High Inflation Pushing Series I Savings Bond Rates to Record Levels

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The Labor Department released the September Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers this morning, and they show that inflation is continuing to run hot. The CPI on a year-over-year basis increased 5.4% in September, which was above the 5.3% forecast by economists. Core CPI, which excludes energy and food, was up 4.0% on a year-over-year basis, which was inline with expectations. Many factors have been forcing up inflation including supply chain issues, worker shortages and rising energy costs. The Fed has been saying that this year’s high inflation will be transitory. Each new month of high CPI numbers have been raising doubts about this claim.

With the September CPI numbers, the next Series I Savings Bond inflation component can be computed. This allows us to calculate the earnings for I Bonds purchased this month and redeemed from October 2022 to January 2023.

Due to high inflation this year, I Bonds purchased this October offer much higher rates than the best 1-year CDs.

Even though I Bonds compare very favorably to CDs, their value is limited by the low I Bond purchase limits. Maximum purchases per year and per social security number is $10,000 at TreasuryDirect and $5,000 in paper bonds purchased with IRS tax refunds.

Today’s report showed that the CPI-U increased by 3.56% in the last six months (an annualized rate of 7.12%.) The 7.12% rate should be the I Bond inflation component that will be announced at the start of November. This will be the highest I Bond inflation rate since the I Bond program began in 1998. Before this year, the highest rate had been 5.70% in November 2005. If an I Bond is purchased in October, you’ll get the current rate of 3.54% for six months before the 7.12% takes effect.

Social Security Benefits Will Rise 5.9% in 2022

The September CPI report is used by the Social Security Administration to determine the cost of living adjustment for next year. High inflation this year did have a major impact on the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2022. According to the new Social Security Fact Sheet:

Based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will receive a 5.9 percent COLA for 2022.

Last year, the adjustment was 1.3%, and two years ago, it was 1.6%. You can see the full history of Social Security COLAs here.

November I Bond Inflation Rate Should be 7.12%

I’ve done the calculations based on these latest CPI numbers, and the I Bond inflation component taking effect in November should be 7.12%. The I Bond inflation component is added on to the I Bond fixed rate to derive the I Bond composite rate. The fixed rate is currently 0%. We won’t know the November fixed rate until Monday, November 1st.

If you buy I Bonds before the end of October, you can know the rate of return you'll receive if you redeem the I Bonds between October 2022 and January 2023. The interest rate for the first 6 months will be based on the current inflation component (3.54%). The next 6 months will be based on this new rate (7.12%). After that, it'll depend on future inflation numbers. The current fixed rate component of 0% will stay the same for the life of the bond. Below are the details of calculating the expected rate of return.

I Bond Rates of Return for October 2021 Purchase

From Treasury Direct I Savings Bonds FAQs:

the inflation rate announced in November is the change between the CPI-U figures from the preceding March and September.

All previous CPI-U numbers are available from this government webpage. The CPI-U for March 2021 was 264.877. Based on today’s release, September 2021 CPI-U was 274.310. This is an increase of 3.56%. The annualized version of this is 7.12%.

If you buy before November, you'll receive the current I-Bond fixed rate of 0% 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 3.54%, and the composite rate is 3.54%. Here's an estimate of the return for the next year:

  • 3.54% from October 2021 through March 2022
  • 7.12% from April 2022 through September 2022

I Bonds increase in value on the first day of the month. So on November 1st, you'll earn the interest for the full month of October. 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 October 29, 2021, the value of the I Bond on October 1, 2022 would be about 3.55% higher. For 11 months, this comes out to an annualized yield of about 3.87%.

Below is an estimated annualized return for I Bond redemptions from October 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023. It is assumed you will buy the I Bond at the end of October 2021 which gives you almost an extra month of interest. This effectively reduces the 3-month penalty to 2 months.

  • 3.87% (11mo) redeem on 10/1/22, 6mo of 3.54%, 3mo of 7.12%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)
  • 4.14% (12mo) redeem on 11/1/22, 6mo of 3.54%, 4mo of 7.12%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)
  • 4.37% (13mo) redeem on 12/1/22, 6mo of 3.54%, 5mo of 7.12%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)
  • 4.57% (14mo) redeem on 01/1/23, 6mo of 3.54%, 6mo of 7.12%, and 3mo of 0% (penalty)

The highest guaranteed rate would be an annualized return of 4.57% for about 14 months.

Note, it's best not to wait until the last day of the month to buy I Bonds at Treasury Direct. In 2011 I described my experiment in seeing how late in the month I could buy an I Bond. I found you should make sure the purchase is no later than the second to last business day of the month. For this month, make sure you purchase I Bonds no later than Thursday, October 28th.

