7 On Your Side revisits Coinstar 20 years later

March 21, 2013 7:45:31 PM PDT
Think a penny isn't worth much? There's a company that turns that copper penny into gold.

I first introduced you to Coinstar when there was only a couple of machines in San Francisco and it counted coins. My how things have changed!

"We began 20 years ago actually in this market as a coin business, counting coins. Today we process $3 billion worth of coins every year," said Mike Skinner from Coinstar.

Oh, but Coinstar is so much more now. The Coinstar machine now takes paper money. Why? Isn't the purpose to turn coins into bills?

That used to be the purpose. Now Coinstar is more like a digital ATM.

"In today's world it is very hard if you have cash to get it into a digital environment. So if you want to shop online, you want to use a PayPal account, it is very hard to do that if you have cash money, whether it is coins or paper bills," said Skinner.

Many with low incomes are unbanked, or under-banked and a Coinstar machine can help with their financial lives.

If you dump in coins and get a voucher for cash, Coinstar takes a 9.8 percent fee. If you put in bills the charge is $3 for up to $300 in bills and $6 for amounts over $300.

Pick a gift card for Amazon, iTunes, Starbucks or any of the others and you pay no fee at all. You can even give to charity on your local Coinstar.

"We like to highlight that to our consumers and allow them the opportunity to donate either coins or dollar bills to those charities and that is a fee free transaction for us as well," said Skinner.

Through its 20,000 kiosks, Coinstar says it handles more coins in a year than the U.S. Mint.

Finney: "Everyone says a penny is useless. I'll bet you don't say that?"
Skinner: "No, pennies are still the largest portion of that $3 billion that comes into our machines. So we think it is a valuable part of our mix and is something we count on having around for a long time."

Coinstar works seamlessly with PayPal and the cost can be as little as 1 percent, still the best financial move is to cash in coins for gift cards. There is no fee and you can get more than just stuff. You can get prescriptions filled, hotel rooms and even play video games online.

Safeway was an early adopter so these machines are widely available in those stores. There are also locations throughout the Bay Area in other supermarkets and many other stores.


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