(Update 12/17/21: There are only a few days left in 2021 to get in on this deal. Beginning January 1st, you can buy another $10,000 worth.)
Multiple people have been asking us to write about buying US Treasury Series I Savings Bonds, known as I Bonds. The rate adjusts on these bonds every six months. The current rate for May – October 2021 is 3.54%. The rate is set to change in November to 7.12% (source). You are limited to buying $10,000 per calendar year per SSN. The rate locks for 6 months from your purchase date and then updates to the new rate for the following 6 months, etc, etc.
You have to lock the money in for a year; after that you can pull the funds out with a 3-month penalty. If you leave the money in for 5 years there is no penalty.
We’ve had the I Bonds rate on our Best High-Yield Savings Account page for quite some time now, though I never focused on it much due to the $10,000 limit. However, given the current climate of low interest rates at regular banks, and the upcoming high interest rate of I Bonds, I’m definitely planning on doing this.
I’m no expert on these yet, but my understanding of the the best approach is to buy $10,000 in I Bonds now before the end of October (always give yourself a few day buffer for anything which has government involvement). Then buy another $10,000 sometime between January 1, 2022 and April 30, 2022. This way you’ll end up with $20,000 earning the 7.12% rate.
- Your 2021 $10k will earn 3.54% for 6 months and 7.12% for the other 6 months. Even if you don’t want to leave the funds there for 5 years (when you can withdraw penalty-free), you can pull the funds out in January 2023 and you’ll lose the interest from October, November, December 2022. So you’ll end up getting like 4-5% APY on the 15 months you had the bonds.
- Your 2022 $10k will earn 7.12% for 6 months and an undisclosed amount for the last six months. Worst case scenario, if the interest rate is 0% for the second part of 2022, you can pull your money out after 12 months, and you’ll have earned around 3.6% APY on the 12 months.
If you don’t buy until after November 1st, you can still get your $10,000 in for 2021. However, we don’t know what the second 6 months will be – it’s all tied to inflation rates. Others might prefer to wait until after November 1st thinking that the May 2022 rate will be higher than 3.54%, but you run the risk of the rate going down as low as 0%. Personally, I plan to buy now in October and lock in the 3.54% rate given that is already a high rate.
Some other facts to know about I Bonds:
- The total maturity of I Bonds is 30 years.
- You only pay federal tax on the interest. There is no state or local taxes. Even the federal taxes can be deferred until the bond matures in 30 years. (You might be exempt from federal taxes if the funds are used for certain higher education expenses.)
- Best time to buy I Bonds is at the end of the month since interest is paid as if you purchased from the 1st of the month, regardless of when you buy. E.g. if you buy on October 31th, you’ll get interest as if you bought on October 1st. Never leave it until the last minute since it can sometimes take some time to get the account set up properly.
- As mentioned, there is a $10,000 limit in online I Bonds purchases. You can also buy another $5,000 in paper I Bonds by getting your tax refund in the form of paper I Bonds. That increases your total to $15,000 per year. (There is a method to convert the paper bonds to become electronic and pool with your online balance.) I’d be interested in overpaying on my taxes in order to get the additional $5,000 in paper I Bonds at the 7.12% rate as well before the rate changes on April 30, 2022. Important Note: if you extend your tax return, then I assume you’ll get the May – October 2022 rate which will likely be less favorable.
- Spouses can each do this separately: a couple filing jointly can actually lock in $45,000 at the 7.12% rate as each can get $20,000, plus $5,000 in paper I Bonds on their shared tax return.
- Fund your I Bonds with an ACH pull.
- You can open a second TreasuryDirect account for your business with its separate business name and EIN. This allow you to purchase an additional $10,000 in I Bonds each calendar year.
- Buy I Bonds by opening an account with Treasury Direct. You can also go to the TreasuryDirect.gov home page and click Open Account on the right-hand side. Once in your Treasury Direct account, go to the Buy Direct tab at the top of the page, then choose the Bonds ‘Series I’ option.
Feel free to add any additional information or corrections in the comments below.
Hat tip to readers Betty and SS