If you decide not to redeem your I Bond in 2022 or 2023, you won’t lose the 3-month penalty. Thus, the annualized return after 12 months would be approximately 5.33% (the average of 3.54% and 7.12%). We’ll have to wait for the future I Bond inflation rates to calculate returns for anything later.

Compared to CD Rates

As you can see, the above rates are much higher than the top 1-year CD rates that are nationally available (currently 0.80% APY). In fact, the rates are much higher than any CD rate, regardless of maturity length (the highest CD rate is 1.50% APY for a 7-year term.)

Since interest from I Bonds is exempt from state income tax, the advantage of I Bonds is even higher in states that have state income tax. You still owe federal tax on I Bond interest, but you are allowed to defer taxes until you either redeem the I Bond or until it reaches its 30-year maturity date. This tax feature is another significant advantage over CDs (outside of retirement accounts) which require annual tax payments even if the CD has a multi-year term.

Unfortunately, an exact comparison between I Bonds and long-term CDs is not possible. The reason is that the I Bond inflation rate changes every six months. For this short period of time from now to before November, we know the I Bond inflation rate for 12 months. We can only guess about the I Bond inflation rate after that. The best we can do is to make an estimate of the future inflation rates.

For the last 23 years of the I Bond program, the I Bond inflation component rate has averaged around 2%. If the high inflation that we’re seeing this year proves not to be transitory, this average is likely to increase. In that case I Bonds, even with a zero fixed rate, will likely return more than CDs for quite awhile. It may take a return to CDs with yields over 3% before it becomes a close match.

Deciding to Sell or Keep Older I Bonds

If you have older I Bonds, you probably have I Bond fixed rates much higher than 0%, and if you're fortunate enough to have purchased I Bonds before 2001, you probably have fixed rates over 3.00%. So those I Bonds are especially great deals in today's environment.

As an example, an I Bond purchased in May 2000 has a fixed rate of 3.60% (the highest I Bond fixed rate). In November, that I Bond will have a composite rate of return of 10.85%. This will last from November through April 2022.

Remember the $10,000 Annual Purchase Limit

The primary downside with I Bonds is the annual purchase limit. An individual can only buy up to $10,000 in electronic I Bonds at TreasuryDirect. An additional $5,000 in paper I Bonds can be purchased using your federal income tax refund. The limits apply to calendar years.

There are ways to buy more I Bonds. Harry Sit of The Finance Buff has a useful review of how a married couple could buy up to $65,000 in I Bonds in one calendar year by using business accounts and trust accounts.

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 the 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. An additional $5,000 (paper I Bond) can be purchased using your federal income tax refund. (Total was $60,000 before 2008. The change was announced on December 2007.)

For more details about the purchase limit, please refer to the Treasury Direct's FAQ on the new purchase limit.


Comments
P_D
  |     |   Comment #1
"Many factors have been forcing up inflation including supply chain issues, worker shortages and rising energy costs."

Each of which is almost entirely the result of thoughtless diametric policy reversals in Washington over the last 10 months.
Choice
  |     |   Comment #2
Inflation is “good” for ibonds and ultimately for CD rates the focus of this site…
GreenDream
  |     |   Comment #5
#2, only if the interest rates rise to match. Inflation isn't so "good" if interest rates remain low (as they currently are and likely will be for a while yet).
P_D
  |     |   Comment #6
"Inflation is “good” for ibonds and ultimately for CD rates the focus of this site…"

So you would rather have 3% CD rates with 10% inflation than 1% CD rates with 2% inflation?
Choice
  |     |   Comment #7
My portfolio is robust to handle those situations…apparently not for you…what do you think one/you needs to do to adjust for your projection? Remember to feed those assets with loans!
P_D
  |     |   Comment #9
/\/\/\/\/\/\
Often wrong but never in doubt.
milty
  |     |   Comment #3
@#1: Now there you go again ;-) Please support your 2nd statement with a consensus of the facts.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #4
Pay people not to work causing massive shortage of transportation workers causing supply chain disaster and shortage of workers in every industry driving up prices.

Cancel pipelines, stop fossil fuel exploration and impose energy production killing regulations driving up the price of energy and making America dependent on countries that want to destroy us for our energy supply.

Couldn't be any more obvious.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #8
Isn't Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg the Transportation Secretary? Has anybody seen this guy?

We suddenly have the worst supply chain disaster in US history. 60+ container ships from other countries sitting off the California coast, the most in history and no truck drivers to offload them to. Store shelves from coast to coast are being emptied and starting to look like a third world country. What's next bread lines?

