US Treasuries Series I Bonds
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US Treasuries Series I Bonds

US Treasury Series I bonds are inflation indexed savings bonds and provide a good alternative for protecting the value of your capital in rising interest rate environments. The Bureau of the Public Debt is the only seller of these bonds so you are unlikely to learn about them through your bank or broker.eries I bonds are issued by the U.S. Treasury at face value and have a maximum duration of 30 years. These bonds can be sold any time after five years without penalty, and between one and five years after purchase with a loss of the most recent three months interest. Series I bonds are now issued in both paper and electronic format. Whereas the Treasury previous limited annual purchases by a single individual to as much as $60,000 per calendar year, new rules limited purchases to $5,000 in each format, for a total of only $10,000 per calendar year. The interest rate on Series I bonds is reset biannually - in each May and November - and is composed of two parts.

Current interest rate on i Bond purchased from November 1, 2010 to April 31, 2011: 0.74%

Rate Breakdown
Fixed .00%
Variable: 0.74%

Series I bonds are issued by the U.S. Treasury at face value and have a maximum duration of 30 years. These bonds can be sold any time after five years without penalty, and between one and five years after purchase with a loss of the most recent three months interest.

Series I bonds are now issued in both paper and electronic format. Whereas the Treasury previous limited annual purchases by a single individual to as much as $60,000 per calendar year, new rules limited purchases to $5,000 in each format, for a total of only $10,000 per calendar year.

The interest rate on Series I bonds is reset biannually - in each May and November - and is composed of two parts - a fixed component and a variable component.

I Bond Fixed Rate Component

The first component is a fixed rate. On November 1, 2012, the Treasury maintained the fixed rate at 0.00% for bonds purchased through April 30, 2013 (dramatically below its 2006-2008 range between 1.2% and 1.4%). The fixed rate applies to all bonds purchased in the defined six-month period and does not change during the life of the bond. Hence, bonds purchased from November 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013 will always have a 0.20% fixed component, plus the variable component.

I Bond Variable Rate Component

The second component is a variable rate calculated on the basis of the change in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (CPI-U) during a six month period ending one month before the rate setting date. As a result, the variable rate for all outstanding Series I bonds (previously purchased and new purchases) is 0.74% or two times the actual six-month CPI-U change.

Information on the history of the fixed and variable components of Series I Bonds is available here.

Composite Rate

The composite rate combined the Fixed and the Variable rate. The forumula to do so is:

Fixed Rate: 0.00%
Semiannual inflation rate = 0.88%

Composite rate = [Fixed rate + (2 x Semiannual inflation rate)]
Composite rate = [0.0000 + (2 x 0.88)]
Composite rate = 1.76%

 

Rate of 1.76% and Outlook

The effective interest on newly issued Series I bonds has been set at 1.76% through April 30, 2013, down from .74% in 2010 but down from 3.36% in 2009.

Inflation data continues to fluctuate, bouncing the rates on I bonds. In May of 2012, the CPI-U came in at 2.30%, resulting in an I Bond rate for that period of 4.60%. Our 2013 rate forecast calls for steady to falling rates for the next 10-14 months at least as low consumer demand, high unemployment, and government cutbacks continue to provide headwinds to the kind of growth needed to raise inflation and interest rates.

Tax Status of I Bonds

While Series I bonds are state and local tax free (and federal tax deferred), they are not as liquid as other state and local tax free instruments.

Series I Bonds can be used for education and college expenses. All interest earned on Series I Bonds is Federal tax exempt if the money is used for college tuition within 12 months of the Series I Bond being redeemed.

What to Look for with I Bonds

One significant advantage of Series I bonds, when held over long periods, is that they are state and local tax-free and federal tax is deferred until redemption.

Since interest on Series I bonds is calculated on the basis of the month in which they are purchased (and not the day), there is an advantage to purchasing these bonds at the end of the month and selling at the beginning of the month.

Series I bonds provide strong protection against inflation that shows up in the CPI-U (conversely, these are not good instruments to own in a deflationary or disinflationary environments, especially one accompanied by high short term interest rates).

Unlike Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), the interest payment on these bonds change and the principal is not adjusted. Therefore, these bonds will not depreciate in value in a deflationary environment; rather, your rate will be reset to the lower rate.

Avoiding I Bond Pitfalls

The biggest pitfall is the lack of liquidity in these bonds. These bonds cannot be sold within less than 1 year of purchase, and are therefore substantially less liquid than online savings accounts and money market funds. Moreover, there is a forfeiture of three months' interest if you sell between one and five years of purchase.

If you opt for paper, as opposed to electronic bonds, they should not be lost (they, however, are not bearer bonds). They are most easily redeemable by being physically presented to a savings and loan institution. Most online banks will not redeem these bonds for you.

Buying I Bonds

I Bonds can be purchased in either paper or electronic formats. The denominations that can be purchased are: $50, $75, $100, $200, $500, $1,000, and $5,000 and they are bought at face value. Individuals can purchase up to $5,000 of each type of bond per year (based on social security number). For an example, you could purchase $5,000 in paper format and $5,000 in electronic format for a total of $10,000 per year.

Electronic I Bonds can be purchased from TreasuryDirect.

Paper I Bonds can be purchased from a bank. Visit your bank for more information.

Who can buy I Bonds?

The following individuals are allowed to purchase I Bonds:

  • United States resident, or a United States citizen who lives abroad.
  • Civilian employee of the United States regardless of where you live.
  • Minor (under age 18). Unlike other securities, minors may own U.S. Savings Bonds

A Note on Series EE Bonds

Prior to May 2005, Series EE bonds were similar to Series I bonds in their rate resetting provision, except they were set to earn 90% of an average of the prevailing 5-year Treasury rate. Since May 2005, Series EE bonds purchased in May 2005 and thereafter will earn a fixed rate of return set at purchase. The rate for EE bonds purchased between May 1, 2008 and October 31, 2008, as well as for all previously purchased Series EE bonds, has been set at 2.8% for the life of the bond. Since Series EE bonds no longer provide the function of protecting against a rising interest rate environment and since the interest rate is not competitive with US Treasury bonds of comparable durations, BestCashCow strongly recommends avoiding new Series EE bonds.

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