Identifying Money

By Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT

The rise in popularity of debit cards means that more and more retailers—even small ones like your corner newsstand or dry cleaner—no longer require cash for purchases. For customers with vision loss, this reduces some of the planning and identification issues that can arise when handling bills and coins.

If you decide to use your debit card, you may want to mark it so that it's easy to identify in your wallet. See Labeling and Marking for more information on helpful labeling materials and devices and Banking Services and Credit Cards for hints on using your debit and credit cards independently.

If you're more comfortable using cash for your purchases, there are several different ways to identify your United States bills and coins independently:

Fold Your Bills

The folding system is a tactile method you can use to tell your different bills apart independently. For example:

  • Keep the $1 bill flat and unfolded.
  • Fold the $5 bill in half crosswise (with the short ends together).
  • Fold the $10 bill in half lengthwise (with the long sides together).
  • Fold the $20 bill like a $10 bill lengthwise, and then in half again crosswise, like the $5 bill:

folding money steps

Electronic Money Identifiers

A portable electronic talking money identifier is a device that verbally announces the denomination of all old and new United States bills (from $1 to $100); an enhanced version also vibrates for users who are deaf-blind. You can find a selection of money identifiers at Handling Money in the AFB Product Database.

The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) has developed a free downloadable application (app) to identify paper United States currency. The app is called EyeNote™, designed for the Apple iOS, which will scan a bank note and communicate its value back to the user. EyeNote™ uses image recognition technology to determine a note's denomination. You can read more about the EyeNote™, at the EyeNote™ App Overview.

You can read more about the United States Accessible Currency Project for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons on the VisionAware blog.

More Tips to Help Identify Your Money from Peer Advisor Mary Hiland

Mary Hiland

Peer Advisor
Mary Hiland

Take Control from the Start

Whenever I get cash from the bank, I ask for all my bills to be fives, unless, of course, I'm withdrawing a large amount of money. Having only fives and ones in my wallet reduces the chance of accidentally plucking out the wrong denomination.

When receiving change from a purchase, I try to figure the amount I am due in change and then ask the cashier if the five is on the top or the bottom. I ask the question this way because sometimes the cashier will announce my change in the opposite way they count it into my hand. It also avoids asking a yes or no question, such as "Is the five on the top?" because I might get a grunt or a nod of the head instead.

Be Consistent

When I am flying and know that I will need to tip skycaps, I keep ones in one pocket and fives in another. In this way, I don't have to dig for my wallet and take the time to find which bill I want. The trick is to remember which pocket holds the fives.

One time, I accidentally tipped a skycap $10 for walking me to the next gate, when I meant to give him $2. It was a happy surprise for him and a hard lesson learned for me. We learn from our mistakes, but sometimes it can be expensive.

Paying for a Meal

When I pay for a meal, I'll use a credit card only if I am paying at the cashier's stand and I will have left a tip in cash at the table. If the server takes the payment to the cashier, I only pay in cash. This avoids the temptation to steal my credit card information. I know that sounds distrustful, but it's happened to me enough times that I make it a practice to never let my credit card be whisked away.

When the bill is delivered to my table, I ask the server to tell me the amount. If I am with a sighted friend, I ask them to tell me what is printed as a suggestion for the tip according to the percentage you wish to leave. Some restaurants make this a practice, so we don't have to do the math in our heads. Then I leave the tip myself. No one at my table needs to know my business.

Read more from Mary at the Visually Impaired: Now What? blog.

Low Vision Techniques

Large Print Numbers

  • Paper money in the United States is now produced with larger print numbers on the back lower right-hand corner of the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills.
  • With good lighting and, if needed, a magnifier, you may be able to determine the denominations of your paper money.
  • See What Are Low Vision Optical Devices? and Helpful Non-Optical Devices for Low Vision for more information about lighting and magnification.

Use an Electronic Video Magnifier:

  • An electronic video magnifier, also called a CCTV, is equipment for reading that consists of a stand-mounted or hand-held video camera that displays a magnified image on a video monitor, television screen, or computer monitor.
  • A video magnifier/CCTV can help you identify your bills by magnifying each denomination. After you identify each bill, you can use the folding system or place your bills in an adaptive wallet that separates them by denomination.
  • See Electronic Magnifiers and Magnifying Systems for more information about electronic magnification options.

Identifying Coins

It is possible to identify your coins by touch. In the United States, coins have smooth smooth or ridged edges and are different sizes:

  • Nickels and pennies have smooth edges, and the nickel is larger and thicker than the penny.
  • Quarters, dimes, and half-dollars have ridged edges, and the half-dollar is larger than the quarter, which is larger than the dime.
  • You can feel and hear the ridged edge by running your fingernail across it.
  • Dollar coins have their own distinct feel and are larger than half dollars; dollar coins now come in different sizes, so you may need help in identifying them. However, they are not in wide circulation.

Managing Your Loose Change

After a shopping trip, you may end up with a pocket of loose coins. You can manage and identify your coins with any of the following methods:

  • Place them into separate labeled containers, or into containers of different sizes. If your containers are the same size, you can label each container in large print, braille, or any other method that works for you.
  • See Labeling and Marking and All About Braille for more information about any of these labeling options.
  • Use a coin organizer or a multi-pocket coin purse to sort, identify, and manage your loose change.
  • Another method is to deposit all of your loose change into one container. When the container is full, bring it to your nearest change machine (usually at a local supermarket) and obtain bills for the coins you deposit — less a small percentage fee.

Is there a safe way to carry money?

If you're worried about purse snatchers, here are two possible alternatives to a purse or wallet:

  • Waist Pack: A small waist pack can discourage thieves. It can be hidden or covered by a shirt or coat and usually has one or two zippered compartments. It can be useful when you're in an unfamiliar place or if you don't want to carry a bulky or heavy purse or wallet.
  • Zippered Pockets: Purchase a lightweight jacket or coat with zippered pockets. You can conceal and secure your money, house keys, and other personal items inside the zipped pockets.

Personal Stories

  • Father James Warnke: Living a Well-Integrated Life
    Father Warnke, who was born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and glaucoma, has had a very successful series of careers as mental health counselor and Episcopal priest, to name just a few of his accomplishments.

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