Petty or Not? Karen’s $2.94 Coinstar Complaint

There’s a very hazy delineation between the principle of the thing and pettiness. Reader Karen I’s complaint about Coinstar — those wonderful machine that magically transforms your sweat socks full of spare coins into hard cash — flosses that line as if it were a thong.

Karen emptied a sock filled with $33.04 in coins down the steel throat of a Coinstar machine. Coinstar allows her to funnel the change into an Amazon gift certificate: this would allow her to convert all of her cash without the usual percentage Coinstar takes from the top.

The only problem? Amazon wasn’t picking up. So Coinstar told Karen she had no choice but exchange her Coinstar receipt with a cashier for currency. Except they took out the service fee, even though Karen had agreed only to exchange her coins in relation to a no-fee Amazon transaction.

Look, we understand that that’s lame. Coinstar should allow you to opt out, or at least inform you that the terms have changed. But it’s two dollars and ninety four cents. Were you really going to scoop all your coins back into that moist sock? We’re professional bloggers — that means our monthly income is comparable to that of a Somali goat farmer. I am missing an eye after an internal squabble over an expired can of beans spiraled out of control. But even we think $2.94 isn’t worth getting upset about.

Of course, we also think Coinstar is second only to the Internet as one of the most brilliant services to emerge in the last decade. So maybe we’re prejudiced. What say you, readers? Karen’s email after the jump.

I just had an unpleasant experience with a coinstar machine and thought I’d drop you a line, since I definitely feel like I got gypped. Having recently found out that Coinstar machines don’t charge a fee if you turn your money into e-certificates for sites like iTunes and Amazon, I excitedly grabbed my jar ‘o’ pocket change and made for the nearest kiosk. After screen-tapping through five or six pages of choices and disclaimers (“This coinstar transaction will be assessed a fee of: $0.00”, whoop-de-doo), I finally convinced the machine to take my money. At this point, the excessive disclaimers I’d just gone through were just a minor annoyance that seemed slightly unnecessary, but hey, whatever, I was going to get me some Amazon money! So I dumped in my coins, guided them through the teeny-tiny slot, and hit “done” on the screen, then waited a few minutes for the counter to catch up. The screen informed me that it was “Processing your transaction, please wait.” The pleasantly old-fashioned sound of a dial-up modem came from the bowels of the machine and I stood back, content that Coinstar and Amazon were firmly in touch. Coinstar said it was still “processing.” I waited five more minutes, wondering if dial-up was REALLY still that slow, and was then mildly horrified to see an error message appear on the screen. I didn’t write it down verbatim, but the gist was that oops, Amazon wasn’t answering the phone, but don’t worry – my money was safe!

Well phew, that was a load off my mind. So I read the message, sighed in annoyance, and hit “ok,” the only button on the screen, wondering if the machine was now going to spit $33.04 in coins back at me. But no; it informed me that it was printing my voucher that I could take to a cashier. “Ok,” I thought, “no Amazon, but I’ll live. There still shouldn’t be a fee, since the machine and I agreed on a 0% fee way back when I ok-ed through those disclaimers, and this failure of transaction is the machine’s fault, not mine, so I’ll take my $33.04 and go grocery shopping.”

“Printing your voucher,” Mr. Coinstar said. “Please wait.” So I waited. “Some coins may have been rejected,” said Mr. Coinstar. “Please check the coin return.” So I checked the coin return and found a good $2 worth of change lying there. This was, of course, after the transaction was completed and I couldn’t run the coins through again (e-certificates need a minimum of $5, and I wasn’t about to pay 9% on $2). So while I was contemplating the fact that I was not, in fact, rid of all my dirty pocket change, the voucher finally printed. I eagerly snatched it up and read it: Yes, Coinstar was happy to tell me that I could get my $30.10 from any cashier in the store as long as I did it today.

Wait, $30.10?

There was a $2.94 service charge, the voucher informed me. Yeah, that 0% service fee I agreed to? Didn’t hold up that way. Ok, I tried to tell myself, fine. After all, that’s the way it works – it gives you a cash voucher and charges the 9% fee. Except I couldn’t help but remember all those ok’s and disclaimers I went through to convince the machine that really, I wanted Amazon and was perfectly willing to pay a 0% fee. At no point after that did it ask me to ok a fee change. In fact, it didn’t even bother to inform me that there would BE a fee change. And there was certainly no option to cancel the transaction after I was told I was SOL with the Amazon e-certificate.

