Sending and Stashing Cash

January 25, 2013

This page covers two aspects of dealing with large amounts of cash. The first part is about sending currency through the U.S. mail; you'll learn how to do it properly. The second part looks at what you should do with bills you may have stashed around the house or in a safe deposit box. It isn't necessarily safe to just leave them alone. You probably should be putting new currency in place of the old, as you'll see.

Sending Cash

I've never had a package or letter sent to me get lost in the mail, and have never had anything I've sent to others lost either. Stories of lost mail here are rare relative to the millions of letters and packages that get sent daily. In other words, the U.S. Postal Service is apparently pretty reliable. And yes, I have sent cash through the mail.

In fact, if you want to leave virtually no trace of money that you need to get to someone, the mail can be a much more private option than using wire services or sending checks or using credit cards or PayPal. Everything other than cash leaves a clear trail that, more and more, government officials can access without even troubling themselves to get a warrant. So let's look at a few guidelines for safely sending cash through the mail.

1. Split large amounts up and mail it in several different envelopes.

2. Mail the envelopes from several locations.

Let's say that you need to repay a debt of $16,000 to a friend on the other side of the country, for example. Wrap four $100 bills in a magazine page or glossy ad from a newspaper. Put them in an envelope, address it properly and put a stamp on it. Do not do anything that will make this look like more than a normal letter, such as taping the flap. You can use your own return address or any valid address, but it is best if it is one that will allow you to retrieve any returned mail. Repeat this procedure 39 more times and mail the envelopes from several different post offices or mailboxes over a period of several days.

I recently read about a man who says he did this for decades and never lost a cent. In any case, the risk is limited by using the different mailing points and doing so on several days. If one is lost you will have delivered 97.5% of what you owe. The cost in this example would be $18 for stamps and a few dollars more to buy the envelopes.

Note: Please do not email me asking why anyone would want to send cash or if I am advocating something illegal. There are perfectly practical, ethical, and legal reasons why a person might like to keep a financial transaction private.

Stashing Cash

Many people have a secret stash of currency, and it is not a bad idea. Banks can fail, and even when deposits are insured it can take a while to get the money. An emergency an hour after your bank closes for the weekend can leave you with no money for days.

Some keep their money hidden in a safe deposit box, while others like to keep the cash closer to home, sometimes hidden in a wall or a buried cache. Perhaps it is best to have it in both places or even split among several stashes for additional security. Regardless of where you keep it though, you should take it out and replace it with new currency from time to time.

Why go to the trouble of rotating your bills for new ones? Because currency changes have become more frequent, and if you have bills that are no longer in common circulation you might attract attention that you don't want.

The U.S. Government issued a redesigned $20 bill in 2003, and a new $50 bill in 2004. In 2006 and 2007 we got new $10 and $5 bills, and yet another $5 design in 2008. In 2010 the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board and the United States Secret Service announced a new design for the $100 bill. Those are the highlights of changes offered by the government website where I researched this, but I have three different $20 bills here at the moment, so there was apparently another change since the 2003 redesign.

The changes are said to be about combating counterfeiting, and that makes sense. However, it is also a way to draw out large quantities of cash from the underground economy, including that held by drug dealers. Since the average bill is expected to last about 25 months in circulation, within a couple years after a redesign anyone who shows up at the bank with thousands of dollars in the form of older bills will be suspect. Thus, those who have large currency hoards from illegal activities have to either run them through laundering operations soon after a change in the bills, and so pay taxes on that money, or they face possible investigation if they wait and try to spend or deposit a pile of old bills years later.

You might have your name forwarded to federal authorities for investigation if you local businesses all note that you are spending funny-looking bills (they look odd or different once we are used to the new ones), or if you go to the bank with them. So take out that cash every couple years at least, and work it into your deposits or spend it. Replace it with newer bills if you want to maintain your stash. You may have done nothing illegal in stashing the money, but who needs federal agents knocking at the door? Also, smart criminals will recognize that someone with a bunch of old bills has (or at least had) a hidden supply, which can make you a target for a future robbery.

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