The Labor Department released the March CPI-U numbers on Tuesday, and with these numbers, the next I Bond inflation component can be computed. Inflation as reported by the government continues to be on the low side. Thus, the next I Bond inflation component that will be announced in May won’t be anything to get excited about. Nevertheless, it will be high enough to make I Bonds a good deal as compared to 1-year CD rates. Based on September and March CPI-U numbers, the inflation component for the May I Bond should be 1.83% (annualized). This number is added on to the I Bond fixed rate to derive the I Bond composite rate. The current I Bond inflation component is 1.18%.
I Bond Rates of Return for April 2014 Purchase
If you buy I Bonds before May, your I Bond will have a fixed rate of 0.20% and an inflation component of 1.18%. Thus, the composite rate is the same as the inflation rate of 1.38%. This rate will remain in effect for six months until October 1, 2014. The I Bond inflation component that the Treasury announces in May will take effect for your I Bond (purchased this month) in October. That will remain in effect for six months. Since we know the May I Bond inflation component, we can compute the I Bond return for the next year for I Bonds purchased in April.
The semiannual inflation rate announced in May is the change between the CPI-U figures from the preceding September and March
All previous CPI-U numbers are available from this government webpage. The CPI-U for September 2013 was 234.149. The March 2014 CPI-U was 236.293. This is an increase of 0.916%. The annualized version of this is 1.83%.
If you buy before May, you'll receive the current I-Bond fixed rate of 0.20% for the life of the I Bond. The inflation component will be added to this rate and will change every 6 months. The current inflation component is 1.18%, and the composite rate is 1.38%. Here's an estimate of the return for the next year:
- 1.38% from April 2014 through September 2014
- 2.03% from October 2014 through March 2015
I Bonds increase in value on the first day of the month. So on May 1st, you'll earn the interest for the full month of May. So for maximum return, it's best to buy I Bonds near the end of the month and redeem them early in the month.
If you redeem an I Bond before 5 years, you lose the last 3 months of interest. So based on this and the above numbers, if you buy an I Bond on April 30, 2014 (best not to wait to the last day), the redemption value of the I Bond on April 1, 2015 would be about 1.20% higher. For 11 months, this comes out to an annualized yield of about 1.31%.
Below is an estimated annualized return for I Bond redemption from April 1, 2015 to July 1, 2015. It is assumed you will buy the I Bond on April 30, 2014 which gives you almost an extra month of interest. This effectively reduces the 3-month penalty to 2 months.
- 1.31% - redeem on 4/1/15, 6mo of 1.38%, 3mo of 2.03%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)
- 1.37% - redeem on 5/1/15, 6mo of 1.38%, 4mo of 2.03%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)
- 1.42% - redeem on 6/1/15, 6mo of 1.38%, 5mo of 2.03%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)
- 1.46% - redeem on 7/1/15, 6mo of 1.38%, 6mo of 2.03%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)
Note, it's best not to wait until the last day of the month to buy I Bonds at Treasury Direct. You probably want to give yourself at least two business days to ensure they are officially purchased before the end of the month. I did an experiment in 2011 to see how close to the end of the month one could wait (see the middle of this post).
I Bond Purchases AFTER April 2014
We won't know the I Bond fixed rate until May. I doubt we’ll see much change from its current value of 0.20%. It had been zero for years before it increased to 0.20% last November. So it’s possible it could go back down to zero which would be the worst case. Remember that this fixed rate lasts for the life of your I Bond.
If the fixed rate stays at 0.20%, the May I Bond composite rate will be 2.03%. That will be your I Bond rate for the first six months if you purchase in May. We’ll have to wait until mid October to know the inflation component for the next six months.
Remember the $10K Annual Purchase Limit
Don’t forget that the annual purchase limit is $10K (excluding the purchases using your tax refund). Also, remember that the Treasury ended offering paper savings bonds at banks. However, it did double the annual purchase limit at Treasury Direct (see post).
How It Compares to Today’s CDs
So if you earn 1.37% APY for 12 months on $10K, the total dollar amount of interest is about $137. In today’s environment, you can easily get a 12-month CD with a 1.05% APY (such as at CIT Bank). If you invest $10K in this type of CD, the total interest earned would be $105. So you won't make that much more with the I Bond. Nevertheless, I Bonds have some nice features that CDs don't have such as being exempt from state and local income tax.
I Bond Features
Below is a summary of the I Bond features. More information is available at this Treasury I Bond page:
- Can't be redeemed within 12 months of issue date
- Lose 3 months interest if redeemed within 5 years
- Interest is composed of fixed and inflation-based rate
- Fixed rate remains for life of bond
- Inflation-based rate changes every 6 months after issue date
- New rates announced every six months on November and May 1st
- Federal tax can be deferred on interest until bond is redeemed
- Interest is exempt from state and local tax
- Some or all interest is tax exempt when used for educational expenses
- $10,000 maximum of I Bond purchases per year (excluding purchases using your tax refund) - total was $60,000 before 2008 (Treasury's press release).
For more details about the purchase limit, please refer to the Treasury Direct's FAQ on the new purchase limit.