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Banking 101: How to Cash in Savings Bonds From Your Childhood


Written by Joni Sweet | Published on 2/22/2019

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.

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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.

Comments
Bowman
Bowman   |     |   Comment #1
You can also convert a paper EE Bond to an electronic bond. Instructions are on Treasury Direct. It's a bit of a process, and you have to mail in the paper bond to the Treasury. But it does make it easier to manage.
Get Real
Get Real   |     |   Comment #3
If you have your bonds registered electronically with Treasury Direct they will send you an email when your bond(s) mature. I'm starting to have bonds reach the 30 year mark. I redeemed online and the funds were transferred in 2 days to my linked checking account.
deplorable 1
deplorable 1   |     |   Comment #2
Yes you should always know when your bonds are going to stop earning interest and cash them out. Most kids take that opportunity to blow that cash on junk when they should be putting it in a high yield savings or CD to keep it growing. I put mine in the Discover savers account when they matured but that used to pay CD type interest rates back in the day. Now days I would put it in a CD for sure.
bindarb4
bindarb4   |     |   Comment #4
I purchased savings bonds throughout my childhood and most of my working career. Worst decision ever. Ended up with many hundreds of bonds. When they started to mature on a monthly basis I had to spend a painful hour cashing them out. Turns out most bank personnel don't know how to "cash" out a bond so they need to read the instruction manual...then the manager get involve and it become a "group event" .....plus all the id requirements. Spent months converting all to electronic form. Overall a painful redemption process. Better off simply investing in an index fund on a weekly/monthly/....imho.
dollarsncents
dollarsncents   |     |   Comment #7
Must be the bank you do business with. I have no problem cashing in Series EE bonds at my bank as they mature and quit paying interest. It doesn't take much longer than cashing a check. This, in a small town bank.
Tfenn
Tfenn   |     |   Comment #12
Did you have to go to customer service to cash or were you able to do it with the teller?
dollarsncents
dollarsncents   |     |   Comment #13
I went straight to the teller's window. No special one or side desk..
CuriousDave
CuriousDave   |     |   Comment #5
Many of the older Series EE bonds are at or approaching the dates on which their cash values will be double their original cost price. Because of the very long period during which many of these bonds were paying little to no interest because their interest rates are tied to prevailing market rates, it's important to check their maturity dates before cashing in bonds that have any significant value - say, $1,000 or more. Many of these older bonds accrued very little interest, and have a lot of interest to catch up on for them to pay their face value i.e. (double their cost price), so, depending on the timing, holding them through maturity may yield very high rates of return. As an example, EE bonds with a face value of $1,000 purchased in March 2003 (cost was $500) are currently worth $727 (per the online site https://www.treasurydirect.gov/BC/SBCPrice). Holding them for 17 years, through March 1st next year, means they will reach their face value of $1,000. That's an extra $273 of interest for holding the bonds for only another 12 months, an annualized return of 37.6% ( = 273/727)! One can continue holding these bonds for the full 30 years, but they will pay only market rates from March 2019 thru their maturity date (March 2033), which may or may not be advantageous depending on how interest rates have fared during that long period. Of course, interest will continue to be federally tax-deferred (unless the owner elected - or elects at some point - to be taxed on each year's accrued interest) and state tax-free until then.
DCGuy
DCGuy   |     |   Comment #8
All of the Savings Bonds that I had from the 1960s were all cashed out by the 1980s to 1990s. I did not have to be concerned with the 30 year interest earning limit as I cashed many of them as interest rates soared in the 1980s and also purchased homes in 1980 and 1994.
Ken
Ken   |     |   Comment #9
One thing I learned about not cashing matured Saving Bonds is that Federal income tax is due when they are cashed or when they reach final maturity. Which ever comes first. Nearing retirement, I had some bonds that reached final maturity and stopped earning interest. I didn't want to add the interest income to my working income so I waited till I retired to cash them. I got real concerned when I learned that the tax was due three years before I cashed them in. The year they reached final maturity. Would there be an IRS penalty for not reporting that income the year they matured? The best I could find out was that the Treasury just wants the old bonds cashed and the IRA is not looking to put 'grandpa' in jail for not reporting the taxable interest upon final maturity. Just make sure you report the interest when you do cash the bond.
AnnO
AnnO   |     |   Comment #11
When cashing old paper bonds by mail, the Treasury sends you a 1099-INT dated for the year in which you cashed the bonds, regardless of the year in which the bonds stopped accruing interest. So if you forget to cash a bond in the intended year (or in my case, my parents belatedly found one in my name that I hadn't even known about), IMO the way to go is go by the 1099's date instead of messing with amendments (and the intended year could even be outside the amendment window).
Ricochet
Ricochet   |     |   Comment #14
would you be able to let me know why the 1991 1K EE I have show earning 4% ?
Claudia
Claudia   |     |   Comment #15
If you register with Treasury Direct and you have the copies of the bonds that you purchased at banks but never received the originals can they find them and reimburse me?
divajinxxx
divajinxxx   |     |   Comment #16
My parents had savings bonds that they never cashed before passing away. How can I cash them?
wolfman
wolfman   |     |   Comment #17
you'll need copy of death cert. and your relationship. i did with no problem

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