Canada is phasing out its penny; will US follow suit?

The United States Mint says most Americans are "content" with existing coin denominations, including the one-cent piece.

As Canada started phasing out its penny Monday, many people are wondering when the U.S. might do the same with its one-cent piece. The answer, it seems, is not anytime soon.

Even though the U.S. penny today costs more to make than it's worth, the government has given no indication it's moving toward removing it from circulation.

The U.S. Mint, an independent agency that produces and distributes all U.S. coins, makes that clear on its website:

"The vast majority of users apparently are content with the existing coin denominations, including the one-cent coin. As a result, the Treasury Department has no plans now to cease production of the penny. In addition, such a change to the United States monetary system could not be done without prior Congressional authorization. If directed to do so by legislation enacted by the Congress and signed by the President, the Treasury Department would again study phasing out the penny. Since the demand exists and the Federal Reserve Banks require inventories to meet the demand, the United States Mint is committed to producing the penny."

That's not the case in Canada, which has decided to phase out the penny because it costs too much to make it — due mostly to rising metals prices over the years.

The Royal Canadian Mint on Monday officially ended its distribution of one-cent coins to financial institutions. While people may still use pennies, the government is urging store owners to start rounding prices to the nearest nickel for cash transactions, The Associated Press reported. Electronic purchases will still be billed to the nearest cent.

The coins would remain legal tender until they eventually disappeared from circulation.

Other countries, including New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland and Sweden, have also dropped the penny, the AP notes.

Bills sponsored by then-U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., in 2002 and 2006 to end minting of the U.S. penny never made it out of the House.

Last year, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner indicated his department would try to find savings by using less-expensive materials in the composition of the one-cent coin.

“Currently, the costs of making the penny and the nickel are more than twice the face value of each of those coins,” Geithner said in his remarks.

But he gave no indication of wanting to put an end to the penny.

That doesn't sit well with Terry Neese, an Oklahoma City businesswoman who in 2005 turned down an offer from President George W. Bush to serve as director of the U.S. Mint. She says it makes no sense to continue to make cents.

"As a business owner if you're producing a product that's costing you twice as much as what you're selling it for, why would you continue to produce it?" Neese told MSN News.

"With all the cards and all the plastic today, very few people are using what I call 'history in your pocket,'" she said. "Most people don’t pay in cash anymore."

Neese said it's time to "stop producing it, cancel it and move on."

Not everyone agrees.

The drop-the-penny idea has been opposed by the American zinc lobby as well as the pro-penny Americans for Common Cents, which says the one-cent coin "plays an important role" in everyday life and the overall U.S. economy.

"Consumers benefit with a low-denomination coin, with the penny helping keep high prices in check for millions of America's hard-working families. The penny also fuels charitable causes, allowing America's wonderful charities to raise millions of dollars," the group says on its website.

"By contrast, eliminating the penny would increase spending for many federal government programs, causing inflationary pressures, and it wouldn't save money. The U.S. Mint has said that without the penny, fixed costs associated with penny production would have to be absorbed by the remaining denominations of circulating coins."

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