Printed on US currency you will find "THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE". Some businesses have refused to accept larger bills for a long time, as other forms of payment have become more popular, some refuse cash completely. In what cases can a business refuse to accept cash?

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    Possible duplicate of What forms of payment am I compelled to accept?
    – Nij
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 2:41
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    That duplicate is also tagged united-states, and you are asking about something which is a subset of all payment methods, and covered by at least two of the answers there.
    – Nij
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 4:29
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    Then we have these: money.stackexchange.com/questions/18791, money.stackexchange.com/questions/482. You're not asking a new question at all, just adding a new answer, which should have been done on one of the existing years-old questions.
    – Nij
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 4:35
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    From question 482: "retailers are allowed to refuse any denomination of U.S. currency: ..." with reference. From question 18791: "Is it the case where this practice of accepting small bills and rejecting large bills is perfectly legal? Is yes." with reference to the page you have also used in your answer. Again: you're repeating a question that already exists just to have your answer on it as well.
    – Nij
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 4:58
  • Cmments elsewhere demonstrate that this concern has already been raised and resolved. Further, the second answer deals exclusively with USA, and the third attempts to do so, too.
    – Nij
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 5:02

5 Answers 5


The Federal Reserve website notes that creditors must accept cash for debts on services already rendered, but that businesses may refuse cash for services not yet rendered unless prohibited by local law.

The Treasury website includes examples of businesses limiting what cash they will accept:

For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.

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    On this topic, it would be interesting to know whether there's established precedent for cases where the goods to be purchased have already been handled by the customer in a way that makes them difficult or impossible not to buy: for instance, gas already pumped, food already eaten, etc. Do these generally fall under debt for services already rendered? Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 20:48
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    @R.. Assuming you had permission to eat the food or pump the gas before paying, then it seems they would have to accept any type of cash for payment. If you didn't have permission (think eating in a grocery store versus a restaurant), then you could probably still pay for it with a big bill, but maybe you could get in trouble for destruction of property or something like that? Also, I wonder if they are obligated to make change, especially on the spot?
    – Kat
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 23:37
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    @R.. They just need to make it known they don't accept cash PRIOR to the transaction taking place. "Neither 31 U.S.C. Sec. 5103 nor any other federal law requires that a private business, organization or person accept cash in exchange for goods or services." ~expertlaw.com/library/consumer-protection/…
    – BobbyScon
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 23:59
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    @R.. All the gas pumps I use will not allow you to pump anything until some form of payment has been verified. The stations do accept cash, but you must go inside and pay before pumping. Otherwise, you need to provide your debit/credit/whatever card at the pump before pumping. You have a point about food, though.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 10:21
  • In a restaurant you don't purchase food that you've already eaten - that wouldn't make sense since eaten food isn't saleable. You purchase food in advance, becoming indebted to the restaurant in the process, eat it, get the bill and settle your debt by paying.
    – bdsl
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 11:53

You have to take legal tender to settle a debt. If your business model doesn't involve the customer incurring a debt that is then settled, you don't have to take cash. For example, in a restaurant where you pay after eating, you can insist on paying cash, because you're settling a debt. But in McDonald's they can refuse your cash at the counter, because you've not received your food yet and so no debt has been incurred.

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    What are your sources?
    – tar
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 19:04
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    Just to be nit picky: A restaurant can refuse cash if they establish before the order is placed that cash is not an accepted form of payment. For instance in that annoyingly small print that's used on menus like where CCs aren't accepted but nobody tells you ahead of time and you have to run down the street to find an ATM while your date sits alone...
    – BobbyScon
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 19:30
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    @Kat - Find a source to prove me wrong and I'll be happy to recant. This link states that private business are free to do as the please, essentially. treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/…
    – BobbyScon
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 23:48
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    @BobbyScon no, that says it applies to debts, not for goods and services that haven't been sold yet. A meal that's been eaten is a debt, and so the bit about being legal tender for all debts, public or private should apply.
    – Kat
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 23:50
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    I just bought gas at a costco. The pump would not activate until I swiped my card, and I filled up. Only when I was leaving did I notice a sign, "For your safety, we do not accept cash." Yet, inside the store, they do. I can only imagine a Dave Ramsey fan's look of surprise to find that not only isn't cash king at that gas station, but it's not even welcome. Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 3:46

They don't have to take cash if they reasonably told you in advance they don't take cash, because they made fair effort to prevent you from incurring a debt.

