in the first half of 2022 has eased slightly in recent months, but American households are still struggling with . Traditionally, stocks have provided a great return on investments, but not so much this year -- the S&P 500 index is down more than 23% since January.
One low-risk investment option that helps your money maintain its value is Series I savings bonds, which have interest rates tied to inflation, meaning they pay more when inflation goes up. On May 1, the US Treasury announced the highest ever rate for I bonds -- 9.62%.
That record-high rate for I bonds lasts for six months, but your time is running out. The Treasury will announce the new variable rate for I bonds on Nov. 1, and the last day to buy I bonds at the 9.62% rate will be Friday, Oct. 28.
Unfortunately, TreasuryDirect -- the required website for purchasing savings bonds -- hasn't responded well to I bonds' newfound popularity. After the record-high interest rate was announced in May, the whole TreasuryDirect system crashed from the resulting traffic.
After a little frustration and persistence, I was able to navigate the TreasuryDirect system to buy my own I bond -- and you can too. Read on to learn exactly how to purchase Series I savings bonds, step by step.
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How do I buy I bonds?
I bonds are sold electronically through TreasuryDirect, and all Americans can buy up to $10,000 per year. Additional paper I bonds can only be purchased with your tax refund, up to $5,000 per year.
To purchase Series I savings bonds electronically, you first need to create an account at TreasuryDirect. Despite the site's name, you shouldn't expect the process to be simple, straightforward or efficient.
The site looks like it was designed back in 1998, when Series I savings bonds were introduced. It makes you jump through a bunch of hoops to register and buy I bonds, but stick with it and you'll get there. (Maybe.) I definitely recommend using aor instead of a phone browser.
- Visit TreasuryDirect.gov and click on the green Open an Account link
- Under "Individual/Personal" click the TreasuryDirect signup link
- Review the information you'll need to open an account: Social Security number; e-mail address; bank account and routing numbers
- Click the blue Apply Now button
- Select the "Individual" radio button and click Submit
- Enter your personal information, including email address and bank details and click Submit
- Review your info and click Submit
- Select a personalized image and caption (security measure) and 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 )
- Exhale -- you're in
Be warned: The site may be more than a little bit finicky. On my first click after registering, I was summarily kicked out with the message, "TreasuryDirect is unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience and ask that you try again later."
I wasn't able to log in for a couple of hours, but I finally completed the task I came for -- buying Series I savings bonds. Here's how:
- 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!
To no one's surprise, the result may feel anticlimactic -- 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 buy an I bond for a child?
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.
What about buying paper I bonds?
You can only purchase paper I bonds when filing your tax return. You'll do this by filling out IRS Form 8888, Allocation of Refund, which is included in all .
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.
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.
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, manyinclude 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.
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