Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.
Cleaning out old files is rarely someone’s idea of a fun time. However, it becomes a lot more exciting if you happen to stumble upon an old savings bond from childhood that you hardly remember. Forgetting about savings bonds is actually a good thing — it gives them time to mature and earn interest.
You don’t necessarily want to stash them away for another 10 years, though. Here’s how to cash in savings bonds from your childhood.
What kind of bond do you have?
Savings bonds are essentially loans people can make to the U.S. government. They’re either issued through the U.S. Department of the Treasury or an authorized agent, and they come in a few different types, or series. Your childhood savings bond likely would be one of the following:
- Series EE/E: First issued in 1941, Series E savings bonds were once “the world’s most widely held security,” according to the Treasury — which discontinued Series E bonds in 1980, and replaced them with Series EE savings bonds. The purchase date determines the interest rate of these childhood savings bonds. Series EE bonds issued from May 2005 onward have a fixed interest rate for as long as 30 years. Series EE savings bonds issued from May 1995 to April 2005 have a variable interest rate that changes every six months. If your childhood savings bond was purchased on April 1995 or earlier, it will earn interest at a guaranteed rate or a market-based rate.
- Series I: The Treasury has offered Series I savings bonds since September 1998. The interest on these childhood savings bonds is a combination of a fixed rate and a variable inflation rate, which is calculated twice a year. “The interest rate formula on I bonds has one additional component, but in simple terms, it’s close to the sum of the fixed rate and inflation rate,” said Ken. This kind of childhood savings bond accrues interest for a maximum of 30 years.
- Series HH/H: Series HH bonds, which replaced Series H savings bonds after 1979, were available from January 1980 to August 2004. This type of childhood savings bond came with a fixed interest rate of 1.5% for a maximum of 20 years. Bondholders receive interest every six months, which they may opt to have deposited directly to their bank accounts.
When can I redeem my bond?
Timing is everything when it comes to maximizing the value of savings bonds from childhood. Redeem them too early and you might forfeit some interest. But after they’re mature, childhood savings bonds stop earning interest altogether — so it’s worth cashing them in at that point. Here’s when you can redeem common childhood savings bonds:
- Series EE/E: Did you dig up an old Series E savings bond from childhood? It’s time to cash that in — these now-discontinued bonds are all fully mature. As for Series EE bonds, check the issue date. Although you may cash in these bonds any time after the first year, you’ll lose the last three months of interest if you redeem them before they are five years old. The date on which these childhood savings bonds reach original maturity (or, double their purchase price) depends on when they were issued — 20 years for bonds issued after June 1, 2003, 17 years for bonds issued from May 1, 1995 to May 1, 2003. Bonds from May 1995 and earlier have already reached original maturity. All EE bonds earn interest for a maximum of 30 years when final maturity is reached.
- Series I: The terms of Series I savings bonds are similar to those of Series EE. They cannot be cashed in their first year, and you’ll lose the previous three months of interest if you redeem them before year five. They earn interest for a maximum of 30 years.
- Series HH/H: All Series H bonds are fully mature and should be cashed in now, as they are eligible to be redeemed now without any interest penalty. Series HH bonds earn interest for a maximum of 20 years, so it’s worth cashing in bonds from 1999 and earlier.
How to cash in savings bonds
So, you’re ready to redeem your childhood savings bonds? How you do it will depend on which type of savings bond you have, and whether it’s electronic or paper. Here’s how to cash in savings bonds.
- Series EE/E: If you’ve got a paper savings bond from Series E or EE, bring it to your local financial institution — the Treasury says that is the quickest and easiest way to cash them. Be sure to bring proper identification, such as a passport or driver’s license, when you go to redeem paper bonds. Use your TreasuryDirect account to redeem electronic savings bonds, where you may elect to have the money sent directly to your checking or savings account.
- Series I: As with Series EE/E bonds, you may cash paper Series I bonds at your bank or credit union. If you have electronic Series I savings bonds, sign in to your TreasuryDirect account for instructions on how to redeem them online.
- Series HH/H: Mailing your series HH/H savings bonds from childhood to the Treasury Retail Securities Site is the only way to redeem them. In the envelope, you’ll need to include FS Form 1522 and get your signature certified. Bank officers and employees, judges, court clerks and warrant officers of the United States Armed Forces all can certify signatures in the U.S. You may receive the money via direct deposit to your bank account.
You can opt to redeem the current value of these childhood savings bonds today (as long as you’ve had them for at least a year). However, some banks could have policies that limit how much you can redeem per transaction. You also have the option to redeem a portion of the value of Series EE/E or I savings bonds, starting at a minimum of $25.
Find out how much your bond is worth
Want to know the current value of paper savings bonds from childhood? No need to crunch the numbers yourself — TreasuryDirect has an online calculator that will tell you exactly what your Series E/EE and I bonds are worth.
“You plug in the issue date, the series and the denomination of the bond, and it will provide the amount,” said Ken. “It’s easy — you don’t even need a TreasuryDirect account to use the calculator.”
Series H/HH bonds, on the other hand, are worth the value on the note.
As for electronic savings bonds, log into your TreasuryDirect account to find today’s value.
Discovering long-lost savings bonds from childhood is like stumbling upon buried treasure. Time your redemption correctly and you’ll get a nice cash bonus in your adult years.