Your version of Internet Explorer is out-of-date. For the best experience with our site, please update to Internet Explorer 10.

I understand.

You are now leaving the U.S. Currency Education Program website.

The Life Cycle of a Federal Reserve Note

The Life Cycle of a Federal Reserve Note
  1. 1 Design
    Liberty Bell in an inkwell shifting colors from copper to green
  2. 2 Order
  3. 3 Production
    Spider Press
  4. 4 Issuance
    Animated image of the Federal Reserve Board seal
  5. 5 Circulation
    World with arrows around the outside
a cog
a cog
a cog

This life cycle involves collaboration between these government partners

  • Federal Reserve Board Seal The Federal Reserve Board
  • U.S. Department of Treasury seal The U.S. Department of Treasury and its Bureau of Engraving and Printing
  • U.S Secret Service seal The U.S. Secret Service


Security thread security ribbon color-changing bell in the inkwell color shifting 100 numeral watermark
Image of $100 note with security features highlighted, including security thread, 3-D Security Ribbon, Bell in the Inkwell, and color-shifting 100

New note designs include a portrait of a famous American statesman and images that reflect aspects of the nation’s history, as well as the latest anti-counterfeiting features.


It is a 10 year apprenticeship to become a banknote engraver.

Hand engraving portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Engraving of Benjamin Franklin


Each year, the FRB places a print order with the BEP to produce new banknotes.
  1. stack of $1 bills
    $1 2.4B
  2. stack of $2 bills
    $2 179M
  3. stack of $5 bills
    $5 819M
  4. stack of $10 bills
    $10 480M
  5. stack of $20 bills
    $20 1.9B
  6. stack of $50 bills
    $50 224M
  7. stack of $100 bills
    $100 1.5B

The order is based on the FRB’s estimate of public demand of currency for the upcoming year and how much currency they estimate will be destroyed because it is unfit to circulate.


More than 70% of the notes in the print order are notes that will be used to replace notes considered to be unfit and removed from circulation.

faded bill with tear faded bill
Unfit: removed from circulation
bill in good shape
Fit: returned to circulation


Producing a sheet of notes takes several days and uses a variety of presses and printing techniques.

Once printed, the sheets pass through a quality control system that accepts or rejects each sheet within 0.3 seconds.

Image of $20 notes being printed on a printing press
Pie chart showing the composition of U.S. currency. 75%. Pie chart showing the composition of U.S. currency. 25%.
Currency paper composition
75% cotton
25% linen
Currency is printed on
32 and 50 subject sheets
$20 bill


When the FRB issues U.S. currency to Federal Reserve Banks, the pieces of paper printed at the BEP become lawful money.

Stamp over $5 bill
$5 bill seal $5 bill
Notes travel from 2 BEP facilities to the 28 federal reserve bank cash offices
Points on map of the U.S. highlighting cities where Federal Reserve Bank cash offices and B.E.P. printing facilities are located. Image of map of the U.S. showing where Federal Reserve Bank cash offices and B.E.P. printing facilities are located

The Federal Reserve Banks provide cash services to over 8,000 financial institutions in the United States



Federal Reserve Banks process notes to ensure that they are genuine and fit for recirculation. Suspected counterfeit notes are sent to the USSS.

$10 bill with magnifying glass over numeral 10 on right side of bill
mangifying glass
Image of $10 note, focusing on color-shifting numeral 10 in bottom right hand corner Image of $10 note, focusing on color-shifting numeral 10 in bottom right hand corner

The Federal Reserve Banks’ cash offices distribute banknotes to the public through commercial banks, credit unions, and savings and loan associations.

Image of armored car in front of Federal Reserve Bank cash office a Federal Reserve truck
Piggy Bank
Estimated lifespan per denomination**
  1. stack of $1 bills
    $1 5.8 years
  2. stack of $5 bills
    $5 5.5 years
  3. stack of $10 bills
    $10 4.5 years
  4. stack of $20 bills
    $20 7.9 years
  5. stack of $50 bills
    $50 8.5 years
  6. stack of $100 bills
    $100 15 years

There is more than $1.4 trillion worth of federal reserve notes in circulation