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Overseas, It’s All About the Benjamins

Sept. 12, 2014
Managing Money, Personal Finance
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If you deal in $100 bills, you are an exception to the American rule, or perhaps a member of the criminal underground.

Most people in the U.S. simply don’t use them. If we have high-dollar transactions, we are more likely to use a debit card than a stack of Benjamins. Even ATMs aren’t stocked with the big bills.

But in other parts of the world, the $100 bill — featuring Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers — is quite popular. So popular, in fact, that the Federal Reserve estimates roughly two-thirds of all $100 bills are held outside the U.S.

Nearly 80% of the $1.3 trillion in U.S. currency circulating is in the form of $100 bills, many of them overseas in the hands of people who see the American dollar as a stable form of currency.

A recent paper from Fed economist Ruth Judson indicates the popularity of the $100 bill rose globally in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, “a period that coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and periodic economic and political crises in several Latin American countries.”

But not all of these globetrotting $100 bills are stashed under the mattresses of frightened citizens living under unstable governments. Some within the global community simply see American dollars, particularly in high denominations, as a store of value, similar to gold. Really, their confidence in the dollar is reassuring.

In addition to being popular overseas, the $100 bill is hot in the criminal world. Transporting large sums of cash is much easier when you use high denominations – $500,000 in $20 bills is far more conspicuous than $100 increments – and a briefcase full of ones just doesn’t say “criminal mastermind” like one stacked with Benjamins.

100 hundred dollar bills overseas

Infographic by Brian Yee

Bill illustration via Shutterstock.