Are U.S. Savings Bonds a Good Investment?

United States savings bonds of varying amounts

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U.S. Savings bonds are commonly given as birthday presents or other gifts for children. In fact, you have probably been gifted one by a well-meaning grandparent or great aunt at least once in your childhood.

Savings bonds were traditionally viewed as a good way to set aside money for college or other long-term goals. In fact, many people looked at them as a sound investment. The money is guaranteed, and if you purchase EE savings bonds, you can expect your investment to at least double in value at maturity. They're also exempt from state and local taxes, and from federal income taxes if used for education.

On the surface, this looks like a solid investment strategy. But it's not always so black-and-white. Learn whether U.S. savings bonds are good investments, or if your money would be better invested elsewhere.

Are Savings Bonds a Good Investment for College? 

Savings bonds are not the best investment, even for college. The rate of return is set by the U.S. government and market conditions, and it can take up to 20 years for the bonds to fully mature to double their original value. That is a fairly low rate of return. Some people do not realize that it will take so long for the bonds to earn out and then count on the money to be there much sooner. If you already have the bonds and will need them for college soon, it may be easiest to just cash them out as you need them.

Other tips:

  • The bonds are often not worth face value until 20 years after they are issued. By that time, it may be too late to use them for education-related expenses.
  • For the same purpose, 529 college savings plans may offer a better rate of return.

What Benefits Do Savings Bonds Have?

Another reason that people choose savings bonds is to protect the money they give to their grandchildren from the parents, who may be tempted to spend the money on more immediate needs. However, this doesn't always work. In some cases, parents are legally allowed to cash out their child's savings bonds, given that the child lives with them and is too young to sign a request for payment.

As a result, grandparents may be better off opening a 529 account for their grandchild if they are planning on helping to contribute to money for a child’s education.

Other tips:

  • Savings bonds are easy to cash at a local bank or online through your TreasuryDirect account.
  • You do not need to wait until the bond matures to cash it out.
  • Taxes are due the year that you cash the savings bonds.

What Are Alternatives to U.S. Savings Bonds?

There are alternatives to U.S. savings bonds that will offer a similar amount of security with a better rate of return. You may want to consider looking into CDs or annuities if you prefer more financially conservative investments. Also, consider choosing mutual funds with a solid rate of return. They will offer a better return on your investment over time.

If you are looking for a way to finance education, a 529 college savings plan or an education IRA are good options. Additionally, traditional savings accounts may offer more flexibility than a U.S. savings bond.

How Do I Cash a Savings Bond?

If you have paper U.S. savings bonds, you can cash them at many banks, where you'll receive the current amount that you have earned on them. Not every bank cashes savings bonds, so you may want to call your bank first and ask about its policy on cashing bonds.

At the bank, you'll be asked to fill out paperwork because you will be required to pay taxes on the bond when it's cashed out. The bank will also require at least one form of identification, although it may require two if you do not have an account there.

If you have electronic bonds, you can cash them online through your TreasuryDirect account and have the amount credited to your checking or savings account. You can also convert your paper EE, E, or I bonds to electronic bonds through SmartExchange.

If you receive savings bonds as an inheritance, you will need to fill out the proper paperwork and settle the estate in order to cash them out. This can be a complicated process, and it can take quite a bit of time. However, it may be beneficial to do so. Older bonds continue earning interest, some up to 30 years after the issue date, so you may be able to get more money than the face value. You can also check online to find out how much the savings bonds are worth.

What Should I Do with Savings Bonds That I Currently Have?

You can cash out savings bonds and put them into better investments to earn a higher rate of return. If you plan on cashing out a larger number of bonds, be prepared for the tax impact.

Depending on the amount of interest, you may need to plan to pay significant taxes on the bonds when you file your taxes. If the amount is large, contact your accountant to see how it will change your tax situation. However, if the interest is minimal, you should be able to cover the taxes without too much issue.