The $100 Bill Is America’s Most Common Currency, and Its Most Annoying

The $100 bill is far and away the most common U.S. paper currency, dwarfing even the $1 bill.
The $100 bill is far and away the most common U.S. paper currency, dwarfing even the $1 bill.


The amount in circulation has more than doubled in recent years, but $100s are hated by both cashiers and economists alike.

Rayza Sison went to a flea market in New York this month with five $100 bills. One by one, vendors refused to take her money, saying they couldn’t make change or only accepted digital payments through Venmo or Zelle.

Determined to break the bills, the 26-year-old senior program coordinator tried using them at coffee shops and then her local fruit stand. She was refused again. The bills are still in her wallet.

“I had hoped cash would be more convenient, particularly at a flea market," Sison said.

The $100 bill is far and away the most common U.S. paper currency, dwarfing even the $1 bill. The number of bills bearing Benjamin Franklin’s mug more than doubled between 2012 and 2022, faster growth than any other denomination, according to the most recent Federal Reserve data.

For all its prevalence, the $100 bill is more effective for storing money than spending it. Even when cashiers do accept the bills, they hold up checkout lines to verify they aren’t counterfeits. (Or, at minimum, give an eye-roll along with your change.) Economists have called for slowing down the printing press, due to their use in illicit activity.

“Everyone almost questions you and your legitimacy for using a $100 bill," said Sage Handley, 23.

Handley, who works as a marketing and research assistant in College Station, Texas, found a $100 bill in an old makeup bag earlier this month. She posted on TikTok about the embarrassment of spending it, one of many social-media posts mocking the awkwardness of paying for a small item with a $100 bill.

No sale

In Midtown Manhattan, cashiers were on alert when a Wall Street Journal reporter tried to use $100 bills to pay for small items. Some held the bill up to the light to spot “USA 100" embedded in it to confirm its authenticity. Others used a counterfeit pen, which has ink that turns black when in contact with fake currency.

At a bookstore, a cashier yelled “check, please" and an employee appeared from behind a tall stack of books to run a $100 bill through a counterfeit bill detector before completing a transaction for $3 of children’s books. The store had recently caught a customer trying to use a fake $100.

At a nearby vegan restaurant, a $100 bill was rejected as payment for a $4.95 bottle of kombucha. The store didn’t have enough cash in the register. Another customer had walked out that day because the restaurant wouldn’t accept the bills, a staffer said.

Some 60% of all payments are made with debit or credit cards, according to Federal Reserve data. Cash use dropped sharply during the pandemic in 2020, and it hasn’t fully recovered. Today, cash is the third-most used payment method in the U.S. by number of transactions.

While more than half of $100s are held abroad, there were enough in the U.S. for every living American to have 55 in 2022, according to calculations by Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University.

The Fed’s most recent order for note printing follows the same trend as before the pandemic, the central bank has said. The notes were ordered primarily to replace those destroyed in normal processing.

One reason they have become so prevalent is that they enter circulation far quicker than they leave. They can last over a decade longer than $1s and $5s, partly because people are more likely to hold than spend them.

For all its annoyance, the $100 bill still holds a cultural cachet. Kelvin Jenkins, 34, who lives in Benicia, Calif., said big bills “feel like status symbols."

Earlier this month, he withdrew 100 $100s to purchase a car through Facebook Marketplace. The bank teller was shocked at why he needed the cash and asked what he did for a living, said Jenkins, who works in leadership development.

Cash is typically reserved for smaller purchases. Customers spent $39 on average when paying with cash, compared with $95 when paying with credit cards, according to payment data from the Fed.

The ease of hoarding and hiding larger bills suits them to criminal activity, such as tax evasion, Rogoff said. He has advocated that the government stop printing the high-denomination note (though he occasionally uses them when traveling).

Benjamins with benefits

The annoyance of using the $100 bill can make people spend less, said Helen Colby, an assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

Research shows that college students are less willing to purchase items when they are given a $100 bill compared with five $20s. This phenomenon has been coined “the denomination effect," where the form that money comes in has an impact on a person’s desire to spend it.

If you spend money on a credit card, you get that same card back after the transaction. Spending a $100 bill essentially destroys it, she said.

“A $1 bill doesn’t feel like much but a $100 bill feels very meaningful and beefy," Colby said.

Given inflation is still at elevated levels, the feeling of value that comes with the $100 bill is only going down. A $100 bill today has the equivalent purchasing power to about $76 a decade ago.

Conner Morton isn’t complaining. The director of operations at Prineta, a Kansas City-based company that stocks ATMs, said the company has been loading more ATMs with $100 bills lately. The note is especially popular among ATMs in barbershops, tattoo shops, hotels and convenience stores.

“It’s five times less work to load the $100 bills than five $20s," Morton said.

Write to Oyin Adedoyin at

The $100 Bill Is America’s Most Common Currency, and Its Most Annoying
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The $100 Bill Is America’s Most Common Currency, and Its Most Annoying
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