Series I Savings Bond rates have been rising in recent months. This is good news for investors, as Series I Bonds currently offer highly competitive interest payments with near-zero risk. For Series I Bonds issued from May through October 2022, the yield (composite rate) was 9.60% for six months after the issue date. So, is now a good time to buy I bonds?
Investors looking for a safe investment with a generally higher interest rate may want to have a look at investing in Series I Savings Bonds, commonly known as I Bonds. I Bonds are similar to most bonds in that they are essentially a loan to an entity (in this case the U.S. government), with the promise to return your money with interest. I Bonds are different in that they may offer competitive returns over time, and some tax breaks as well. Here are nine important things to know before you invest in I Bonds.
9 Important Things to Know Before You Invest in I Bonds
1. I Bonds May Offer a Higher Rate, But Not a Fixed Rate
For those looking for stability and low-risk investment returns, I Bonds may be a good option, but they are not traditional fixed-income securities. I Bonds are a type of savings bond offered by the U.S. Treasury and backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. They are unique in that they offer two types of interest payments: a fixed rate and a variable rate, which together provide the bond’s composite rate.
The fixed-rate portion is determined when the bond is purchased, and remains the same for the life of the bond. The variable rate gets adjusted twice a year (i.e., May and November), based on inflation rates. Investors may hold I Bonds for up to 30 years.
As of November 2022 and through April 2023, the current fixed rate on I Bonds is 0.40%. However, the inflation rate is 6.48% — making for a composite rate of 6.89%. (The formula for the composite rate is a little more complicated than just adding the fixed and inflation rates.)
2. Your I Bond Principal Is Guaranteed
Because I Bonds are backed by the U.S. government they have a low risk of default and offer tax-advantaged interest income. Furthermore, the principal is guaranteed. This means (unlike traditional, non-government bonds) that the redemption value will never decrease. This is one of the advantages of savings bonds as a whole. As a result, I Bonds are considered low-risk investments.
3. I Bonds Offer Some Tax Breaks
Tax-efficient investors may want to consider certain I Bond features. Because I Bonds are exempt from municipal or state taxes, this can be a boon for some investors. That said, while federal taxes usually apply, they could be deferred until the bond is ultimately sold, or matures; whichever happens first.
Additionally, I Bond investors may use the interest payments for qualified higher education expenses, and receive a 100% deduction (this is called the education exclusion). Some restrictions apply, including:
• You must cash out your I Bonds the year that you want to claim the education exclusion.
• You must use the interest paid to cover qualified higher education expenses for you, your spouse, or your dependent children the same year.
• You cannot be married, filing separately.
4. I Bonds Are Similar to E Bonds & EE Bonds
Investors who are familiar with the Series E Bond may also find I Bonds appealing. While Series E Bonds are no longer available from the Treasury, they can still be purchased from other investors who currently hold them. Historically, Series E bonds were also known as defense or war bonds.
Series E bonds were replaced by Series EE bonds (aka “Patriot Bonds”) in 1980. Today, like Series I Bonds, investors can buy EE Savings Bonds from TreasuryDirect .
An interesting feature of Series EE Savings Bonds is that, over a 20-year period, these bonds are guaranteed to double in value. And should the interest not be enough to double the value, the U.S. Treasury will top it up, giving the bond an effective interest rate of 3.5%.
While I Bonds don’t offer the same guarantee, because they are basically variable rate bonds, your principal is guaranteed and is likely to see a competitive rate of return since these bonds are designed to keep pace with inflation.
Get up to $250 towards your holiday shopping.
Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $250 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!1
5. I Bonds Are Easy to Purchase
Investors can purchase I Bonds online through TreasuryDirect in denominations over $25. The maximum amount of I Bonds someone can purchase is $10,000 per calendar year.
In paper format, investors may use their tax refund to purchase up to $5,000 a year.
6. I Bonds Are a Long-Term Investment
In general, the primary risks in buying bonds revolve around redemption. What if you need your money before maturity?
I Bonds are generally a long-term investment. To start with, investors must understand that they have their money locked up for one year. After that, investors who redeem their I Bonds before they’ve held the bond for five years will forfeit the last three months of interest. (You can redeem an I Bond after five years with no penalty.)
As a result, those looking for a shorter-term investment may want to consider investing in treasury bills.
7. Other Investments Might Offer Better Returns
One advantage of investing in stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs is that investors can potentially make a lot more money if the stock or fund does well. Similarly, you could lose money if the investment performs poorly. Since I Bonds are principal protected, you can never lose the initial investment, but it’s possible your money won’t grow as much as it could if you invested in other options, like equities.
Honorable mention: TIPS, or Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, are also a type of government bond designed to protect investors from inflation. The principal amount of a TIPS bond will increase with inflation, while the interest payments remain fixed. I Bonds are similar to TIPS but offer additional protection against deflation.
8. It’s Hard to Predict an I Bond’s Return Over Time
To maximize your return on investment when purchasing I Bonds, it is essential to understand the differences between the two interest rate components of the bond, and how they can play out over time.
I Bonds offer a fixed interest rate, which remains the same for the life of the bond, and the inflation-protection component, which adjusts with changes in inflation rates twice per year.
As of November 2022, the fixed rate is 0.40%. It will remain that rate for I Bonds bought from November 2022 through April 2023. The current inflation rate, which adjusts twice a year, is 6.48%. The composite rate of return or earnings rate is 6.89% for six months after the issue date.
That means if you bought a $10,000 I Bond this month, you would get roughly $345 in interest for the first six months. After that, your rate would adjust. If inflation goes up, so would the rate of return. If inflation goes down, the bond’s inflation rate would likewise decrease.
While you might hazard a guess that your $10,000 could see a 6.89% return after one year, or $689 on your $10,000 investment, there are no guarantees.
And if you hold onto your I Bond for 10, 20, or 30 years, you would see some years with higher inflation rates and some years with lower inflation rates.
9. You Must Meet Certain Criteria to Buy an I Bond
To be eligible to buy I Bonds you must be:
• A United States citizen, no matter where you live,
• A United States resident, or
• A civilian employee of the United States, no matter where you live.
Also, investors can only purchase I Bonds with U.S. funds. You cannot buy them with foreign currency.
If you’re looking for a safe and reliable investment option, I Bonds are worth considering. They offer tax breaks and other benefits that can make them a near risk-free choice for your long-term savings goals. That said, because I Bonds come with a composite rate of return, it’s hard to predict how much your money will actually earn over time.
Fortunately, with I Bonds (as with most government bonds), your principal is guaranteed. If you buy a $1,000 I Bond, no matter what happens, you will get your $1,000 back.
If you’re interested in getting that steady rate of return, there are alternatives to government bonds, including the new Checking and Savings all-in-one bank account with SoFi. With SoFi, you can earn a competitive annual percentage yield, and you don’t pay account fees.
Photo credit: iStock/Bilgehan Tuzcu
SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.
SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.
SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.
SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.
Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.
Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet..
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.