Is it illegal to Burn Money?

Is it illegal to burn money? The definite answer is; yes, burning money is illegal in most countries.

But wait…!!

Got Money to Burn?

Joking apart, how could it possibly be illegal when it’s your money? Isn’t money your own holding, your own property?

Quite definitely, it is our property when we own it. Then why is it considered a crime in most countries?

Well, there are genuine reasons why burning money is illegal. Burning money, tearing currency notes, and mutilating coins are all crimes, and the law has prescribed punishments in many countries.

In this write-up, we will discuss why is it illegal in the USA; what US Law says about it, and what punishments are awarded to the perpetrators.

Reasons why burning money is illegal in the USA

The illegality of burning money is rooted in the fact that the Federal government is responsible to maintain a balanced circulation of money in the country.

Moreover, the government has to pay the cost of making coins or new currency notes.

So, when you burn money, it ensues a shortage of currency notes and disturbs the even circulation. Hence, the US government has to replace money that is taken out of circulation.

In short, it is the cost of making a currency note that bans the burning and tearing of currency notes or the mutilation of coins.

For every $1, it costs 5.5 cents to the US government. And for a $100 bill, it costs 14 cents.

Now, imagine the financial pressure that would be on the government if every citizen starts burning piles of money.

The U.S. Law on Burning or Tearing Money

In 1948, the US Legislature has passed a law mentioned in Title 18, Section 333 that bans the burning, tearing, or defacing of currency notes. The specific U.S. Code reads as;

“Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

Title 18, Section 333 – U.S. Code

The U.S. Law on Mutilating Coins

The Section of the U.S. Code that bans the mutilation of coins and awards punishments is written in Title 18, Section 331. The law reads as;

“Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or Whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened — Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

Title 18, Section 331 – U.S. Code

Punishments Prescribed in the U.S. Law

According to the U.S. Code Title 18 Section 333, the U.S. law prescribes six months or less duration imprisonment or some fine or both for burning or tearing currency notes.

Similarly, Title 18 Section 331 of the U.S. Code of Law sets a punishment of 5 years or less imprisonment or a fine or both for mutilating coins.

The prosecution is very rare

It is quite rare that the U.S. government has prosecuted someone for tainting or devaluing US currency. However, we can find some recorded cases too.

Perhaps, the best-known coin mutilation case is of an 18-year-old US Marine Ronald Lee Foster. He was convicted of chipping off the edges of pennies.

The court sentenced him to one-year probation and $20. Worse still, the conviction prevented him from obtaining a gun license.

He made national headlines in 2010 when President Barack Obama pardoned him.

Postscript: If you have enough money already and you want to burn some to make space in the room, please consider other options.

There is already enough poverty in the world. It would be better if you give your money in charity rather than burning them.

About the author


A versatile human being with a passion for reading and writing - always striving for growth, living in the moment but trying to keep pace with the evolving world.

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