December 8, 2023

Bucks: Goodbye, Paper Savings Bonds

Updated to add data on volume of savings bonds sold/11:27 a.m.

Starting in January, you will no longer be able to go to your bank and buy savings bonds. Get ready to hear lots of complaints from unhappy senior citizens, who are especially fond of buying the bonds as gifts for their grandchildren.

The Bureau of the Public Debt, the arm of the United States Treasury that oversees the sale and redemption of bonds and other government securities, is scrapping paper savings bonds. You’ll still be able to buy them in an electronic version, as you can now, via the bureau’s Web-based TreasuryDirect purchasing system. But you won’t get an actual paper bond, suitable for tucking inside a birthday card. You can, however, download a “gift certificate” from the TreasuryDirect Web site, indicating the amount of the bond you have purchased, and for what occasion.

Van Zeck, the public debt commissioner, said in a prepared statement that bonds aren’t going away, though he added, “It’s time for us to take a 1935 model and make it a 21st century investment tool.” (For next year, at least, the government will still issue paper bonds if you buy them with your federal income tax refund.)

The move doesn’t affect existing savings bonds; you can still redeem paper bonds at a bank.

The change is part of a broader initiative at Treasury to cut costs by shifting operations to the Internet. Last year, for instance, the department stopped the sale of paper bonds through workplace payroll plans. And in a move that has frustrated many older investors in particular, it is phasing out its older Legacy Treasury Direct system, which let investors buy and redeem Treasury bills and other government securities by telephone or mail. That move has come with lots of snafus and has infuriated seniors, as Bucks previously has reported.

Eliminating paper savings bonds does away with the need to keep track of those pieces of paper, and allows for automatic redemption when they mature — no more matured bonds sitting around in boxes, earning nothing. But it requires buyers, many of them older and not inclined to use a computer, to set up an online account to buy bonds for themselves, or as gifts for children and grandchildren. That is likely to annoy some people, conceded Mckayla Braden, a spokeswoman for the bureau. “You can’t deliver the actual bond.”

Once purchased electronically, the bonds are held in an online “gift box,” because they can’t be given to the recipient until he or she is 18 and has an online account, Ms. Braden said. Or, if the child’s parents have a TreasuryDirect account, they can establish a linked custodial account in the child’s name to hold the bonds. The link can be severed, and a standalone account created, when the recipient turns 18. “It’s complicated,” she said.

Ms. Braden noted that the demand for savings bonds has been in decline, to about $2 billion in 2010 from $6 billion in 2001. From Oct. 1 of last year and June 30 of this year, $1.2 billion in bonds was purchased, with about 11 percent sold through TreasuryDirect. She was unable to say what proportion of savings bonds is purchased by older people, but said, “In my experience, older people definitely bought bonds over-the-counter for children and grandchildren, and put it in their safety deposit boxes.”

Why not keep an option to provide some paper bonds for those who really want to buy them as gifts? “We don’t like this to happen,” she said, “but we’re between a rock and a hard place and have to make these hard decisions.” All government agencies are under “overwhelming pressure” to reduce costs, she said, and maintaining a paper bond system is expensive. Eliminating paper savings bonds is expected to save taxpayers about $70 million over the first five years, according to the bureau.

Will you buy savings bonds after they are only available electronically?

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