Now More $100 Bills In Circulation Than $1 Bills

The number of $100 bills in circulation has exploded since the Great Recession of 2008-09 and is still climbing rapidly. A decade ago, the number of $100 bills lagged well behind $1 and $20 bills. Twenty years ago, there were double the number of $1 bills versus $100s. But the $100 bill tally has doubled since the end of the financial crisis, according to the Federal Reserve.

By 2017, the $100 bill, also referred to as a “C-note,” eclipsed both the $1 and $20 bills to become the most widely circulated US currency in the world. DataTrek Research estimates there is $1.3 trillion in $100 bills in circulation worldwide, with most of them held outside the US (more on this below).

Some believe the growing demand for US $100 bills is partly due to a global fear of negative interest rates in Europe and Japan. Others suggest the growth is largely due to fears of another financial crisis, with more and more US and foreign households holding a stash of $100s.

The Benjamin Franklin-faced currency has been the largest US bill since 1969 when the $500 and $1,000 notes were phased out, but it’s not very popular with Americans for day-to-day transactions. According to the Fed, the average American carries only about $60 in cash.

A Pew Research Center study late last year found that 30% of Americans use no cash at all on a weekly basis, and that number is rising. This might suggest that cash is going out of style altogether. Not so, since foreign demand for “Benjamins” is booming.

Data Trek says 80% of all $100 bills in circulation are held outside of the US. Wow!

Some of this growth is the result of the US dollar supplanting local currencies in unstable economic environments. Other currencies are also used outside their home countries, but the dollar has the largest share of notes held outside the country by far.

Data Trek’s founder Nicholas Colas described it this way: “The $100 bill is basically that American flag waving in local economies around the world, for better or worse … Yes, it’s misused [crime] but there’s also a lot of benefits to the American economy.”

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