Yet this guy is nowhere to be seen.
OrderlyChaos
  |     |   Comment #23
P_D - your statement: "...Store shelves from coast to coast are being emptied and starting to look like a third world country."

Have you seen and experienced this directly yourself or you are just quoting information from general news articles? If you have experienced this yourself, it would be interesting what area of the country you are seeing this.

We shop every single week (NYC Tri-State area) in Big Chain and Mom & Pop grocery stores and have not had ANY issues of getting ANYTHING. We also get things from Amazon every week and again, had not issues of getting ANYTHING we need in a matter of 2-3 days (often 1 day).
P_D
  |     |   Comment #25
#23
"or you are just quoting information from general news articles?"

So you are suggesting that the hundreds of documented reports from major news organizations showing empty shelves and reporting accelerating shortages of everything from basic food to computer chips in many areas of the country are less indicative of the supply chain situation than your anecdotal observation at the grocery store?
OrderlyChaos
  |     |   Comment #26
#25
I am not suggesting anything. I was quoting you: "...Store shelves from coast to coast are being emptied and starting to look like a third world country." and asking you a very specific question and providing our (my household) direct and personal observations.

So looks like you answered my question - you are quoting news information that is available for everyone to see. So have YOU personally experienced the shortages on Store Shelves? Again, I am genuinely interested in people's direct experience in different parts of the country. And EXACTLY because I do not trust the news.

Now, this is my PERSONAL OPINION (not a suggestion): The purpose of most news in the media (now for many decades) is no longer to provide ACCURATE and UNBIASED news, but to generate clicks by sensational headlines and providing half-truths. As such, I read between the lines and rely on my personal and direct friends and family observations and feedback which is based on REAL and ACTUAL data.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #28
#26
Yes, I have personally seen a declining stock of inventory of many items at my local stores, a lack of availability of things that have always been in stock and the most aggressive increases in prices in many years.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #29
#26
I also agree with you that the news is not trustworthy, but I think it is overwhelmingly biased on one side of the political spectrum. So I find that stories that go against that one sided bias (such as this one) are usually true.
kcfield
  |     |   Comment #33
I find it most helpful to avoid news sources with either left or right biases, so I turn to those which have been rated least biased by those at both ends of the spectrum. In particular "The Economist" has been rated the least biased source. I knew that was true when I received my first issue just before the Presidential elections: The front cover had photos of Trump and Bernie Sanders and entitled it "America's Nightmare."
mariafalter
  |     |   Comment #34
I agree that ‘The Economist’ mostly provides decent quality reporting. However, being unbiased doesn’t make it immune from being wrong. I personally try to use different news sources (left and right) to get a fuller picture. But I have to admit that it’s not easy: certain ‘journalism’ literary makes me nauseous.
mariafalter
  |     |   Comment #45
So far the conversation went from ‘there is no inflation’ to ‘there might be inflation’ to ‘there is inflation, but it’s a good thing’. What are the odds that a conversation about shortages will go in the same direction?
milty
  |     |   Comment #11
Paying people extra to not work started during the previous administration, as you may recall something about a Pandemic. (Having worked in the IT industry, I don't recall a shortage in every industry, especially when we can rely so heavily on immigrants.)

Biden did halt the completion of Keystone pipeline in 2021, but the US was already a major exporter of its oil in 2020. So, does that really explain why the shortage now? Seems like perhaps big oil and private equity are enjoying their new profits are keeping their thumbs down on production, but am also hearing it's mainly due to the world economies reopening post Pandemic (so far). See, https://www.factcheck.org/2021/08/trump-and-boeberts-oil-spin : "In other words, global forces related to the pandemic — not federal policy from the U.S. — was expected to cause the shift in petroleum imports and exports."

Obviously, the Pandemic, not policy reversals, seems to be the common denominator.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #12
“Biden did halt the completion of Keystone pipeline in 2021, but the US was already a major exporter of its oil in 2020. So, does that really explain why the shortage now? “

Yes, of course.

Economics and investing 101. If the government taxes something more, regulates it more and badmouths it more you get less of it. Less supply relative to demand is a recipe for massive price increases which is exactly what we are seeing in gasoline, natural gas and every other fossil fuel based source of energy.

Who is going to invest in expanding fossil fuel production when on day one the Biden administration declared war on fossil fuels? The industry is not going to expand production they are not going to expand hiring. Instead investors are going to take their money and go elsewhere… like to China or India who are making massive increases in their fossil fuel production capacity and a laughing at us while we talk about building windmills and buying more solar panels from China with money that we borrow from THEM!

