The Mystery of the Missing Money


The Federal Reserve tells us that more than $1.4 trillion worth of U.S. currency is in circulation. But we only know where roughly 15 percent of that money is—in banks or in regular, everyday circulation in the United States. The other 85 percent of the United States currency supply is simply missing. No one knows for sure where it is or what it's doing. "We call this the currency enigma," said Edgar Feige, an economics professor emeritus, in an interview with American Public Media’s Marketplace. "It’s hard to figure out where this currency is and why so much of it is out there."

There are some good guesses, but no certainties. And those possibilities tell us something about how our economy—and the world's—really works.

The shadow economy

A chunk of the money is probably used in illegal transactions. This shadow economy is enabled by cash, which is generally the most anonymous method of payment. Economists like Feige put the size of the shadow economy—which includes drugs, prostitution and various other misdeeds—at hundreds of billions of dollars. At certain points, that has accounted for more than 20 percent of the country’s adjusted gross income.

But this doesn’t mean that all of the missing money goes into the shadow economy—after all, currency can be used again and again as it passes from person to person. That leads some economists to theorize that a relatively small percentage of the missing currency (less than 10 percent) is part of the black market.

The overseas equation

So where’s the rest of it? Much—if not most—of the money is probably overseas. U.S. bills are still seen around the world as some of the most stable and reliable currency available. So vast quantities of cash are hidden away for a rainy day (some $80 billion in Russia alone).

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think of it this way: If someone holds onto U.S. currency, they’re essentially giving the Federal Reserve free money. This concept is called seigniorage, and it’s a bit complicated to explain. Here’s the basic idea: The Fed creates money by buying government bonds from banks. As people demand more dollars—and hold onto them—the Fed buys more bonds to increase the supply. But those bonds earn interest, which means our central bank pockets billions of dollars in pure profit each year.

The Fed scrambles

All of this means that the Federal Reserve has a balancing act on its hands. It has to bring new money into circulation (since that earns it sweet, sweet moolah), but the bank also wants to to keep U.S. currency from being mainly used by gamblers and drug smugglers. In the 1960s, we stopped printing $500 and $1000 bills, as they were almost exclusively used illegally. These days, there's been criticism of the $100 bill for just the same reason. Believe it or not, there are more $100 bills in circulation than $20 bills!

The Fed also wants to make sure that the bills are as secure as possible—the demand makes the $100 an attractive target for counterfeiters. That’s why the $100 was redesigned in 2013.

Live Smarter
Here's How Much Money You Should Have Saved at Every Phase of Life

It's hard to make saving for retirement a priority when you just started building a career or a family. But if you don't plan on working well into old age, starting on your retirement fund early is essential. Not sure where to begin? CNBC recently spoke to a money expert from Intuit and shared the savings goals you should be striving toward in each phase of life.

When you're in your twenties and just getting established in your chosen field, you ideally should be setting aside a quarter of your paycheck. Of course, this isn't a possibility for every 20-something living off entry-level wages and struggling with student loan debt. If the 25 percent mark isn't feasible for you right now, determine a percentage that is. When you're just starting out, how much you're saving is less important than the fact that you're saving at all.

After sticking to this plan, hopefully you'll have saved up the equivalent of your annual salary by age 30. (So if you make $65,000 a year, you'll have $65,000 in the bank.) By 40, this nest egg should grow to three times your salary. You should have five times saved by age 50, and seven times set aside by age 60.

When you're finally ready to retire around age 67, if you've saved consistently, you'll have 10 times what your annual salary was to support you in your later years. That may seem like an overwhelming goal, but keep in mind that doesn't just include the money you transferred to a regular savings account. Your retirement fund is the sum of your IRA and 401(k), including any matching funds you received from your employer. And the earlier you started saving, the more compound interest you will have accrued by retirement age.

Even if you're living paycheck-to-paycheck, there's still room in your life to develop smart money habits. Here are some tips you can use to start building a retirement account today.

[h/t CNBC]

Disney/Marvel Studios
10 Highest Grossing Movie Franchises of All Time
Disney/Marvel Studios
Disney/Marvel Studios

Though it has yet to even open in U.S. theaters, box office analysts are already predicting that Black Panther is going to devour President's Day weekend, with an anticipated $170 million in ticket sales on the line. While it’s still got a ways to go to make the more than $1.51 billion that the original The Avengers film earned in 2012, this latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will only ensure the franchise's dominance of Hollywood's pockets well into 2018 and beyond. Here are the 10 highest grossing movie franchises of all time, based on worldwide box office.


Worldwide Gross: $13,508,505,227

Though it seems a bit unfair, the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—including The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies—is officially a single franchise in Hollywood's eyes. Which makes it a tough one to beat, with 18 (and counting) films in the past 10 years, led (financially-speaking) by The Avengers ($1,519,479,547), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1,408,218,722), and Captain America: Civil War ($1,153,304,495).


Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm

Worldwide Gross: $8,926,689,927

Though it's been more than 40 years since the original Star Wars film hit theaters and entranced moviegoers, since Disney purchased the franchise in 2012, they've been making up for lost time with new entries in the original space opera, plus a bunch of standalone series—including a recently announced new one courtesy of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. While it may take the Mouse House a couple of years to match Marvel's quantity of films, at the rate they're cranking them out, we probably won't have too long to wait.


Worldwide Gross: $8,532,684,345

The big-screen incarnation of J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard has proven to be just as profitable as the book version. Since 2001, nine movie adaptations have been released, beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While nearly all of them—including 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—have approached the $1 billion mark, 2011's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II brought in the biggest profit, with a worldwide take of $1,341,511,219. With two more Fantastic Beasts movies on the way in the next two years, this box office behemoth shows no signs of slowing down.


Daniel Craig stars at James Bond in 'Spectre' (2015)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions

Worldwide Gross: $7,077,929,291

While "Who will play the next James Bond?" is a question as old as this movie franchise itself, one thing that's never in question is 007's ability to attract an audience—and he only seems to be getting better with age. Bond's Daniel Craig era has seen some of its most critically acclaimed, and profitable, entries in the series, which kicked off in 1963 with Dr. No. But the franchise’s high position on this list is largely thanks to 2012’s Skyfall, which earned $1,110,526,981 around the world.


Worldwide Gross: $5,895,804,182

First, it’s important to note that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth franchise includes not just The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but all three of The Hobbit movies as well. While the former series might be the more critically acclaimed of the two, when all is said and done, both series contributed to the franchise’s position here: Among the six films, 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1,141,403,341) and 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($1,017,003,568) are the two biggest moneymakers.


Worldwide Gross: $5,139,434,105

It’s possible that even the producers of the Fast and the Furious series themselves are a little surprised by just how popular the franchise has become, with eight adrenaline-fueled films that seem to grow more popular with each entry. While the first film in the series, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, made a respectable $206,512,310, 2017's The Fate of the Furious made nearly six times that amount—a grand total of $1,237,466,026. So it should come as no surprise that two more are already in the works.

7. X-MEN

Stephen Merchant and Hugh Jackman in 'Logan' (2017)
Ben Rothstein - © 2017 Marvel. TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Worldwide Gross: $5,016,911,347

Though the X-Men are a Marvel creation, they're treated as their very own (mutant) entity in the box office world. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that the franchise's 10 films (and counting) have generated enough dough on their own to compete at the same level as their cinematic parent. While 2017's Logan made an impressive $615,577,068 at the box office—and managed to be that rare comic book movie that scored an Oscar nomination for its script—it's Ryan Reynolds's Deadpool that's leading this series in box office dollars, with a worldwide gross of $801,029,249 on the first movie. Given the excitement that's already surrounding this May's sequel, expect that number to climb even higher.


Worldwide Gross: $4,858,770,389

Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man kicked off a new era in comic book moviemaking with its audience-friendly mix of action, humor, and just a little camp. His final film for the series, Spider-Man 3, earned the most money of the bunch, with a box office total of $894,860,230. Two reboots later, audiences don't seem to be tiring of the ever-changing web-slinger; 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming took in a not-too-shabby $880,206,511 (and a sequel is already in production for 2019).


© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Worldwide Gross: $4,572,000,197

Though the final tally above represents more than a quarter-century of Batman movies—going back to Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s 1989 original and spanning the less memorable Val Kilmer and George Clooney years—the real earnings in this franchise have come from Christopher Nolan’s reboots. In fact, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises earned $1,084,439,099 on its own, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the franchise's entire haul. And in case you're wondering: yes, 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is officially part of the franchise.


Worldwide Gross: $4,505,013,091

First it was a Disney theme park ride, then it was a box office smash success and one of the few times that Johnny Depp agreed to make a truly “commercial” film. But over the course of nearly 15 years, from 2003 to 2017, the swashbuckling series has managed to plunder more than $4.5 billion in ticket sales—even if its most recent entry, 2017's Dead Man Tell No Tales, was one of its least impressive earners with (a still-impressive) $794,758,876.

All figures courtesy of The Numbers.


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