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Pay With Pennies!

Greetings. This site is about my culture jamming involving large payments in pennies to organizations that are difficult to deal with. Banks, government agencies, and the occasional retailer have all fallen prey to "penny payments." In today's society, it is all too common to hassle the consumer or the taxpayer. More and more we are asked to "hold," "wait in line," "fill out complex or time consuming forms," or give up confidential information.

I'm not against utilities (I like not having to maintain a generator or pump my own water). I'm not against taxes (our taxes here in the U.S. are very competitive with other nations who have similar standards of living). But I am against systematic hassle. I should not have to take off an entire day of work to pay my tax bill or renew my driver's license. I should not have to wait on hold for an hour to get a billing error corrected. As a customer of government, I think we deserve better.

In today's episode of Paying with Pennies, we take on the Fulton County Tax Office. Long, slow moving lines, idiotic and unpublished rules, and rude representatives at the Tag Office are a thing of legend here in Atlanta. Last year when I moved to Fulton County, I was unable to find the requirements to transfer my car tags from another county in the same state. The automated phone system didn't tell me. The web site didn't tell me. No one answered the phone at the tag office (instead it either hung up on you or transferred you back to the automated system). I wrote a certified letter asking for help, but it was ignored. Last year I appeared in person, pennies in tow, to pay the bill. Finally a representative talked with me about my problem. We agreed that I would write a check if they would look into the problems and call me back. Our agreement didn't require them to actually fix anything, just call me. Needless to say, as soon as I left, I was forgotten.

Since talking nicely doesn't solve the problem, I think that taxpayers should start to use up their time. What better way than to make them haul boxes of pennies to their bank to make a deposit. For that matter, they probably use an armored truck service, so they don't even need to do that. They just have to look at them. This year, I was nice and not only left them rolled in the shrink wrap tubes of 50 cents, but boxed in blocks of $25. I could have been mean and delivered them loose, but it would have taken me several hours to cut then out of the plastic. Even meaner would be mixed change! Counting loose change would just back the line at the office up more and inconvenience more taxpayers. I didn't want to do that.

So, I'm paying my tags in pennies again this year, but with a new twist… I'm mailing them! Since I have the forms and know the amount, I see no reason to stand in line and argue about whether or not they will accept my pennies. Since I have been paying for things with pennies for years, I have checked with several lawyers and they have all advised me that the government must accept them. To refuse them would undermine the trust and faith in the U.S. dollar and would ultimately lead to economic depression and collapse.

To pay with pennies, one must first obtain them. After shopping around, I found a small regional bank that agreed to order me any quantity of pennies, provided I paid the armored truck fees. I was advised that the fee was $35 per shipment, but since I order them several weeks in advance, they have always combined them with a regular shipment and never charged me more than the face value of the coins. They also asked me to use the branch with the largest vault. The pennies come in boxes of $25 each. Inside the box are shrink-wrapped rolls of 50 pennies each. The boxes weigh about 15 pounds each. My bank tells me I am the only person to make a withdrawal using a hand truck.

Next, I boxed up the pennies. Packaging the pennies is a bit of a problem. My tags were $167 this year. Since pennies come in boxes of $25, I needed 6 boxes. I wrote a check for the remainder.

At 15 pounds per box, this shipment was over 90 pounds, which exceeds the post office's maximum weight. I could have shipped with via UPS or Federal Express, but since the tag office is just down the street, mailing them made the most economic sense, so I split it into two boxes. In this case, we mailed them Certified Mail so that I would receive the delivery confirmation cards. There is the possibility that my pennies will become a door stop in their office and that they will refuse to give me the renewal sticker for my car tag. If that is the case, I will have this web site and the delivery cards to show a police officer if I get pulled over or to show a judge if it went to court.

If the tag office wants to refuse the payment, they will have to box them up and ship them back to me. Since the packages weigh more than 16 ounces, they will have to take them to the postal counter where they will have to wait in line. They will not be able to call me and tell me to "come and get them" because my car tag will be expired and it will be unlawful for me to drive on the road. The sidewalks between my home and the tag office are not continuos (I have to cross two expressways) therefore I would have to jaywalk if I walked there. They cannot have a policy that requires me to break the law.

Like a lot of "practicality protests," my efforts today will not harm anyone - but if enough taxpayers decided to follow suit, it could not only be a major inconvenience for the government, but also revitalize the penny.

Keep in mind that it cost me $16 in postage, plus $3 for the boxes. That's a hefty "transaction fee." I also had to wait at the post office for 10 minutes, but it was still worth the effort to make a point. Maybe someday I will run for Tax Commissioner and try to fix the problems myself. There are all kinds of easy solutions like:

  • Publish checklists of what to send to apply for or renew tags
  • Fix the phone system
  • Have an ATM like payment machine that is open 24 hours a day so we don't have to take off from work.
  • Internet renewals (there's no need for "paperwork" since the insurance and emissions are reported to central databases already).
  • Allow payments at grocery stores, check-cashing places, or at the commercial emission inspection stores (a great idea since I have to go there before renewing my tags anyway and they don't have a line!)
  • Maybe smile once in a while, or at least be polite. Your paycheck depends on us.

Update - 03 October I received the delivery confirmation postcards in the mail today. They signed for the packages! Even better, it has been several days since they were signed for an no one called to complain about the pennies.

Also, my web server registered a visit from a Fulton County government office! They visited the web site!

Update - Success! My 2005 registration papers and tag sticker arrived today. There was no indication of the pennies anywhere. The paperwork arrived just as if I had sent a check for the same amount. I guess I'm kind of disappointed there wasn't a smart alec comment somewhere, but I guess they wouldn't want to risk me paying in loose pennies or mixed changed next year .
Here's my tag - sporting it's new 2005 sticker
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