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Get a Bigger Bang for Your Buck with Community Currency


It's all part of the "buy local" movement.

The United States economy might not be doing so well, but local economies are fighting back.

To combat outsourcing of goods and services, and to keep revenue within the community, many areas have instituted their own alternative or complementary currencies, ditching dollars for alternative means of payment.

There are more than 2,500 different local currency systems around the world and more than 100 in the United States.

Local currencies began to appear in the 1960s and 1970s, but have recently been revived as part of the "buy local" movement. At a time when globalization is causing frustration among American business owners and workers who are losing money to outsourcing, community currencies are a way to bring economic control back to an area.

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Alternative currency systems come in a variety of forms. Time hours are based on the idea of trading labor; what you pay for is time and the scrip is merely symbolic.

Complementary currencies are usually used in addition to United States dollars (USD), and other community currencies are meant to completely replace USD in that area.

It's legal to issue a currency for limited local use in the United States, as long as the currencies correspond to a specific USD amount and don't resemble federal dollars, to avoid confusion.

The federal government considers supplemental currencies to be cash equivalent and they're taxable just like any other income.

What separates local currencies from federal cash is their restriction to a specific area, and the fact that they don't have any backing from a higher financial institution; their value comes solely from the faith and support of the people who use them.

Below are just some examples of the many local currencies circulating in communities throughout the United States.

Ithaca Hours -- Ithaca, New York

Ithaca Hours, which began circulating in 1991, were the first attempt at a local currency since 1972.

Technically, the scrip is valued in hours, based on the trading of labor, but essentially one hour is equivalent to 10 USD because $10/hour is the average wage for the area.

A directory, published every couple of months, lists the goods and services available for Hours. There's an Hours bank, and in addition to purchasing goods and services, residents of the community can use Hours to pay rent and seek medical care at the local hospital.

Berkeley Bread -- Berkeley, California

The Bread program started in Berkeley in 1997. It's a select organization in which members apply to provide a good or service to the local community; in return, they're listed in a local directory and are issued paper currency called Bread hours.

One Bread hour is equal to 12 USD. Currently, about 15,000 USD of Bread hours are in circulation.
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