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Savings I Bonds are a unique, low-risk investment backed by the US Treasury that pay out a variable interest rate linked to inflation. With a holding period from 12 months to 30 years, you could own them as an alternative to bank certificates of deposit (they are liquid after 12 months) or bonds in your portfolio.
New inflation numbers were just announced at
New inflation rate prediction. March 2021 CPI-U was 264.877. September 2021 CPI-U was 274.310, for a semi-annual increase of 3.56%. Using the
Tips on purchase and redemption. You can’t redeem until after 12 months of ownership, and any redemptions within 5 years incur an interest penalty of the last 3 months of interest. A simple “trick” with I-Bonds is that if you buy at the end of the month, you’ll still get all the interest for the entire month – same as if you bought it in the beginning of the month. It’s best to give yourself a few business days of buffer time. If you miss the cutoff, your effective purchase date will be bumped into the next month.
Buying in October 2021. If you buy before the end of October, the fixed rate portion of I-Bonds will be 0%. You will be guaranteed a total interest rate of 0.00 + 3.54 = 3.54% for the next 6 months. For the 6 months after that, the total rate will be 0.00 + 7.12 = 7.12%.
Let’s look at a worst-case scenario, where you hold for the minimum of one year and pay the 3-month interest penalty. If you theoretically buy on October 31st, 2021 and sell on October 1st, 2022, you’ll earn a ~3.87% annualized return for an 11-month holding period, for which the interest is also exempt from state income taxes. If you theoretically buy on October 31st, 2021 and sell on January 1, 2023, you’ll earn a ~4.57% annualized return for an 14-month holding period. Comparing with the
Buying in November 2021. If you buy in November 2021, you will get 7.12% plus a newly-set fixed rate for the first 6 months. The new fixed rate is officially unknown, but is loosely linked to the real yield of short-term TIPS, and is thus very, very, very likely to be 0%. Every six months after your purchase, your rate will adjust to your fixed rate (set at purchase) plus a variable rate based on inflation.
If you have an existing I-Bond, the rates reset every 6 months depending on your purchase month. Your bond rate = your specific fixed rate (set at purchase) + variable rate (total bond rate has a minimum floor of 0%). So if your fixed rate was 1%, you’ll be earning a 1.00 + 7.12 = 8.12% rate for six months.
Buy now or wait? Given that the current I bond rate is already much higher than the equivalent alternatives, I would personally buy in October to lock in the high rate for the longest possible time. Who knows what will happen on the next reset? Either way, it seems worthwhile to use up the purchase limit for 2021 either in October or November. You are also getting a much better “deal” than with TIPS, as the fixed rate is currently negative with short-term TIPS.
Unique features. I have a separate post on
Over the years, I have accumulated a nice pile of I-Bonds and consider it part of the inflation-linked bond allocation inside my
Annual purchase limits. The annual purchase limit is
Note: Opening a TreasuryDirect account can sometimes be a hassle as they may ask for a medallion signature guarantee which requires a visit to a physical bank or credit union and snail mail. Don’t expect to be able to open an account in 5 minutes on your phone.
Bottom line. Savings I bonds are a unique, low-risk investment that are linked to inflation and only available to individual investors. Right now, they promise to pay out a higher fixed rate above inflation than TIPS. You can only purchase them online at TreasuryDirect.gov, with the exception of paper bonds via tax refund. For more background, see the rest of my
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