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Did the $100 bill really need a redesign?

The new high-tech U.S. $100 bill is slated to debut on Oct. 8, 2013, when the Federal Reserve rolls  armored trucks from its regional banks around the country to banks, savings and loans and other financial institutions. New features are designed to thwart counterfeiters.
The new high-tech U.S. $100 bill is slated to debut on Oct. 8, 2013, when the Federal Reserve rolls armored trucks from its regional banks around the country to banks, savings and loans and other financial institutions. New features are designed to thwart counterfeiters.

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Government shutdown or not, we're getting a brand new, state-of-the-art $100 bill starting today. It takes a lot of work, research, and art to produce a bill that spends most of its time overseas. So why is now the right time to redesign the $100? And why is it one of the most widely-circulated bills?

RELATED: A new $100 bill rolls out on Tuesday. Take a look at its new features

Ben Mazzotta, a postdoctoral scholar at the Institute for Business in the Global Context at Tufts University and co-author of a recent study on the cost of cash, explains.

Interview Highlights

Why redesign the $100 bill? What's wrong with it?
"There's really two reasons for that. The first obviously is to deter counterfeiting.You don't want whoever is trying to counterfeit money to get too good at it. You change the target for them and the second is to make currency easier to use for the visually impaired." 

Is this redesign going to make the $100 more difficult to counterfeit?
"Absolutely. There are a number of features in here that are going to require a little bit more than a desktop printer and a stack of paper to counterfeit. There's no way to make a perfectly counterfeit-proof bill, but we can certainly raise the cost to buy and there's special presses, special paper and now there's new nano materials that will make it that much harder for anybody but the most determined criminals to have a good shot at faking it."

What do the new bills look like?
"They are not just green. There will be a little bit of a pinkish tint to it in places. There'll also be some large copper/gold-colored numbers in the corner, and there will be a couple of new obtrusive new things in the center of the bill that will look funny. If you look back 10 years, the pre-1996 bills had a portrait in the center. The portraits off center now and right in the middle of the bill, you can see this 3-D security ribbon and a bell in the ink well. Those are the two sort of headline, fancy new features on the current series."

How are the new bills designed to help the visually impaired?
"There are larger numbers in other countries, they actually vary the size of the notes. If you remember the movie 'Ray,' Jamie Foxx asked to be paid in $1 bills so he'd be sure exactly how much money he had gotten. You can imagine if the $20 was larger than the $10 and the $10 was larger than the $5. It would be a lot easier for the visually impaired to know how much money they were being handed. If you have some vision and the numbers are larger and the contrasts between the colors is higher, it's easier to tell what the denominations in currency front of you are."

How have the material the bills changed?
"The U.S. doesn't use the sort of most space-aged material in the world for its currency, but it still uses a secure paper that's made by a full supplier in the U.S. It's a very difficult stack of paper to get your hands on and it's actually one of the best safeguards, historically speaking against high quality counterfeit."

What is it made out of?
"It's made of a low-starch paper that's partly made out of cotton. It doesn't have certain material in it so for instance if you've ever seen in a grocery store or fast food restaurant, someone takes a pen and put a mark on a large denomination bill, it doesn't respond the same way. The chemical reaction doesn't happen the same way so the white pen stays white instead of blue."

How often do we redesign the $100 bill?
"The design currently seems to last about eight years, but the change in technology has gotten so much faster. If you remember, the idea that you have a laser color printer in your home in the early 1990s was extravagant. Now it's really something that a lot of middle-class families could have if they wanted to. Some of the things that used to keep the Secret Service up at night were the idea that people could get stacks of paper and Adobe Photoshop and a good inkjet printer and be able to try to knockoff bills from the comfort and privacy of their own garage. That's really no longer possible."

The new bill has a PR firm. Why would it need a PR firm?
"Well you can imagine that people might be reluctant to accept things that didn't look just like money to them. With $100 bills, it's important that the public know that the change is coming and they also need to know what to expect from the real bills. People have to understand how to train their cashiers to use the security features to help us validate that the currency is real. If anything that looks reasonably like the new $100 bill, it has an inkwell, but the bell doesn't move in the right way... all those security features don't do anyone any good unless the cashiers know what they're looking for. So really, the PR firm is help the private sector train employees to tell the difference between the real deal and fake new $100.

Check out the bill's new features: