Older Bills, Newer Problem: Take Old-Style Bills To A Coin Dealer, Not A Bank
If you've recently found a stash of old dollar bills and other denominations while cleaning out your home, your first instinct might be to take them to the bank. However, if the bills are so old that their format is a lot different than that of new bills, you risk the tellers not recognizing the bills -- and then you'd lose the bills. Instead, look at taking the bills to a coin dealer who also works with paper currency:
Coin Dealers Handle Paper, Too
Coin dealers are actually money dealers. They usually sell and buy old paper notes along with coins, rather than sticking to just coins. As a result, the dealers are well-versed in all of the variations you'll find between years and series of dollar bills. They are also very adept at finding counterfeits, so if a coin dealer tells you a bill is real, chances are it really is real.
Tellers and Clerks Handle Current Money
Tellers and store clerks spend their days looking at money that's currently in use, and they might not have the knowledge base to correctly identify older styles of bills. That can lead them to incorrectly consider the bills to be counterfeit. If that happens, the bills are taken away from you and sent to the Secret Service, which evaluates the bills. You'll get genuine bills back, but it could be a few months before you see anything returned. So, you'd be out however much money was sent to the Secret Service for an indefinite period of time.
It's actually not unusual for people to not recognize older bills. In 2009 security expert Bruce Schneier reprinted part of an article that noted that U.S. currency has been modified so many times that it's possible for someone to not realize that a bill is legitimate. Another possible culprit is electronic currency -- debit and credit cards -- that are making cash less common, and thus less seen and handled.
But of course, a coin dealer deals with older currency all the time. So rather than risking the temporary loss of the money, take it to a coin dealer to get it changed for more recently issued bills. Let the coin dealer know you don't want to risk the bank accidentally thinking the bills are fake because of their older format.
Older Bills Might Have Rare Features
A side benefit to doing this is seeing if the older bills have any rare markings or characteristics on them. In that case, the coin dealer might buy the bills and give you the amount associated with the rare features, rather than the face value of the bill.
If you have other questions about handling older bills, give your local coin dealers a call. These people know what to do with all forms of currency that come their way and can help you identify currency in cash form or help if you want to sell gold coins.