So in light of the Federal deficit, devaluation of the dollar, lack of jobs, etc., what’s your view of U.S. Savings Bonds these days? I have some, and can’t find anyone talking about whether they’re still a good investment. Yes, they earn relatively good interest, but are they a safe investment NOW (or should I cash them in for tangible assets?) Thanks! — Lauren
Make no mistake, Lauren: US savings bonds have their pros and cons — although I think the negatives far outweigh the positives. On the plus side, the Internet makes buying and redeeming them a snap. Another bonus is that the interest they generate is exempt from state and local taxes. And according to the US Treasury website, you may be able to completely or partially exclude savings bond interest from Federal income tax when you pay qualified higher education expenses in the same calendar year you redeem eligible bonds, assuming they were issued after December 31, 1989.
Unfortunately, savings bonds have their drawbacks too. When you buy a savings bond you’re making a loan to Uncle Sam. The conventional wisdom used to be that such a loan was among the safest investments you could make. After all, the theory went, US savings bonds are backed by “the full faith and credit of the United States government.” However, the US is now plagued with a falling credit rating and skyrocketing debt. Furthermore, the Fed has been forced into implementing quantitative easing, and a zero interest rate policy in a desperate attempt to prolong the life of our debt-based monetary system — but the math proves that they are fighting a losing battle. As a result, many folks — myself included — believe the dollar’s days are numbered. Despite that massive risk, Series EE savings bonds currently pay a pathetic 0.1%. As for the Series I savings bonds, they’re yielding a very modest 1.48%. Now compare that to similar investments that are perceived to be low-risk, such as certificates of deposit or T-bonds — they’re now paying in the neighborhood of 1.1% and 3.1%, respectively.
Yes, in theory, Series I savings bonds protect individual investors from lost purchasing power because the return varies with inflation as measured by the government’s CPI inflation rate. Unfortunately, it’s my opinion that the government grossly under-reports actual inflation — which means that the very best an investor can hope for when buying Series I savings bonds is to keep pace with rising prices. In reality, I believe they’ll do much worse.
For those reasons, I prefer physical gold and silver bullion as a long term store of value. Precious metals are just as liquid as savings bonds, they hold their value better, and there is absolutely no worries about counterparty risk. As an added bonus, gold and silver coins are more impressive gifts than paper savings bond certificates!
Hi Len, I’m from UK and love your blog. How are you planning to generate passive income for your retirement? Will you rely on dividend stocks, pension, or bonds? Do you have rental properties? Kind regards. — Jon
Thank you, Jon. Although I’ll supposedly be able to draw from Social Security, my pension, and the earnings generated from my 401(k) savings plan, I don’t expect any of those will be providing much financial support to me in my golden years — if at all — which is why I’m a big believer in wealth insurance. Right now, I plan on leveraging my blog as my primary source of passive income (or at least “almost” passive) during retirement. I may also dabble in real estate investment trusts (better-known as REITs). I have no rental properties, but only because I don’t feel like dealing with the hassles that come with being a landlord; that mindset could change in the future, however.
If you have a question you’d like me to take a crack at answering, send it to: Len@LenPenzo.com — and please be sure to put “Mailbag” in the subject line.
Photo Credit: gajman
I’ve been holidng onto a savings bond, given to me by my grandmother, for over 10 years because I cannot find a darn place to redeem it. Most banks will not do this anymore and the ones that do, well they want an account opened with their institution, which is not worth the hassle.
Paul N says
What is the point of putting money away for 10 years with a 1 or 2% return? (in my opinion for that low rate it doesn’t matter – it’s a bad idea at any term length) If you don’t know by now that inflation will destroy your “protected’ money please wake up now and give your head a shake.
Silver is at a real low right now that we have never seen for some time. Get a safe deposit box – buy some silver – dollar cost average. I will guarantee that somewhere over the next ten years it will be $50.00 / oz again at some point (who cares when that particular day or month is during those 10 years?). I can also guarantee you that in 10 years that most anything you buy in today’s dollars will cost double what you pay today. What if it only doubles back to $30.00/oz? so you get a 100% return instead of 1 or 2% (hopefully that’s even compounded yearly for you – so you get a 20% return over 10 years – really is this question that difficult?
What was bread 4 years ago, what is it today. What about Bacon? What about Milk, unless its on sale? What will your money you put away buy you 10 years from now? It’s that simple folks…
Len Penzo says
Well said, Paul! As the saying goes: Those low rates don’t provide risk-free returns anymore — they only offer return-free risk!
Thanks for answering my query, Len; it’s sad to me that this former safe investment is now neither safe NOR a very good investment! Time to consider other places to put my savings.
Len Penzo says
And thank you for the question, Lauren.