It’s a bonanza for China and a catastrophic move for America.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #14
And by the way in that investing 101 class you also learn that todays prices aren't just about what is happening today, but what the market expects is going to happen tomorrow. Biden has all but promised to completely do away with fossil fuels over these next years. That has an enormous effect on TODAY'S prices as investors take their money off the table in anticipation of future losses.
milty
  |     |   Comment #35
Btw, economics 101 is not a science, meaning the future is not necessarily predictable based on the past, which is why the Market always reminds one of that. Even Adam Smith knew one had to look out for fraud and corruption versus waiting for the invisible hand. Also, incentivizing renewable energy at the moment is hardly declaring war on big oil. But here's looking forward to cold fusion . . . Google high temperature superconducting magnets at MIT.
Mak
  |     |   Comment #10
I will be averaging 9.42% on my I-bonds for the next 6 months, quite a bit better than those negative rates someone was begging for....;)
Btw, anyone need a hanky?
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #13
Another point to factor into your total return is that, per the Treasury Direct website, interest on iBonds is compounded every six months, i.e. each time your new half-year rate begins.

https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/indepth/ibonds/res_ibonds_iratesandterms.htm

" . . . interest is compounded semiannually"
myturn1959
  |     |   Comment #31
I'm thinking about buying these and was wondering about the penalty for withdrawal before 5 years. Is there any tax owed on that lost three months of income? I'm thinking not since you never receive it but just wanting to confirm.
Yu
  |     |   Comment #15
I bought $10,000 I-Bond on 5/28/221. Will I get the new 7.12% rate automatically from 11/1/2021?
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #16
May - Jun - Jul - Aug - Sep - Oct = 6 months at the old rate of 3.54%.

Your interest compounds [to approximately $10,177]
and this new total amount will get the new 7.12% rate for
the next 6 months: Nov - Dec - Jan - Feb - Mar - Apr

Then you will have approximately $10,539, which will grow for the next 6 months
at the next new rate established in May 2022. Rinse and repeat for the next 30 years
. . . or until you withdraw / close your account -- whichever comes sooner.

Just remember that you'll never see the actual balance posted online until 5 years,
in May of 2026, when the three-month for early withdrawal penalty is lifted.
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #17
Correction: Rinse and repeat for the next *29* years [for a total of 30]
Yu
  |     |   Comment #19
Thank you NYCDoug.
FB
  |     |   Comment #18
If I do a future-dated purchase of series I (Nov 1st) on treasurydirect.gov today - will I get 7.12% or the older rate of 3.5%?
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #20
Any purchase between Nov 1st and Apr 30th {Apr 28th, to be sure} will accrue at 7.12%
(assuming that's the rate announced in November).

But better to purchase toward the end of November, so you can keep earning interest (however little) on your $10k from the account you will use to fund your iBond. An iBond purchase late in the month will still accrue interest as if it had been purchased at the beginning of the month. (So you have an opportunity to earn a little more interest in November on that same $10k).

But why not buy toward the end of October, instead? Then you lock in a very respectable 3.54% for six months, followed by a locked in 7.12% for the next six months. And then.come January, when a new calendar year begins, you can get an additional 7.12% locked in on another $10k, for another six months.

Moral of the story: We don't know what the six-month rate will be following the 7.12% rate. (It will be announced next May; perhaps becoming apparent a little before then). So you might as well start off with the more-than-decent 3.54% followed by the 7.12% . . . for a guaranteed one-year compounded return of about 5.39%
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #21
And yes, a future-dated purchase will get the rate prevailing at the time the purchase is made (not when you schedule it).
w00d00w
  |     |   Comment #22
how absurd that as of Nov 1st, an investor can earn as much interest over the following 6 months by putting $10K in an I Bond as investing nearly $100K in the highest yielding 6 month CD
OrderlyChaos
  |     |   Comment #24
w00d00w - it is completely absurd. I have abandoned CDs until some sort of a sensical set of rates comes back. Besides regular long-term investing, I am reaping the benefits of an every day fluctuating market, generating 10-15% (non-taxable) in 2-4 weeks.
Kaight
  |     |   Comment #27
Uh, you're probably right about six month CDs. I avoid them. One can do MUCH better with three month CDs provided you can find them and buy them "right". I concede deferred federal taxation and exemption from state tax is a wonderful feature of I bonds. But that is not as good as no taxation whatsoever.
Choice
  |     |   Comment #30
Knight…as a practical matter why is anyone concerned about a 10k Ibond throwing off federal taxable interest income? Will it put u in another tax bracket? If it ever gets to be an issue alternate years and plan accordingly (I do that when my sole proprietorship income fluctuates)…or buy a lot more of other bonds that are not ibonds and have a real tax issue. I have multiple treasury ibond accounts and it just isn’t there
111
  |     |   Comment #39
Kaight - Thanks for your insight, now and previously. Regarding the fact that three-month CDs are to be preferred over their 6-month cousins for such purposes - you've mentioned this before in DA.com, and I completely appreciate the math that unequivocally confirms this.

