What are I bonds?
Series I savings bonds are a type of bond offered by the US Government, with the intention of hedging against inflation. They provide the purchaser a return that is commensurate with the rate of inflation during the life of the loan. The caveat – this rate adjusts every six months. Between the months of May 2022 and October 2022, these bonds will pay an annualized interest rate of 9.62%. Guaranteed. Depending on what inflation does by October, that rate may go up or down, but as long as you purchase the loan before Halloween, you can enjoy that rate for the first 6 months of ownership. This is because the rate only changes every 6 months and the interest accrued compounds semi-annually.
I bonds must be held for 1 year. Therefore, you need to be sure that money can be made illiquid for that amount of time. Think of it like a Certification of Deposit, or CD, you can buy from a bank; however, in today’s numbers, an I bond has a FAR higher rate of return. If you need to liquidate the I bond before 5 years, you must forfeit the final 3 months of interest from when you sell/cash it (e.g., if you hold it for 18 months, you earn interest for only 15 months). After 5 years, there is no penalty. The bond will earn interest at the prevailing semi-annual rate for 30 years if you don’t cash it out, and after that it wont earn anything. The rate will never go below zero, even if the inflation rate (Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers) does go negative, although is can be 0%.
There’s a minimum purchase amount, which is $25 for electronic purchasing and $50 for paper purchasing. Then there’s a $10,000 individual, annual (calendar year) limit for owning bonds each year for each individual, which covers receiving or giving them as gifts as well. Example, I can buy $20,000 in a year if I’m giving a relative $10,000 of them, but that relative then cannot buy any because they now own that $10,000 I gave them. There is not a limit per household, so spouses can double up.
I bond earnings are subject to federal income tax, but not state.
Calculate the Rate
The I bonds have a fixed rate and a variable inflation interest rate.
The fixed rate is stays the same through the life of the bond. The fixed rate is set each May1st and November 1st, and it applies to all bonds issued in the six months following the date the rate is set. The current rate is 0%.
The variable interest rate is based on the inflation rate. It is calculated twice a year and is based on the Consumer Price Index.
These two rates are then put into a formula to get the “composite rate.” Composite rate = [fixed rate + (2 x semiannual inflation rate) + (fixed rate x semiannual inflation rate)]. This means that currently, it’s [0.0000 + (2 x 0.0481) + (0.0000 x 0.0481)], which equals 9.62%.
Interest is compounded semi-annually.
How to Purchase
Series I bonds are bought through TreasuryDirect.gov after creating an account. This helps ensure legitimacy and provides simplicity for the purchase and ownership of the bonds.
You pay the face value of the bond. For example, you pay $50 for a $50 bond, and then the bond increases in value as it earns interest. For electronic purchases, you can buy any denomination, to the penny, between $25 and $10,000.
You can buy paper Series I bonds if you don’t want to set up an online account or make online purchases. When you file your tax return, include IRS Form 8888. Complete Part 2 to tell the IRS you want to use part (or all) of your refund to purchase paper I bonds. Purchase amounts must be in $50 multiples and you can choose to have any remaining funds delivered to you either by direct deposit or by check. There’s a limit of $5,000 worth of paper bonds. More information can be found on the Treasury Direct website.
I Bonds for Me
A guaranteed return of 9.62% for the first 6 months of ownership is quite enticing. High Yield Savings Accounts and bank-issued CDs are still hovering in the 1-2% interest range, and the most recent year over year inflation report announced for April 2022 was at 8.3%. Given COVID-19 numbers trending upward again, American and global supply chains still struggling, and the effects of trillions of dollars of extra money entering the American economy as bailout for the American public taking a long time to stabilize, I figured the consumer price index numbers that I bond rates are based off wouldn’t be dropping quickly anytime soon.
My logic. Again, a guaranteed return near 10% is phenomenal, even if possibly short term and variable. “Best” case scenario – the rate stays high and the interest keeps compounding for many semi-annual cycles. Granted, this also means that the inflation rate stays high and that isn’t something I’d prefer for my total financial outlook. But Series I bonds are hedges for the effects of inflation. So at least I’m “keeping up” in this section of my portfolio.
The most likely/medium case scenario – control over inflation happens in the next year or two and the rate drops several percentage points, such that it’s a real decision whether to keep a guaranteed return of 4-5% or to cash out the bonds and put that money into other investments. This would also mean that I’d lose 3 months’ worth of that 4-5% interest if this decision happens sooner than the 5 years.
“Worst” case scenario – for THESE bonds at least. Inflation stops and the interest rate on these bonds plummet. I cash out the bond in a year or two and I lose 3 months of interest. But let’s face it, the reason I’m quick to cash out is because the interest rate is low anyway. So I’m not losing much! And then, that also means that the rest of the American economy and my portfolio have been stabilized and things look a little more predictable.
When forecasting any of these three scenarios, I saw a fairly win-win-win situation, so I pulled the trigger on a major purchase of these bonds with some of the discretionary cash Mrs. ODA and I were sitting on as we navigate the craziness in our life right now.