NPR Story
3:37 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

New $100 Bills Aimed At Stopping Counterfeiters

Despite the government shutdown, the Federal Reserve starts distributing its brand new $100 bills to banks today.

The new $100 bill is the first redesign since 1996, and includes new features to thwart counterfeiters.

Jason Bellini of the Wall Street Journal joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.

The government is shut down, but that is not stopping the new $100 bill from being released. Today the government is unveiling brand-new hundred-dollar bills. That is the most commonly counterfeited piece of U.S. currency.

Joining us for more from New York is Jason Bellini of The Wall Street Journal. And Jason, first, tell us what they look like.

JASON BELLINI: Well, Jeremy, I know you'll have a lot of these in your wallet soon.


BELLINI: So I can tell you what you're going to see. Ben Franklin's head's gotten a lot bigger. There's a new watermark. And Ben Franklin's head appears in another place too. When you hold the bill up to the light, there's a watermark of his head. So he's much more prominent this time around. You're also going to notice this 3-D blue security ribbon that runs down the center of the bill, and these really bold gold 100's on the front, and there's a specially big one on the back; that's to help people with vision impairments.

We actually spoke at The Wall Street Journal with the designer who works with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. And he said he wanted to give the bill more movement and an airier feel than the benjamins that we know so well. And this draft actually took 40 revisions to get to the one that we'll see soon.

HOBSON: And just to clarify, not only do I almost never have $100 bills; when I do have them, I never know what to do with them because nobody wants to take them. But I know that one of the reasons for this is to help against counterfeiting. Here's Michael Lambert, director at the Federal Reserve, who says the new bill gives consumers a better ability to quickly spot fake bills.

MICHAEL LAMBERT: The 3-D security ribbon is actually, I think, very - a very cool and interesting feature because it actually draws the public's interest to the bank note so that they can be looking more carefully to protect themselves from any potential counterfeiting. We added a little extra texture to the jacket of Benjamin Franklin so that people can feel that very, very clearly.

HOBSON: And Jason, that kind of security does not come cheap, right?

BELLINI: That's right. The bills actually cost just under eight cents a piece to make. And the Fed's proposed budget for printing costs this year is now about 7 percent higher than last year's, and that is mainly due to the new $100 bill and how much it cost to print them. But the whole goal in creating this new bill and going to all this expense is to stop counterfeiters, as we just heard. So worth the cost in their view.

HOBSON: And how many people are actually using hundreds?

BELLINI: Well, you know, the $100 bill is in huge circulation worldwide. It's actually the second most common bill. It's only behind the dollar bill. It's even more common than the $20 bill - not in my wallet, maybe yours. And a little more than 75 percent of the more than $1 trillion of currency in circulation is in $100 bills.

HOBSON: Well, when can people expect to see these new $100 bills in circulation?

BELLINI: Well, they're on their way in armored trucks to banks as we speak, but it's up to the individual banks when and how they issue them. The Fed doesn't pull the old designs out of circulation when the new ones come along, so we're going to be seeing the bills we know so well out there, in our wallets, for quite some time to come.

But here's the thing to watch about - half to two-thirds of benjamins are held internationally. And it'll be interesting to see how smoothly this goes because in other countries they're used to - when they put out a new currency - pulling back the other one. And also, you may have had this experience with - they only look new bills in many countries where counterfeiting is so rampant. And so you may need to make sure when you're traveling abroad to be carrying the new bills very soon, not the old ones.

HOBSON: Or maybe just 20s.

Or maybe just 20s.


HOBSON: Jason Bellini of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much as always.

BELLINI: Thank you.

HOBSON: And here we are with some Puff Daddy, "It's All About the Benjamins." So there you go. We'll be back in a minute. HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.