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Visualized: The Security Features of American Money

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infographic showing the security features of American money

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Visualized: The Security Features of American Money

In 1739, Benjamin Franklin sought to tackle the issue of counterfeit money in America, using a printing press and leaves to create unique raised patterns on the colonial notes.

Almost 300 years later, Benjamin Franklin is the face of the U.S. $100 bill, and it is protected by a myriad of security features including secret images, special ink, hidden watermarks, and magnetic signatures, among others.

In this visual, we’ve broken down the $100 bill to showcase the anatomy of American currency.

The Makeup of American Money

There are 6 key features that identify real bills and protect the falsification of American money.

① Serial Numbers & EURion Constellation

The most basic form of security on an $100 bill is the serial number. Every bill has a unique number to record data on its production and keep track of how many individual bills are in circulation.

The EURion constellation is star-like grouping of yellow rings near the serial number. It is only detectable by imaging software.

② Color Changing Ink

This ink changes color at different angles thanks to small metallic flakes within the ink itself. The $100 bill, like all other paper bills in the U.S., has its value denoted in color changing ink on the bottom right-hand corner; unlike other bills, it also features a liberty bell image using the ink.

③ Microprinting

Microprinting allows for verifiable images that cannot be scanned by photocopiers or seen by the naked eye. The $100 bill has phrases like “USA 100” written invisibly in multiple places.

④ Intaglio Printing

Rather than regular ink pressed onto the paper, intaglio printing uses magnetic ink and every different bill value has a unique magnetic signature.

⑤ Security Threads & 3D Ribbons

The security thread is a clear, embedded, vertical thread running through the bill. It can only be seen under UV light, contains microprinted text specifying the bill’s value, and on each different bill value it glows a unique color.

Additionally, 3D ribbons are placed in the center of $100 bills with a pattern that slightly changes as it moves.

⑥ Paper, Fibers, & Watermarks

Because American money is made of cotton and linen, blue and red cloth fibers are woven into the material as another identifying feature. Finally, watermarks are found on most bills and can only be detected by light passing through the bill.

The Relevance of Cash

Here’s a look at the total number of each paper bill that is physically in circulation in the U.S.:

Physical Bill Billions of notes (2021)
$114.0
$21.4
$53.4
$102.3
$2011.9
$502.5
$10017.7
$500-$10,0000.0004
Total53.2

Interestingly, a number of $500-$10,000 dollar bills are in someone’s pockets. And while they are not issued anymore, the Fed still recognizes the originals of these bills that were legally put into circulation in the past.

$10,000 U.S. note (1934 series)

Additionally, there is fake money passing hands in the U.S. economy. Being the most widely-accepted currency in the world, it’s no wonder many try to falsely replicate American money. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, there are approximately $70 million in counterfeit bills currently circulating in the country.

Finally, a natural question arises: how many people still use cash anyways?

Well, a study from Pew Research Center found that it while it is a dwindling share of the population, around 58% of people still use cash for some to all of their weekly purchases, down from 70% in 2018 and 75% in 2015.

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Mapped: The Income Needed to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

A single adult needs to make at least $116k annually to live comfortably in Massachusetts.

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This map illustrates the income necessary for an individual to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in each state.

The Income Needed to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Individuals in the top 11 most expensive states in the U.S. need an annual income exceeding $100,000 to live comfortably.

This map shows how much income single adults need to live comfortably in each U.S. state. SmartAsset calculated the income needed using the cost of necessities sourced from the MIT Living Wage Calculator, last updated on Feb. 14, 2024.

In this case, “comfortable” was defined as the annual income required to cover a 50/30/20 budget, allocating 50% of earnings to necessities such as housing and utility costs, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings or investments.

Massachusetts Ranks First

Massachusetts is the most expensive state to live comfortably in. A single adult needs to make at least $116,022 annually or $55.78 per hour.

RankStateSalary needed for a single working adult
1Massachusetts$116,022
2Hawaii$113,693
3California$113,651
4New York$111,738
5Washington$106,496
6Colorado$103,293
7New Jersey$103,002
8Maryland$102,918
9Oregon$101,088
10Rhode Island$100,838
11Connecticut$100,381
12Virginia$99,965
13New Hampshire$98,093
14Arizona$97,344
15Georgia$96,886
16Alaska$96,762
17Vermont$95,763
18Illinois$95,098
19Delaware$94,141
20Utah$93,683
21Nevada$93,434
22Florida$93,309
23Maine$91,686
24Pennsylvania$91,312
25North Carolina$89,690
26Minnesota$89,232
27Idaho$88,733
28South Carolina$88,317
29Wyoming$87,651
30Texas$87,027
31Tennessee$86,403
32Indiana$85,030
33Montana$84,739
34Kansas$84,656
35Michigan$84,365
36Wisconsin$84,115
37Missouri$84,032
38Alabama$83,824
39Nebraska$83,699
40New Mexico$83,616
41Iowa$83,366
42Mississippi$82,742
43Louisiana$82,451
44South Dakota$81,453
45Ohio$80,704
45Kentucky$80,704
47North Dakota$80,538
48Oklahoma$80,413
49Arkansas$79,456
50West Virginia$78,790

West Virginia is the least expensive for a single adult, who only needs to make an estimated $37.88 per hour, or $78,790 annually.

To live comfortably on your own in the top five states, a person would need to earn nearly double the typical income for single earners, as the U.S. median income for single, full-time workers is around $60,000, according to Labor Bureau data.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out this graphic, which ranks the income a family needs to live comfortably in every U.S. state.

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