washers after emptying the machines.
But in most cases, there’s no need to resort to such extreme measures. There are many other places to get your hands on all the quarters you need for everyday use.
1. The Bank
If you need a lot of quarters — $10 or more — your best bet is a bank. Banks keep quarters in $10 rolls containing 40 quarters each. That’s at least enough for a couple of loads of laundry.
If you have a bank account, you can go to your local bank and request a roll of quarters.You must go to the bank teller for this, not the ATM. You can draw the money out of your account or exchange a $10 bill for coins. Keeping the transaction to multiples of $10 makes the math easy.
However, not all banks exchange money for non-customers. To save yourself a trip, call ahead to check on the bank’s rules. Also, some banks limit the number of coin rolls you can get. If you need more than one or two, you might need to go to several bank branches.
2. Grocery Stores
There are two ways to get quarters at a grocery store. The simpler way is to go to the customer service desk and ask to exchange a $10 bill for a roll of quarters. However, the clerk may say no, especially if you haven’t bought anything.
In this case, head for the checkout. You will probably have to make a small purchase, such as a candy bar, so the cashier can open the cash register. Then, while it’s open, ask if you can change a couple of bills for quarters.
If the checker says no to this request too, you can try paying for your purchase in cash. Use a bill larger than you need to — say, a $5 bill for a $1 purchase — and ask for quarters in change. You can also pay with your debit card and ask for cash back in the form of quarters.
No matter what method you pick, you probably can’t get more than a few bucks’ worth of quarters this way. Groceries stores only keep a limited amount of change in the cash register. If you need more than $10 worth, it makes more sense to go to a bank.
3. Convenience Stores
As places to shop for food, convenience stores aren’t ideal. Their selection is limited and their prices are high. But when you’re hunting for quarters, they have two big advantages.
First, they make a lot of transactions in cash, so they’re likely to have change available. And second, they’re often open when other businesses, such as banks, are closed.
To get quarters at a convenience store, just go up to the register and ask them to exchange a few dollars for quarters. As at grocery stores, you may need to make a small purchase first so the clerk can open the cash register.
One more caveat: if it’s late at night, the cashier might not be able to spare much change. That’s because the amount in the cash drawer is all they have to get them through to the next day.
Another type of business that’s open late is a pharmacy. Drugstores such as CVS and Rite Aid usually have coins in the register and are often willing to exchange a couple of dollars’ worth for a customer. And their lines often aren’t as long as a grocery store’s.
Like other stores, a pharmacy is likely to need you to make a small purchase before the clerk can open the register. And they probably can’t give you more than a few dollars’ worth of quarters.
5. Gas Stations
Gas stations are also open late, and they often have cash registers with small change available. If the gas station you’re visiting has a convenience store attached, you can walk in and ask for change at the cash register or customer service counter.
As always, you may need to make a small purchase first. You can pay with a larger bill and ask for quarters in change or pay with a debit card and ask for $5 or $10 cash back. You probably can’t get the full amount in quarters, but you can ask for whatever quarters they can spare.
If the station has only gas pumps but does have an attendant, you can get change by prepaying in cash for a tank of gas. Pay for more than you expect to use, then go back in for the change. However, this may not get you any quarters, as not all gas stations accept coins as payment. If this station doesn’t, the clerk won’t have any quarters to give you as part of your change.
6. Fast Food Establishments
Another kind of business that often makes cash transactions is a fast food joint. Most fast food establishments don’t have customer service desks, but you can always try asking for change at the checkout. To avoid holding up the line and angering other customers, try to do this at a time when the place isn’t too busy.
Chances are, you’ll need to buy something to get the cash register open. As at other establishments, you can pay in cash and request quarters in change. Just don’t count on getting more than a couple of dollars’ worth of quarters this way.
If an eatery has a tip jar on the counter, you can also ask to exchange your dollars for quarters out of the jar. The cashier is likely to agree because a few bills are easier for the staff to carry than a pile of small change. But always ask first before helping yourself to change from the jar.
7. Vending Machines
Most vending machines can accept dollar bills and give you your change in coins, usually quarters. So you can put in two dollars, make a $1.50 purchase, and get two quarters in change.
However, this method isn’t guaranteed. You may get dimes or nickels if the machine is out of quarters. Also, you can only get a couple of quarters for each purchase. You’ll need to keep buying more bags of chips or bottles of soda to accumulate a few dollars’ worth.
Sometimes, it’s possible to hack a soda machine by putting in a dollar, then immediately hitting the “return change” button. Some machines respond by dispensing quarters, but others just spit your bill back out again. And, again, you may end up with a bunch of nickels and dimes instead.
Most laundromats, especially older ones, use coin-operated machines. They need quarters to function, so they often have a change machine for customers. And those that don’t can make change at the counter — though usually no more than a few dollars’ worth.
But beware: the machines in some laundromats don’t dispense quarters. Instead, they dispense tokens that are only usable in their washers. And the clerks at some laundromats won’t give you change unless you put in a load of laundry first. So before handing over a bill, call or ask at the counter about the place’s policies.
Also, while many laundromats are open 24/7, some can’t make change at all hours. There isn’t always someone on duty late at night, and even if there is, the register may be locked.
9. Car Washes
Coin-operated car washes also rely on quarters. These establishments usually have change machines in the office or near the entrance. And those that don’t can make change at the customer service desk.
However, like laundromats, car washes don’t always use quarters. Some have their own tokens that work only in their machines. So always check before getting “change” to make sure what you’ll get back is legal tender.
Video game arcades aren’t as common as they used to be. Most people nowadays prefer to play games at home on their phones, their computers, or a dedicated game system. But if there happens to be an arcade near you — or a restaurant or bar with old-fashioned video games — it can be a great place to get quarters.
Old-school video games take quarters and only quarters. Because of this, most arcades have either a change machine or a cashier behind the desk with plenty of quarters.
As at laundromats and car washes, check the machine carefully before feeding your dollar in. Many arcades use tokens in place of quarters, and they aren’t good anywhere else.
11. Retail Chains
You can go up to the customer service desk or the checkout at any major retail store, such as Walmart or Target, and ask for change. However, like the other stores on this list, they might not give it to you if you haven’t made a purchase.
If you have to buy something just to get change, try to choose something you can actually use. A small edible item, like a bottle of water or a single piece of fruit, is a good bet. Or pick up a refill of something you use regularly, like shampoo.
12. Change From a Purchase
Cashiers at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other establishments aren’t always willing — or even able — to give you change for your bills. But they always have to make change if you pay in cash for a purchase. So the surest way to get a few quarters at a retail store is to buy something.
You can pay for your purchase in cash and specify that you’d like as much of it as possible in quarters. Or you can make the same request when getting cash back with a debit card.
13. Friends, Family & Coworkers
If you need quarters in a hurry, try just asking around. Friends, family members, and coworkers may be happy to clear the loose change out of their pockets and purses and turn it into folding money.
However, during a coin shortage, friends and coworkers may prefer to hold on to their quarters. So be gracious if people say no to your request. And if they say yes, be prepared to return the favor next time they need change for the vending machine.
Quarters aren’t as big a part of everyday life as they used to be. Nowadays, people tend to make most of their transactions with credit cards, debit cards, and payment apps.
Even machines that once relied on quarters can now take other payment methods. Vending machines, railway ticket machines, and even parking meters often accept card payments. Laundromats, car washes, and arcades can use their own tokens. And toll booths generally accept payment passes such as E-ZPass or SunPass.
But quarters still have their uses. Older laundromats, vending machines, and so forth still depend on them. And they certainly come in handy for making change at a yard sale.
So it’s always worth keeping a small stash of quarters on hand. Even if you don’t use them often, you never know when they’ll come in handy. By hitting the bank or the convenience store for a few quarters today, you can be sure of having some next time you need them.