How is money destroyed

Is it a punishable offense to destroy money?

Anyone who is one of those people who lit a Cuban cigar on a burning banknote, ready for a movie, may have wondered whether destroying money is actually a criminal offense.

There are many conceivable ways in which cash could be destroyed. The variants range from YouTube videos, which show how a ring is forged out of a coin, to music videos in which money is not only thrown through the club, but optionally burned or torn to pieces.

If these examples seem too absurd for you, a more common example can be given: Everyone knows the minting machines near sights where you throw in one, two or five cent pieces and stamp a motif on the coin using rollers.

Destroying cash a punishable offense?

One hears again and again:

"The (deliberate) destruction of money is a criminal offense!"

But how does the lawyer say? A look at the law makes it easier to find the right law.

There is no separate criminal offense for destroying cash. So there is no provision in German law that declares the destruction of cash to be a criminal offense.

You can do whatever you want with your own cash. If you want, you can turn it into confetti or sew clothes from it.

Destroying foreign money: damage to property?

However, from a legal point of view, cash is treated as a “thing”. It therefore does not seem absurd to view the destruction of cash as damage to property.

Damage to property is regulated in Section 303 of the Criminal Code. There it says:

Anyone who illegally damages or destroys a property belonging to others will be included
Imprisonment of up to two years or a fine.

In Section 303, Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code, it then says:

Likewise, anyone who unauthorized changes the appearance of a foreign object, not only insignificantly and not only temporarily, will be punished.

This means that anyone who damages or destroys coins or bills can be guilty of criminal damage to property. The same applies to painting a banknote with waterproof pens.

However, it must also be about "foreign things". In principle, no property damage can be committed to one's own property. Ultimately, this also includes destroying, throwing away or damaging them.

Damaging someone else's money is, however, punishable.

Where does the myth come from?

Just because behavior in Germany is not punishable does not automatically mean that it behaves the same everywhere in the world.

In fact, the destruction of cash can constitute an administrative offense or even a criminal offense in some countries - e.g. in the USA: Destroying cash is a criminal offense there.

In other countries not only the destruction of the money itself is frowned upon and possibly also punishable. In particular, the degrading use of symbols and portraits on coins and bills can lead to criminal penalties.

In some states, the insult to a head of state, the so-called lese majesty, which has been publicly discussed in Germany in connection with the Böhmermann affair and has now been abolished, actually plays an important role in criminal law practice. Painting and defacing the image of a head of state on banknotes can be punishable.

Cash: owned by the ECB?

In addition, it is often said that cash is a loan - either from the European Central Bank or the Deutsche Bundesbank. Accordingly, cash is always someone else's property. Anyone who destroys the cash would consequently cause property damage to someone else's property.

This view is simply wrong!

This view is based on the assumption that the money will first be minted and printed in the Bundesdruckerei. In fact, the cash is still owned by the printer at this point.

After the money has been produced, it is put into circulation through a wide variety of banks.

Anyone who has “money in their bank account” does not initially have ownership of certain coins and banknotes, but a right vis-à-vis the bank to have this money paid out. That only changes at the moment of payment. Because at this moment the ownership of certain bills and coins is acquired. From this point in time, the bank customer acquires ownership of the money paid out.

What to do with damaged cash

Apart from willful destruction, it is not uncommon for banknotes to be accidentally damaged.

The German Bundesbank offers to exchange damaged money. In the case of banknotes, the prerequisite for the exchange is that more than half of the note is still available. Coins can be exchanged as long as they are not "falsified, perforated or changed in any other way than through normal circulation".

The exchange does not only affect euro coins and notes. Anyone who still has DM can also exchange them - damaged or undamaged.

However, deliberately damaged or destroyed cash cannot be exchanged. Admittedly, it will hardly be possible to provide evidence in practice.


Whether you throw cash out the window, keep it for decades in a shoebox under your bed or even paper a room with bills - it is ultimately up to you what you do with your own cash.

Cutting up, tearing up and destroying money is free from punishment.