Tax Advantages of Series EE Savings Bonds

Benefits New Investors Often Don't Know

close up of EE Savings Bonds
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If you've already learned about Series EE savings bonds and you know how the savings bond interest rates are determined, you may want to learn about some of the significant tax advantages.

Series EE Savings Bonds Are Exempt From State and Local Income Taxes

One of the biggest benefits of Series EE savings bonds is the exemption they earn from state and local taxes. This is especially important if you are in a high-income tax bracket in a state that taxes wealth heavily such as New York. The bottom line is that it means more money in your pocket.

Series EE Savings Bonds Can Defer Income Taxes Until Redemption or 30 Years

If you elect cash-based reporting on your income tax filings with the IRS, you can defer payment of taxes on the interest income of your Series EE savings bonds until you redeem the bond or 30 years from the date it is issued. Each savings bond is a zero-coupon bond. That means that you don't actually get checks in the mail for the interest you are owed like you would with a corporate bond or municipal bond. Instead, the value of the interest owed to you is added to the bond principal, and you get it when the bond matures, or you sell it back to the government (this is called "redeeming" the bond).

Series EE savings bonds will pay interest for up to 30 years from the date they are issued. This means that a bond with a $5,000 face value could end up being worth $20,000 or $30,000. This is a point that most new investors don't understand, so it's important that you grasp the concept.

Series EE Savings Bonds Can Provide Big Tax Benefits for College or Education Savings

If you invest in Series EE savings bonds for college or other qualified education expenses, you can exclude part or all of the interest you earn over decades from your income taxes when the bonds are redeemed. The rules are extensive, but here's the summary:

  • You must redeem the Series EE savings bond in the same year you incur the expenses for post-secondary education, such as tuition and fees.
  • You must have been at least 24 years old on the first day of the month in which you purchased the bonds.
  • If you are using Series EE savings bonds for your own education and want the tax benefits, the bonds must be registered directly in your name.
  • If you are married, you must file a joint return to qualify for the tax exclusion of the Series EE savings bond interest income.
  • There are income requirements established by the government that you must meet depending on your situation. These are updated frequently, but for the fiscal year 2019, they were as follows: "Your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than: $96,100 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er); $151,600 if married filing jointly."
  • The post-secondary institution that you attend must qualify for the Series EE savings bond program by being a university, college, or vocational school that meets federal assistance stands by offering programs such as guaranteed student loans.

Qualified educational expenses and fees include items such as:

  • Tuition and fees including required course expenses
  • Books Room and board are not considered qualified education expenses

The amount of qualified expenses is reduced by the sum of any scholarships, employer-provided educational assistance, fellowships, or other tuition benefits and both the principal and the interest of the EE savings bonds must be used to pay the qualified expenses to exclude the interest from your taxable income. According to the United States Treasury, "If the amount of eligible bonds you've cashed during the year exceeds the amount of qualified educational expenses paid during the year, the amount of excludable interest is reduced pro-rata."

An Alternative Method for Using Series EE Savings Bonds for Education Expenses

There is a more advanced method of using Series EE savings bonds for education expenses. This approach is detailed by the United States Treasury on the TreasuryDirect site and it involves putting the Series EE savings bonds in the name of the child with the parents listed as the beneficiary (not co-owner). Although the child will pay Federal taxes on the interest income, this can be structured to be far lower than would be due if the parents held the bonds. This approach is somewhat complex and should be done in conjunction with a qualified, well-respected accountant that is familiar with investment tax rules.

The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.