Both observation and practice tell me, however, that the 6-month CDs on average have a higher maximum limit (in terms of “buying them right”) than do others with shorter terms - and that therefore they require dollar-for-dollar less, well, maintenance. Perhaps you could send me a quick PM regarding the availability of relevant less-than-6-month term CDs that might be available? I am by nature a circumspect individual who is dependably discreet and trustworthy in such matters.
FB
  |     |   Comment #32
https://www.treasurydirect.gov/instit/savbond/otc/HowtobuygiftsavingsbondsinTreasuryDirecttipsheet.pdf
The way I understand the flyer is that you can buy the bond for minors through a linked account and gifting (I think). But then it states "Treasury bills, notes, bonds and inflation-protected securities (TIPS) are not available for purchase as gifts." So can I buy 10K series I bond for a minor or not?
Choice
  |     |   Comment #36
Works for paper bond purchases using tax refunds…I plan several within 5k max next year
mariafalter
  |     |   Comment #37
Yes, you can. You were reading the fin institutions section. Here are instructions for individuals:
https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/planning/plan_gifts.htm
newtothis
  |     |   Comment #38
Is it wiser to buy now in Oct. or wait til November? Thanks.
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #40
End of October, methinks. See the rationale in my comment #20, above . . .
w00d00w
  |     |   Comment #42
here's a link to an article that addresses this question directly:
https://tipswatch.com/2021/10/14/i-bond-dilemma-buy-in-october-or-wait-until-november/
cloudeleven
  |     |   Comment #46
If you think that's high, in 1979 annual inflation was 11%, in 1980 it was 14%, and in 1981 it was 10%. And it had already reached 11% in 1974 and 9% in 1975. The Fed Funds rate reached 21% in June 1981!! Wowzers.
Yu
  |     |   Comment #47
Anyone tried to use tax refund to buy the paper I-Bond? Can I do it via tax return software? Also, if we file jointly and have $10,000 in refund, can my spouse and I each by $5K I-Bond?
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #48
Interesting questions, Yu!

TurboTax accommodates iBond purchases from your refund, directing you to complete Form 8888.
https://ttlc.intuit.com/community/refunds/help/how-do-i-buy-savings-bonds-with-my-tax-refund/00/26040

And Form 8888 allows at least two purchases, in the case of a joint return.
See lines 5a & 6a on the Form 8888, here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8888.pdf

However, both TurboTax & the IRS indicate that your maximum purchase of paper iBonds is limited to $5,000 annually. (And only in multiples of $50)
https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/faq/faq_irstaxfeature.htm

There is no mention I can find of being able to purchase more then $5,000 with your refund, even though it would make sense if you were filing a joint return. I suppose you could always try it in Turbo Tax, and see if you get an error!

Of course this presupposes a sizable refund -- of over $5,000 -- either through accidental "bad" tax planning, or deliberately calculated, over-withholding and/or overly large estimated tax payment(s).

But again, it's not clear, at least toe me, if Form 8888 will accommodate funding of two iBonds (on lines 5a and 6a) that will more than $5,000 (on line 4). Anyone know any different?
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #49
Interesting questions, Yu! [Typos edited]

TurboTax accommodates iBond purchases from your refund, directing you to complete Form 8888.
https://ttlc.intuit.com/community/refunds/help/how-do-i-buy-savings-bonds-with-my-tax-refund/00/26040

And Form 8888 allows at least two purchases, in the case of a joint return.
See lines 5a & 6a on the Form 8888, here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8888.pdf

However, both TurboTax & the IRS indicate that your maximum purchase of paper iBonds is limited to $5,000 annually. (And only in multiples of $50)
https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/faq/faq_irstaxfeature.htm

There is no mention I can find of being able to purchase more then $5,000 with your refund, even though it would make sense if you were filing a joint return. I suppose you could always try it in Turbo Tax, and see if you get an error!

Of course this presupposes a sizable refund -- of over $5,000 -- either through accidental "bad" tax planning, or deliberately calculated, over-withholding and/or overly large estimated tax payment(s).

But again, it's not clear, at least to me, if Form 8888 will accommodate funding of two iBonds (on lines 5a and 6a) that will total more than $5,000 (on line 4). Anyone know any different?
#50 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.
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