So I’m left with $30.10 in my pocket (still better than nothing) and the vague feeling of having had a handful of dirty pennies shoved down my throat by an evil, modem-driven, cackling green machine.

Is it just me, or is there just something wrong with how the Coinstar ate my $2.94 in “fees”?


Edit Your Comment

  1. jeblis says:

    Huh. I just go to the bank. They have a coinstar like machine an the give me 100% of the cash back.

  2. Xkeeper says:

    Which is pretty much what I was going to say. Coinstar is a gyp waiting to happen; if you have over $200 in coins (and it’s very possible, we have probably more than that in a jar here) just buy an at-home coin counter or go to the bank.

    This story would be a little more painful if the amount lost was like the one in the image ($16 of $118 is still quite a lot), but it’s only $2… hardly worth throwing a fit over.

  3. John says:

    I have to agree with the other posts.. Just go to your bank.

  4. Kat says:

    Yeah, and if your bank only takes rolled coins, spend $20 and get a coin roller.

  5. medalian1 says:

    If you have children, let them roll the $$ and take to the bank … though as other posters have informed you, most banks have coinstar type machines w/ 0 fees. Apparently $3 is worth a lot to you, so I would complain to Coinstar HQ or something. Me … I’d just chuck it up to a lesson learned.

  6. LTS! says:

    I’m trying to figure this out…

    Karen put in $33.04, had $2 rejected, received $30.10 from the cashier and claims to have lost $2.94? I hope she really meant that she intended to have $35.04 in gift certificates. You’d think I’d am an ass for pointing this out but if she were to write Coinstar they might infer the same thing.

    Be very specific or else you are going to sound like a person trying to rip them off. Since I believe it’s a matter of principle, you should write them and complain.

  7. Chaoticfluffy says:

    I’m the writer of the e-mail, and while I understand how this post made me come off petty, I’d like to clarify that my annoyance has very little to do with the amount of money I lost. As most of you have pointed out, 3 bucks isn’t exactly earth-shaking, and as medalian1 suggested, I do consider it a lesson learned. I’m not going charging down to Coinstar headquarters to demand a refund. What my point in writing this was was that I’d basically been hit by a bait ‘n’ switch regarding fees assessed by the machine. I would have been annoyed if I had lost 10 cents or a hundred dollars because of this (although if it were a hundred, I might be reconsidering that charge on headquarters), because it seemed, at least to me, that the Coinstar machine broke the agreement I made with it before starting the transaction. I figured that since Consumerist is there to air all those indignities, abuses, and nose-thumbings we receive as customers, I thought this particular nose-thumbing might amuse.

  8. Xkeeper says:

    No, the machine accepted $33.04. The $2 rejected isn’t included in the total (as it was invalid and therefore not counted)

  9. Ben says:

    I agree with her point. Why do they make you confirm that you really, REALLY want an Amazon gift certificate, and then due to a technical problem (certainly nothing Karen did), when they can’t deliver, they give her no option?

    I mean, after all that, maybe she would have scooped her coins back into her sock and taken them to her bank.

    It seems her complaint is the process more than the end result. But I may be wrong.

    For the record, I give all my change to my kids, who effectively deduct 100% service charges. It all kinda works out in the end – I don’t have to worry about spare change, and they are set for bubble gum and pokemon cards.

  10. gameraboy says:

    Commerce Bank in the northeast has the Penny Arcade. They’ll let you pour in coins and give you the full cash back at a teller. No fee, and you don’t have to be a customer of the bank to use it. Great option if you have a Commerce near you.

  11. DeeJayQueue says:

    Commerce has a change counter and even if you aren’t a commerce customer you can still use it and get your change changed with no fees.

    This is the reason I hate using Coinstar or any machine that uses a dial-up connection (like ATMs that aren’t built into banks, especially like the ones in convenience stores or bars). If there’s something wrong with the connection it won’t give you any money but it will sure poll the transaction and upload it to the bank as soon as it can get back online again.

    I’d like to think that if you called coinstar to complain that it might do some good, because that is a pretty crappy policy. At least they should give you the choice of maybe selecting another gift card, or trying again in case of an error.

  12. viriiman says:

    She is absolutely right to be annoyed that she was charged a service fee. She was never givevn the option to get her money back after the machine malfunctioned or to do anything else but be forced into getting cash. It would be understandable if the machine asked her if she wanted to get a different gift card, but it sounds like the only option that was given was to get the cash from a cashier.

