The Boston Globe

Pennies and other loose change - stashed away in jars,
desk drawers and other nooks and crannies - sure can
add up.

In fact, Greater Boston residents may have a total of
as much as $122 million worth of change lying around
their homes, according to an estimate by Coinstar, a
company that makes coin-counting machines found in

The firm is stepping up efforts to get people to turn
some of those coins into cash, or into a donation to
the American Red Cross, according to a company news
release titled "$122 million in hidden cash can offer
relief to Boston area in these tough economic times."

But what the company doesn't mention is the price you
pay for using its machines.

I happened to walk by one of those machines on a
recent trip to the supermarket, so I checked out the
fee: 8.9 cents for every dollar of coins counted, or
8.9 percent.

That's relatively high - higher than New York City's
sales tax, for instance, or the maximum sales charge
allowed on a mutual fund.

So that means the household that hoarded $5,131 worth
of loose change - the largest coin-counting
transaction so far in the Boston area, touts the
Coinstar news release - paid more than $450 for the
service. That's a lot of pennies.

I don't know which is worse, allowing so much loose
change to pile up for years, not earning interest, or
paying 8.9 percent to finally have it counted.

I suppose it all depends on what you do with the 91.1
percent of the money you get back, and whether you
finally change your coin- hoarding ways.

Some Boston residents have used Coinstar to donate
more than $10,000 in change to the American Red Cross
Disaster Relief Fund since the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, and a total of more than $168,000 over the
years to such nonprofit organizations as UNICEF, the
United Nations' fund for children.

Those are worthy causes, but imagine how much more
people would be giving without the 8.9 percent off the

Get finances in order

With all the headlines about recession, layoffs, and
national uncertainty, getting your personal finances
in order now can be important preparation for whatever
may come your way.

"When you are in the midst of dealing with any kind of
stressful situation, the last thing you want to worry
about is how you are going to pay the next bill," said
Don Blandin, president of the American Savings
Education Council, a coalition of private- and
public-sector groups that has just issued a series of
steps people can take to gain control of their
finances, both in the short and long term.

"Life is full of uncertainties, and the reality is
that planning for your financial future is not an
option but a necessity for every individual," said
Blandin in a statement accompanying the
recommendations. Among the steps the council

- Save for a rainy day. Try to set aside three to six
months' worth of living expenses for emergencies and
transitions. You'll need more than this long term, but
it's a good place to start.

- Get rid of credit card debt. Reduce the number of
credit cards you own, consolidate balances into one
low-interest card, aggressively pay off the debt, and
use the card only for emergencies.

- Track expenses and create a budget. Write down your
expenses for a week or a month and see where you can
cut back on your spending. Create a budget to decide
where your money should go, including a line item to
pay yourself first through a contribution to savings.

- Calculate your savings needs. The best way to
achieve a goal such as retirement or a home purchase
is by estimating how much you need to save on a
regular basis. The council has a "Ballpark Estimate"
worksheet for retirement savings, as well as other
general savings calculators, at the Web site

- Have insurance. With adequate health, disability,
life, and other insurance, your family will be in a
better position to deal with an unexpected crisis.

- Have a will or an estate plan. These can protect
your family against unnecessary legal complications
and expenses, and help minimize estate taxes. Also
consider giving someone durable power of attorney for
your finances and for health decisions, in case you
are incapacitated.

- Organize your records. Make it easy for your family
to find important legal papers and life insurance
policies, in case anything happens to you. Consider
writing down in one place information about all your
financial accounts, so it's simple for your family to
find them.

Claim your check

The IRS is looking for more than 5,600 Massachusetts
taxpayers, not because they owe taxes, but because the
US government is trying to give them a total of $2.8
million worth in tax refunds or so- called tax rebate

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service has a pile of
undelivered refund checks because people move and
don't properly give their forwarding address to the
agency. Adding to the pile this year is the $300 to
$600 tax rebate checks, also known as advance payment
checks, which resulted from the tax law signed this
summer by President Bush.

If people who are supposed to get a tax rebate don't
give the IRS their correct address by Dec. 5, they
won't get a check. Instead, they will have to claim
the money after Jan. 1 on their 2001 tax returns,
because of the way the new tax law is written. "As
soon as we get the correct address, we'll start the
check on its way," said Peggy Riley, IRS spokeswoman
in Boston.

Taxpayers should file Form 8822, "Change of Address,"
with the IRS. The form can be downloaded at, or requested by calling 1-800-829-3676.