They don't have to take cash if the transaction hasn't yet happened (not a debt) or if it can be easily undone at no cost to either party - such as a newspaper subscription they can just stop delivering.

Both of these reasons are limited by the rules against discrimination, see below.

They don't have to take cash if it's impracticable. For instance a transit bus when fares first went to $1.00, it took years to fund new fareboxes able to take paper money. You don't have to take a mortgage payment in pennies. Liquor stores don't have to take $100 bills. (it requires them to keep too much change in the till, which makes them a robbery target).

Trouble arises when it appears there's an ulterior motive for the rule. Suppose a Landlord Jim requires rent to be paid with EFT. Rent-controlled Marcie tells the judge "It's a scheme to oust me, he knows I'm unbanked". Jim counters "No. I got mugged last month because criminals know when I collect cash rents." It will turn on whether Jim can show good-faith effort to work with his unbanked tenants to find other ways to pay. If Jim does a particularly bad job of this, he could find himself paying Marcie's legal bills!

Even worse if the ulterior motive is discrimination. Chet the plumber hates Muslims. Alice the feed supplier hates the Amish. So they decide to take credit cards only, knowing those people's religions don't allow them. Their goose is cooked once they can't show any other reasonable reason to refuse cash.


Apartment complexes have had a long history of not accepting cash for payment of rent. This eliminates the problem of robbery and strongly reduces the risks of embezzlement.


Article 1, Section 10 of the US Constitution states:

No State shall ... make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts

Previous editions of banknotes stated that the notes were redeemable in gold or in lawful money. The Mint Act of 1792 set gold and silver as legal currency (and that one did not have to accept "base metal coins" for more than $10 which is why coin rolls only go up to $10). The Coinage Act of 1873 dropped silver and made gold the legal standard for currency. In 1933, the "redeemable in gold" was changed by federal statute and the legend you mention was added. Prior to 1933, someone could demand that you pay them in gold and not with a bank note. Legislation in 1933 ended that. This clause in the Constitution leads some political groups to wish to return to a gold standard. I recommend reading the book Greenback as it describes how our currency got the way it did and why that clause appears on currency.

  • Regarding apartment complexes, they may not like it but they have to accept cash in the end. Just keep copies of your letters stating that you are willing to pay in cash and their responses (e.g., refusal and policy statements on why they don't accept cash) and the case will be thrown out when they try to evict you. Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 21:22
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    Key word in the Constitution: "no State". California can't make California Florins a legal tender, but it puts no such restriction on the federal government.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 21:53
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    There was a state court judge that ruled on this. A criminal defendant argued that a judge cannot require that the state pay the fine in anything except gold or silver. The judge agreed and required the defendant to buy $20 gold coins from the Mint. The Mint was selling them for $1500 per coin at the time. He effectively multiplied his fine by 75 times its original amount. You can get gold coins from the US government, but to spend them at $20 per coin, the statutory price of an ounce of gold, would be insane. Nobody really wants to push that point. Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 23:12
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    @user25459 That sounds too much like a chain letter story. Is that actually true? Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 0:45
  • @DepressedDaniel I don't believe this is supported by federal law. Assuming that the rental agreement laid out the acceptable methods of payment, the tenant would be bound by those terms. State laws may vary on this topic. Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 1:07

A business can refuse cash (paper currency) payment pretty much in all cases provided it's a reasonable policy and/or notified during/in advance of contracting. Details in this link.

"all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services."

Even if the payment is being made to settle a debt or other obligation, the creditor may refuse payment if their rationale is reasonable (as determined by the courts).


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