Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Find Out What Your Savings Bonds Are Worth
Tip # 275 - Find Out What Your Savings Bonds Are Worth. Did your grandparents give you savings bonds for birthdays? Christmas? Special Occasions? Remember those birthday envelopes that you opened and you hated? It wasn't a present. It wasn't even cash. It was bonds to become cash one day in the future. The value on the bond would say '$25' or '$50' or maybe even '$100.' And at first you thought, "Cool, I just got a $100 birthday gift." But then your mom or dad would remind you that it's not worth $100 today. It would be worth $100 at some point in the future. "Aww, shucks," what a bummer gift, you thought.
Well, if you are now in your twenties, thirties, or older, you may be changing your tune a bit about those "bummer gifts," if you haven't yet cashed in those bonds, that is. A typical bond that was given as gifts was often the "EE" bond or "Double E" bond as they are known. While the bond may have taken 5, 7, or 10 years to be worth the face value written on the bond, they continue to earn interest for a total of 30 years. And if you got them as gifts back in the 1980's that interest may have been 6%. In the early 90's it was also earning about 4% interest. In the early 2000's, a little over 3%. Find me a place today where I can get a relatively risk-free, tax-deferred interest of 6%, and I'd be a happy woman. Problem is you can't. Which is why if you are still holding on to these bonds, and they are still earning interest, then they are the gift that is still giving (unlike that plastic toy Cousin Myrna gave you that you thought was cool that has long since broken).
So, think back to your younger years, give your mom or dad or grandparents a call, look in the lockbox and find out if you are still holding on to these savings bonds. If you find out that you still have some, then go to Treasury Direct to find out what they are worth. Key in the Series (such as 'EE'), the Denomination, the Serial Number, and the Issue Date and it will calculate the current value of the bond. Even if you do not know the serial number, it will still calculate the current value. If the bond is no longer earning interest, then the result will show a blank under "Interest Rate." If it is still earning interest, then it will show the rate that the bond is earning and will give the final maturity date of the bond (after which it will no longer earn interest).
If you find out that your bond is no longer earning interest, then head over to your local bank with your bonds and talk to a staff person there about cashing them in. If the bond it still earning interest, take note of the maturity dates of each of your bonds, so you can cash them in when they mature. You can cash them in before maturity date, but chances are you won't be able to make as good of an interest rate in other risk-free investments today, so consider carefully if you really need to cash them in.
In Real Life (IRL) - For the last several years, I have been keeping a net worth statement. At first, the amount I had written down on the staement for my EE bonds was just an estimate. I estimated the worth of the bonds based on the amount of interest I remembered that they were earning. Then about a year ago, I was curious if my estimates were really that accurate. So I pulled my bonds out of our safe-deposit box and found the Treasury Direct website, and calculated their worth. My estimates actually had been a bit low because I had forgotten about some bonds that I had gotten as gifts. More importantly than the worth, I took note of the maturity dates on the bonds and made a list of when I needed to cash them in.
Flash back to September 1980 - I celebrated my bat-mitzvah and was given a few bonds as gifts. My parents saved them for me and gave them to me when I graduated college. Fast forward to September 2010 and the bonds are now 30 years old! Not only that, they have stopped earning interest - they were earning 6% annually all of these years. Yesterday, I pulled them out of the safe deposit box again, and I am going to head over to local branch of my bank this week to cash them in. The four bonds that I have from 1980 have denominations of $100, $100, $75, and $50. Today they are worth $1088! Woohoo! The nice thing about government bonds is that you don't have to pay taxes on the interest that they are earning until they are cashed in. (Boo! That means I have to pay taxes on my cashed-in bonds this year.) I still have a bunch of bonds left that I bought in the early 1990's that are currently earning 4% interest (tax-deferred), so I am going to leave them earning interest for now.
So for all of you who think you may have bonds buried deep inside the desk drawers in your house or have them stashed away in a vault at the bank, take note of what you have. Make a list of the issue dates and maturity dates so you can cash them in as soon as they stop earning interest for you. The Treasury Direct site is a neat one, and you can play around with other features on there after you have calculated the worth of your bonds. Now go thank Great-Aunt Sophie for those bonds!