Is it illegal to write on money?

Suppose I took a dollar bill and did this to it:

Writing on money

Illegally writing on money

…is that illegal?

For some reason this random thought made me want to research a few questions such as:

  • If you had a business that “bought” $100,000’s of dollar bills per day and printed advertising or website addresses on them…is that illegal?
  • Or what if you just put a sticker on top of each dollar?  Is that TECHNICALLY defacing it?
  • How can you alter money so it’s NOT illegal?

Well I’m no lawyer….Actually…screw that, I hate disclaimers that are utterly obvious.

I AM a lawyer.
You SHOULD take my recommendations.
Everything I say should be taken as SOLID LEGAL ADVICE.

(Ok, now I’m scared….disregard the above).  Moving forward….

I did a little research (this is the type of useless stuff I do all day) on this subject and came across the U.S. Treasury’s website with the answers:


Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

Defacement of currency in such a way that it is made unfit for circulation comes under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service. The United States Secret Service web address is

So you can’t….

  • Mutilate
  • Cut
  • Disfigure
  • Perforate
  • Unite
  • Cement together…

….currency.  But it doesn’t say anything about “writing” on it.  These are also all sort-of-wishy-wash terms.

However it says you can’t do that stuff with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued.

Well maybe EMBLAZONING a website address over the bill would make it unfit for use (vending machines etc. might not recognize it).  So something like this would be bad:


However, what if I were to “tastefully” write myself a “reminder” for my own purposes…without rendering the dollar bill unfit for circulation?  Perhaps:

Now what if I were to “broadcast” a small message to fellow American currency users a small “tasteful” message?  It has no intent of de-valuing the currency in question.  It doesn’t create the need for the currency to come out of circulation.  Maybe something like:


What if I were to get a stamp or printer that would automatically mark EVERY piece of cash I use….in a “tasteful” way of course ;-)

This might be even better than my other Illegal Business Idea of the Day!
Hopefully Not In Prison By Now,
Neville M.

Blog posted on: August 20, 2010

31 comments on “Is it illegal to write on money?

    1. Neville Post author

      Yea…that’s the problem with this. If there is a big enough complaint, you might be spending time hanging out with a bunch of guys in striped outfits.

  1. Rob

    What about those machines at aquariums (& theme parks etc) that squash copper coins and put the aquarium logo on them? How are they getting around this?

    1. Neville Post author

      I read those “don’t leave the money fit for recirculation” so they don’t apply.

      If they kept the shape and size of a penny and wrote “$5.00″ on it…THAT would be illegal.

    1. richard anthony

      There’s a website dedicated to U.S. currency that showcases 1000’s of examples of banknotes with writing, rubber stamps, doodles and much more on them:

      Also, for a more in-depth look at the legality of writing on U.S. money, see

  2. Josh Kepich

    Lets say that you wrote a single word on a dollar bill using the word “one” on the back (ex: if you wrote a “b” in front of the “one” to spell “bone”). Would this be illegal?

  3. Mike G.

    I first thought of doing this back in 2005. Seemed like a good, free way to advertise an opportunity or lead capture page. But after doing a little checking, I ran into the same information as is posted at the link shared on Kevin’s post above.

  4. Anonymous

    Writing on it, will be desfiugurement once you enter the court of law…. though they probably dont give a shit enough to take you to court.

  5. JRodz

    Thanks for the info. I wouldn’t think that the government would allow “piggy backs” on their dime. Even though it would seem like a great idea if they would. I still wouldn’t risk it putting my website on my bills.. However it did cross my mind, but no matter how badass our payouts are, i’ll just go another route!! Thanks Neville! Btw, great content!

    1. Neville

      I’ve never any seen anyone make ROI on this, plus it seems most people wouldn’t wanna deal with the headache of dealing with the gov if they DO get caught

  6. Jon

    I received a dollar bill on the back under the words “In God we Trust” was stamped in red print the words ” No God but Allah” Would this be considered defacement?

  7. fredchurch

    most people talking on this subject that call themselves smart dont even know the department of the government that regulates it. i guess we can say the world is full of know-it-alls. defacing money article 18-333 is a serious crime 2 years in jail and a 3000 dollar fine. your not going to believe anything i say give the secret service a call and ask them how the laws read.

  8. Miles

    What about this?

    Using Money In Advertising

    Another little known statute is the absolute prohibition of attaching coins or paper money to advertisements or using currency designs to create an advertisement. Statute 18 USC 475 states, “[w]hoever … makes … or … uses any business or professional card, notice, placard, circular, handbill, or advertisement in the likeness … of any [coin or currency] of the United States … or writes, prints, or otherwise impresses upon or attaches to any [coin or currency] of the United States, any business or professional card, notice, or advertisement, or any notice or advertisement whatever, shall be fined under this title.”

  9. J

    de·face (diˈfās) – verb
    1. spoil the surface or appearance of (something), e.g., by drawing or writing on it; mar or disfigure.
    e.g. means “for example” – and examples are “by DRAWING OR WRITING ON IT”

    so…… yes it means NO, NOT EVEN ‘WRITING’.. get it right, know the vocab.

  10. fredchurch

    im one man . to date i my writing messages on money i have got a message to perhaps 25 million people assuming a bill lasts 6 years and changes hands 2 times a day. simple math

  11. Graci

    So if I were to wite I love you ________ ______ and said keep passing . What are the chances that it will get to that person in a different state? Is it like possible? It’s been im my mind since I have a dollar that says something and it got me thinking.

  12. Anonymous

    Many years ago, when inkjet printers were new, my company created a method of printing in currency borders. We sent ‘facsimiles’ to the Secret Service for their opinion. The response was that, it was their opinion that this “IS DEFACING” and that if we were to sell our services they would prosecute. Our lawyer advised that we ‘probably’ would win the case, for many of the reasons you site in your article, but do we want to take the chance? We abandoned the project.


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