Is it illegal to write on money?

So is it illegal to write on money? Can you deface it without the big bad government sending a helicopter SWAT team to your door?

The short answer is: You can write on the edges of money totally legally.  BUT, there is a little more to it than that.

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.