There are lots of things we can do with our money. We can spend it on something we want right now. We can save money for something big we really want like a new car or a dream vacation. We can invest money in a company in the hopes of getting a big return on that money. We can blow money on a bunch of junk that means absolutely nothing to us but is still fun to buy. We've all heard the term "burning through money" that refers to spending money faster then it comes in. But what if you literally burned money? Can you get in big trouble for doing it? Let's take a look at the laws around this question.

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Inspiration for Answering This Question

Believe it or not, it was an Aldi commercial that prompted me into looking into this question. In the commercial, you see the commercial's spokesperson standing outside of a store with a grill and lighter fluid. This spokesperson is burning money to show that shopping at another grocery store is like burning money. In some print at the bottom of the screen, it says "Please do not attempt - It's illegal and you might burn yourself." Sometimes, this print can be for comedic purposes so I had to look up if burning money is actually illegal. Turns out, it is and you can get into big trouble if caught doing it.

Aldi Commercial

 

What the Law Says

If you go to Chapter 17, Section 331 in Mutilation of National Bank Obligations, you'll see the law about destroying or altering money (govinfo.gov):

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.

So yes, literally burning money can cost you a fine and/or jail time if caught doing it. Keep in mind, this is all based on if you have intentionally destroyed a bill. We've all that moment where we accidently ripped a bill. That's not illegal and you won't get in trouble for it.

What to Do with Damaged Money

You can take the damaged bill to your local bank and try to receive a replacement. Each bank has its own policies on doing this. You can also contact the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing directly for instructions on how to receive a replacement bill.

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