What the Money Looks Like, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Personal Finance
American Money

What the Money Looks Like
American coins and bills are confusing, so it pays to first familiarize yourself with the money before you start spending it.

American paper money in all denominations is the same color and the same size. One, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills are most commonly used. Each bill will have a picture of a famous American on the front, and the bill's numerical denomination on each of the four front corners. You'll have to be careful at first not to confuse the denominations. To make matters more confusing, the treasury is in the process of introducing new types of bills for all these denominations. The new types show a large engraving of the famous American in an oval that is slightly off-center. On the old bills, the portrait is smaller and exactly centered. Both types will be used until the government has a chance to collect and destroy all the old bills.

American coins are even more confusing than currency notes. Nowhere on an American coin will you find a number value. For some reason, the amounts are spelled out. Nor are the coins minted in size order. Commonly used coins are the one-cent piece (penny), five-cent piece (nickel), ten-cent piece (dime) and 25-cent piece (quarter). Fifty-cent pieces are rarely seen. A new gold-colored dollar coin showing the likeness of Native American explorer Sacagawea was introduced in late 1999, to take the place of the unpopular “Susan B. Anthony” dollar coin. The penny is copper-colored and reads “one cent” on the bottom reverse. The nickel is a bit larger and reads “five cents” on the bottom reverse. The dime (10 cents) is the smallest coin, and, rather than “ten cents,” reads “one dime.” The quarter (25 cents) is larger than the other three coins and reads “quarter dollar” on the bottom reverse.


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