If a government entity assesses a tax, does that entity have to accept cash and/or coins, or can they refuse such payments and demand check or card? Assume that it is perfectly normal to pay this tax in person at a government office. Consider, for instance, property taxes, car tag renewals, income taxes, maybe even licenses and permits.

Does it matter whether the government entity is local, state or federal? Are there limitations (reasonableness, exact change, etc.) or must they accept cash payments without limitation?

I'm aware private businesses do not have to accept cash, but people also don't have to shop there. If you own a house, drive a car, or work for a living, you can't just take your business elsewhere.*

  • Assuming moving away and renouncing citizenship are not on the table.
  • I thought those laws only apply to private entities not government and state-ran buildings.
    – D.B
    Jan 24, 2021 at 7:24

3 Answers 3


According to this Treasury Department web page refers the asker to the :

... Coinage Act of 1965, specifically Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, entitled "Legal tender," which states: "United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues."

I take this to mean that taxing authorities must accept cash in payment of taxes. it doesn't say anything about use of coins, say pennies, to pay large tax bills. I had heard that coins were legal tender only up to a limiting amount, but could not find any citation for this. Then I found this Snopes page which says that pennies and nickels were legal tender only up to 25 cents under the Coinage Acts of 1873 and 1879 but the Coinage Act of 1965 (31 U.S.C. 5103) removed this limit, and made all circulating US coins legal tender for any amount. I have not found any source that seems to me reliable that contradicts this.

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    It would be interesting to find a case where this has been taken to court. There are plenty of videos on Youtube where people try to pay parking tickets and other debts with coins (and almost everyone fails), but I have not seen or heard about anyone taking it further.
    – pipe
    Feb 4, 2019 at 12:34

It is perfectly normal to pay cash for property taxes, car tag renewals, licenses and permits in local city and county offices and many states; they will write a receipt.

State offices may differ for paying income taxes in cash; your mileage may vary.

And for the IRS, it is possible to pay cash: https://www.irs.gov/payments/pay-with-cash-at-a-retail-partner

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    Hypothetically, are they obligated to accept payment in pennies? Say, a $1,000 property tax bill paid with 2,000 rolls of coins?
    – Patrick87
    Jan 5, 2019 at 0:28
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    Hypothetically, they could refuse because of security or the physical limitations of storage for the coins. You might make the local newspaper for your efforts. I doubt the county would have sympathy for you on the late fees if you stood your ground; and worst case, sheriff won't have much sympathy when your property is up for tax auction. Jan 5, 2019 at 0:37
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    But is it legal for the government to refuse the payment? Could you sue and prevail in court? People, even government officials, break the law all the time. It's still breaking the law and sympathy doesn't enter into the calculus. I mean, the government could come up with some excuse to refuse any payment. Does that mean it's OK for the government to auction your house whenever they feel like it?
    – Patrick87
    Jan 5, 2019 at 0:40
  • @Patrick87, the last time I heard of someone trying to pay their tax bill in pennies, the government insisted that the person making the payment had to count the money. Yes, they have to accept it. No, they don't have to make it easy for you.
    – Mark
    Jan 5, 2019 at 2:56
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    @bdr On the contrary, I am interested in the legal principle, but this answer currently seems to focus on the practical and typical scenario. I am asking about what the law says, if anything, or what it might say if challenged, in this extreme case. You suggest they can accept cadh, but I ask whether they can refuse it.
    – Patrick87
    Jan 5, 2019 at 4:53

No, the government does not have to accept cash as payment. Neither in coun or in bills. https://www.expertlaw.com/library/consumer-protection/it-legal-refuse-cash-payment

There is a catch here though. You do have the right to a jury if you are sued for not paying. Don't allow for a bench trial, request a jury. Be sure to know the legal procedure for asking for a jury. Some states try to get around your right to a jury by making procedural rules which allow them to deny you if you don't ask correctly.

Once in trial you can simply explain that you did try to pay your debt, in cash, but the debtor refused to accept your payment. If you made a reasonable attempt to pay your debt the jury will likely agree with you. Public opinion is in your favor. However, if you were being a p___k and tried to pay someone with a million pennies, you will probably lose.

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