  13. bambino says:

    It’s not just 2.94, it’s 2.94 over how ever many transactions coinstar screws up. Think about it.

  14. Triteon says:

    You, literally, can take that to the bank. Consider the 9% fee a laziness tax.

  15. Triteon says:

    You can literally take that to the bank. Consider the 9% fee a Laziness Tax.

  16. AcilletaM says:

    It’s not just 2.94, it’s 2.94 over how ever many transactions coinstar screws up. Think about it.

    Which would be a pretty good reason to never use Coinstar, even if they promise you nice things. Which, btw, if a store did this, it would be called bait and switch.

  17. Pelagius says:

    Take it to the bank, take it to the bank: You mean the bank that is only open during working hours and, in my case, doesn’t have a handy coin machine? Hell yeah, I’ll pay for convenience – unless I can get that Amazon or iTunes thing to work at the local Giant… thanks for the tip!

  18. JB Segal says:

    9% is worth raising a fuss. If your credit card started charging a random 9% fee, you’d be flaming the living hell out of them, and rightfully so. The coinstar machines are a value-for-money analysis that each person needs to make, but they can’t make it if the machine lies to them. Yes, it’s only $2, but what is Consumerist all about if not the priciple (and the principal)?

  19. Petty would be if Karen wasn’t charged a fee but was complaining about having to get her money from the cashier. She’s actually out money because of this, which is a legitimate complaint.

  20. You, literally, can take that to the bank. Consider the 9% fee a laziness tax.

    1) There are banks and credit unions that charge coin counting fees.
    2) How far away does the bank have to be before it stops being ‘lazy’ to use the Coinstar?
    3) She wasn’t supposed to be charged the 9% in the first place.

  21. Demingite says:

    I say “of course” to:

    — It’s a bait and switch
    — It’s not OK
    — This could be happening to many customers
    — All are good reasons to not use Coinstar
    — It’s very reasonable and good for Karen to call this to consumers’, and Coinstar’s, attention

    I don’t myself perceive a “fine line” here at all.

  22. thatabbygirl says:

    Why does this post not get the “bait and switch” tag? The one above it about a pregnant lady and an office chair does, but this seems pretty squarely to be the same type of problem.

  23. thwarted says:

    $2.94 would pay for one NYC subway trip. Or lunch. Maybe even both, if you played your cards right.

    So yeah, I’d be ticked off too.

  24. “$2.94 would pay for one NYC subway trip. Or lunch. Maybe even both, if you played your cards right.”

    Okay, hobo joe.

  25. The Bans says:

    Can someone tell this hole that she can always go to her friggin’ bank. they have machines that do this.. and WOW! It gets depositied.

  26. What I don’t like about this complaint is that there was no attempt at trying to rectify the situation. It wasn’t like Coinstar ripped you off, their machine malfunctioned. Big deal it happens. If you went to the store manager and they refused to refund the difference, then you should have contacted Coinstar and they would have happily given you a voucher in exchange.

  27. thwarted says:

    John Brownlee: What can I say, I’m poor. I know this is hard to believe, but copyeditors aren’t exactly rolling in it.

  28. Lowel says:

    Kinda reminds me of those aluminum Recycle machines. You know, you take your cans to and make a mess putting the cans in, just to get 70% of your money out those cans. lol.

  29. jsrinc says:

    I manage this program for Coinstar, and have since its inception. You might say I’m well informed on this subject and how this transaction goes down. The complaintant’s comments don’t completely explain the story- and I’m happy to share the process whereby a consumer can recoup their transaction processing fee when a C2C or e-cert transaction goes awry.

  30. consumerist37 says:

    I used a Coinstar machine within a local grocery store to redeem $175 worth of coins to a eCertificate. The gift code that was printed on the receipt did not work on After numerous phone calls to both Coinstar and customer service help lines, it was determined that the gift card code was printed correctly and valid, but expired due from long disuse in the machine.

    Unfortunately, neither company will claim responsibility for this problem.

    Although, in my opinion, my change is still in the Coinstar machine at the end of the day and they need to issue me a valid gift card code.

    Overall, customer service treated me like a human being, with courtesy and respect. The Coinstar customer service was rude, unkind, and unsympathetic to my problem.

    I will choose not to use Coinstar again, but may continue to use in the future.