Is It Illegal to Destroy/Burn Money in the U.S?

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Is It Illegal to Destroy Money in the U.S

In the United States, currency holds not just monetary value but also legal protections against its destruction. The act of destroying or burning money, a symbol of the nation’s economy, raises legal and ethical questions. This article examines the legality of damaging currency, the federal laws governing such acts, and the potential repercussions individuals may face for intentionally destroying or burning money.

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Federal Laws on Currency Destruction

The primary legal framework that addresses the destruction of U.S. currency is outlined in Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. This section explicitly prohibits the mutilation, diminution, and falsification of U.S. banknotes and coins.

Title 18 U.S.C. Section 333: “Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

This law makes it clear that intentionally damaging or destroying currency with the intent to make it unfit for reissue is a criminal act, subject to fines and imprisonment.

Intent and Enforcement

The key factor in the enforcement of laws against the destruction of money is intent. The legal system must demonstrate that the individual acted with the specific intent to make the currency unfit for reissue. Casual or accidental damage to currency, such as wear and tear from daily use, does not fall under this prohibition.

Enforcement of these laws typically focuses on cases where there is significant, deliberate damage to currency, particularly if the act is performed as a statement or protest that could encourage others to follow suit.

Individuals found guilty of intentionally destroying or burning money can face legal consequences, including fines and imprisonment for up to six months. The severity of the punishment often depends on the amount of money destroyed and the circumstances surrounding the act.

While the physical act of burning or destroying a small amount of currency might seem inconsequential, it poses broader questions about respect for national symbols and the stability of the economic system. The legal restrictions against such acts underscore the importance of maintaining the integrity and trust in the U.S. currency system.


The intentional destruction or burning of money in the United States is illegal under federal law, with potential penalties including fines and imprisonment. These legal protections ensure the currency’s physical integrity, reflecting the broader principles of economic stability and respect for national symbols. Individuals considering or witnessing the destruction of currency should be aware of the legal implications and the importance of preserving the nation’s financial system.


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