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I Bonds: How to Buy the Best Low-Risk Investment Right Now

The new rate for Series I savings bonds still beats other comparable investments.

A picture of $50 Series I savings bonds featuring Helen Keller
You can buy an additional $5,000 in paper I bonds with money from your tax return.
lauradyoung/Getty Images

Though they've been protecting American investors' money against inflation since 1998, Series I savings bonds have never been as popular as they have been in 2022. Soaring prices near the start of the year created their highest ever interest rate -- 9.62% for I bonds purchased between May and October.

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The demand for I bonds this year has been so extreme that the Treasury's computer systems crashed when the record rate was announced in May, and the site experienced intermittent outages during the last few frenzied days the rate was available in late October. The new, current rate of 6.89% is below that of the past two six-month periods, but it's still better than the money you'll earn from most deposit accounts.

Read on to learn exactly how to purchase Series I savings bonds, step by step. For more helpful info on low-risk investments, check out our top high-yield savings accounts and the best rates on CDs.

How do I buy I bonds?

I bonds are sold online at TreasuryDirect. All US citizens, young or old, can take ownership of $10,000 in electronic I bonds each year. Additional paper I bonds can only be bought with money from your tax refund, up to $5,000 per year (see more below).

To purchase Series I savings bonds online, you first need to create an account at TreasuryDirect. The process is about as bureaucratic as the site's name might suggest. There are no mobile apps or even a mobile version of the website. 

I recommend using a laptop or desktop, or a device with a keyboard, because there's a lot of information to enter manually, and the Virtual Keyboard step is almost impossible on a phone screen.

TreasuryDirect was recently redesigned, and it does look much cleaner overall. The old landing page was jumbled with all sorts of links, while the new front page now is simple and direct. Most of the site, research and information sections on TreasuryDirect also sport the new, lighter look and feel.

However, the process for signing up for an account and buying I bonds is virtually unchanged and still looks the same as before the redesign.

Pro tip: Double-check your banking details. If you make a mistake with your banking information or have to change it for any reason, you'll need to mail in a paper form that is signed in the presence of an "authorized certifying official."

  • Visit TreasuryDirect.gov and click on the green Open an Account link.
  • Review the terms and conditions of the site and the information you'll need to open an account: Social Security number; email address; bank account and routing numbers.
  • A screenshot of banking information on the TreasuryDirect registration form

    You need a valid bank account and routing numbers to sign up for TreasuryDirect.

    TreasuryDirect/Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET
  • Click the blue Apply Now button.
  • Select the "Individual" radio button and click Submit.
  • Enter your personal information, including email address and banking account and routing details and click Submit.
  • Review your info and click Submit.
  • Select a personalized image and caption (security measure) and hit Submit.
  • Choose a password and answer three security questions (I suggest recording your answers somewhere) and Submit again.
  • TreasuryDirect will then email you an account number that is one letter followed by nine numbers. Record your account number.
  • Go to the home page again and click on the TreasuryDirect login link, then click the orange Login button.
  • Enter the account number that was emailed to you and hit Submit.
  • Since it's your first login, TreasuryDirect will email you again with a one-time passcode -- check your email (and hang in there!).
  • Enter your passcode and click "Register this computer" to avoid the one-time password at future logins.
  • Enter your password. You can't paste it. You can't even type it! You need to enter it using your mouse and a virtual keyboard (sorry, fellow users of password managers).
  • Exhale -- you're in.

When I first purchased I bonds in August, I experienced more than a few hiccups in the process, including site outages that seemed to be related to high traffic. Based on my most recent time with the site, those pains could be lessening. In my latest trip in and out of TreasuryDirect, BuyDirect and ManageDirect, as well as most of the registration process, the site does seem more responsive.

Once you've gotten through the tricky part of creating a TreasuryDirect account and logging in, buying and cashing in I bonds isn't too bad of a process:

    The BuyDIrect page for buying I bonds on TreasuryDirect

    You can buy I bonds in any exact amount over $25 and under $10,000.

    TreasuryDirect/Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET
  • After logging in, click BuyDirect at the top of the page.
  • Under Savings Bonds, click the radio button for "Series I" then click Submit.
  • On the BuyDirect page, enter the bond amount you'd like to purchase, any exact amount to the penny from $25 to $10,000.
  • As an optional step, you can set up recurring I bond purchases at various time intervals like weekly or monthly.
  • Confirm that your banking account info is correct and hit Submit.
  • Review the terms of your purchase once more and hit Submit for a final time.

You just bought an I bond! 

You'll need to wait one additional business day for the bond to show up in your TreasuryDirect account. But then it's yours to keep or sell (after a year) whenever you'd like.

How do I give an I bond to a child or relative?

If you want to buy I bonds for a child, click the blue Add New Registration button on the BuyDirect purchase page. Then, create a linked "Minor Account" before completing your purchase, following the same registration steps above.

Minor accounts are custodial accounts that can only be accessed by the primary account holder, that is, the parent or adult who opened the account. You can also use the Add New Registration button to buy gift I bonds for anyone with a Social Security number who is eligible.

How do I buy paper I bonds?

Paper I bonds can be purchased only when you file your tax return each year. To do it, use IRS Form 8888, Allocation of Refund, which is included in all leading tax software.

You can designate up to $5,000 a year total toward paper I bonds for two recipients -- that could be you and your spouse, but it can be any two people you like. Your paper bonds will be mailed about three weeks after the IRS processes your return.

A picture of Hellen Keller on the $50 I bond and Martin Luther King Jr. on the $100 I bond

Paper I bonds feature famous Americans such as Helen Keller and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

US Treasury

How do I cash out I bonds?

To cash out, or redeem, your electronic I bonds, you'll need to again log on to TreasuryDirect. Once you're on your My Account page:

  • Click the ManageDirect link at the top of the page.
  • Select the type of security (savings bonds) that you'd like to redeem and click Submit.
  • Select all the individual I bonds that you'd like to cash out (up to 50 at a time) and click Submit.
  • Choose the destination for your money on the Redemption Request or Multiple Redemption Request page and click Review.
  • Review your information and Submit to complete the redemption.
  • You've redeemed your bond(s) and your money is on its way.

You can cash out paper I bonds at most banks with physical branches, though your options there are dwindling.  

If you don't have access to in-person banking, you can mail your paper bonds to Treasury Retail Securities Services, P.O. Box 9150, Minneapolis, MN 55480-9150 along with FS Form 1522 from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service.

You'll still need to provide account and routing numbers to cash out a paper bond through the mail. If you don't have a bank account, many prepaid debit cards include account and routing numbers that you can use with paper or electronic I bonds.

Remember, you need to wait at least one year to cash out an I bond. If possible, it's a good idea to wait five years or more to redeem this investment. If you cash it in before five years are up, you'll miss out on the last three months of interest earned.

For more low-risk investments, check out our lists of best high-yield savings accounts and best CD rates.