Counterfeiters Beware: Here's How the New $100 Will Ruin Your Day


The $100 bill is popular with people all over the world, and not just drug dealers and corrupt government officials. (See also: 10 Ways to Save $100 This Week)

In places where the local currency is prone to inflation or currency controls, the dollar is widely viewed as an attractive alternative. Places where the banking system isn't viewed as sound, actual cash money is an obvious alternative. When those two places overlap, the $100 bill is very popular as a safe way to store wealth. Popular enough, in fact, that nearly two-thirds of all $100 bills are held abroad, according to Federal Reserve estimates.

This is a big subsidy for the U.S. Every one of those $100 bills got overseas by someone providing $100 worth of goods or services to someone in the U.S. For as long as the bill remains overseas, it amounts to an interest-free loan of $100 to the U.S. economy.

Maintaining this situation, where the U.S. gets a $500 billion interest-free loan, depends most particularly in confidence in the security features of the $100 bill. A lot of that currency is being held by individuals who don't trust their own governments or their own banks, and those people need to be able to verify that a $100 bill is genuine on their own. (See also: The Best and Worst Places to Stash Cash)

Fortunately, the new $100 has security features to make that easy.

New Security Features

There are two new security features, both immediately obvious when you look at the new $100.

3-D Security Ribbon

A broad blue ribbon is woven into the paper, just to the right of Franklin's face. As you tilt the bill, images of bells will change to images of 100s, and the images will move up and down and back and forth in the ribbon.

Bell in the Inkwell

The image of an inkwell is printed in copper-colored ink, and within the inkwell the image of a bell is printed in color-shifting ink, that will change from copper to green. The result is that as you tilt the bill, the image of the bell will appear and disappear within the inkwell.

Plus Some Old Security Features

Several of the old security features you're used to are still viewed as effective and have been retained on the new bill. (See also: How to Spot Counterfeit Bills)

Portrait Watermark

On all the bills larger than the $5, the watermark is the same as the portrait on the bill — on the $100 that's Benjamin Franklin:

Security Thread

On all the bills larger than the $2, there's a security thread running vertically through the fabric of the bill. On the $100, it runs between Ben's face and the Federal Reserve seal, and says USA 100:

Color-Shifting Ink

On all the bills larger than the $5, the denomination on the lower right of the front of the bill is printed in color shifting ink. On the new $100 the color shifts from green to copper as you tilt the bill:


All the new notes feature microprinting, which is hard to reproduce without genuine engraved plates and printing presses. On the new $100 there are repeated "USA" along the bottom of the note in Franklin's jacket. It says, "The United States of America" along his collar, "USA 100" around the blank space containing the watermark, and "One Hundred USA" along the golden quill.

Raised Printing

All US currency is printed with a technique called "intaglio" that leaves the ink on the surface of the paper, giving it a distinctive feel.

The Treasury's website has videos, posters, and brochures on using the security features of all the new US currency.

What Took So Long?

Originally scheduled to be issued on February 10th, 2011, the new $100 was delayed almost three years by production problems printing the new bills. Now, with ample supplies of the new currency on hand, the Federal Reserve will start fulfilling bank orders for $100 bills with the new bills today.

Your Old Notes Are Still Good

The Treasury and the Federal Reserve have a policy that US currency remains legal tender forever. Your old $100 bills are still valid currency, whether they're series 1996 bills (with the large Franklin portrait and the green-to-black color-shifting ink) or pre-1996 bills (with the smaller portrait and no color-shifting ink).

Although the pre-1996 bills are still legal tender, that does not mean that you need to accept a bill in payment if you have any doubt about its authenticity. They are much harder for an individual to authenticate — tough to do without a magnifying glass, an ultraviolet light, and a magnetic ink detector. If someone wants to give you a $100 bill, and you lack those tools, don't hesitate to tell the guy that you want the bill authenticated at a bank before you accept it.

With the new bills, though, checking their authenticity is something anyone can do in just a few seconds. It'll be good to have these new bills in circulation. Unless you're a counterfeiter.

Have you ever been passed a counterfeit note? How did you find out?

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