Are you looking for an investment that will keep pace with inflation? What if we said it's also relatively low risk? You'd think it was too good to be true, right? There are many advantages to I Bonds, especially in the current market. But there are some drawbacks as well. That's why we put together this guide on the pros and cons of I Bonds. Let's get started!
I Bonds Explained
There's a good chance you know what a savings bond is. Perhaps you remember getting paper EE bonds as a young kid from an older relative. Or maybe you remember the moment your family finally turned them over to you.
I Bonds are another type of savings bond (though they're not typically issued on paper anymore!). Like the other bonds you might recall, I Bonds are backed by the US Treasury. I Bonds pay interest in two ways:
- A fixed rate that the US Treasury sets
- And an inflation-adjusted rate that is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI)
They've increased in popularity lately. In fact, in April 2022, over $4 billion in I Bonds were issued. So why are I Bonds so popular now? Many people view them as another way to protect your money from losing its buying power due to the sky-high inflation we are currently experiencing. That's where CPI comes in!
Now that you have a better understanding of what an I Bond is, let's explore I Bond pros and cons to see if these savings bonds are right for you.
Advantages of I Bonds
The US Treasury has sold billions of dollars in I Bonds already this year. For a savings tool to be that popular, there have to some perks to it, right? There are three considerable benefits to I Bonds, including one lesser known benefit that families who hope to help their kids pay for college might really love!
One of the biggest advantages to I Bonds is how little risk they pose to investors. We often think of investments that yield high returns as ones that also involve greater risk. That is often times very true, especially when it comes to the stock market.
Yet, I Bonds pose very little risk to the amount you invest. I Bonds are backed by the US government. That means that the government would have to fail for your principal to be at risk. As far as investment options go, I Bonds are virtually risk free.
Returns Can Help Combat Inflation
People are right to worry about inflation. It can eat away at your money's buying power even when inflation isn't sky-high. Because I Bonds are tied to CPI, that means that they can often help you earn enough to keep pacing with inflation.
The fact that the stock market is in a current slump makes I Bonds particularly appealing. Over the course of a long-term investor's lifetime, the stock market should easily outpace inflation. But in periods of drops, many investors look for other ways to battle inflation.
Tax Perk for Education
Another benefit to I Bonds is that you can use them to pay for higher education. While we typically think of 529 plans or UTMAs as a means to help our kids pay for college, I Bonds are also an option.
If you use I Bonds to pay for tuition, TreasuryDirect says you can exclude some or all of the interest earnings on the bond from your gross income. This can be especially useful to people who don't get any tax benefits for 529 plans.
Disadvantages of I Bonds
There are some major benefits to adding I Bonds to your investing strategy. But like all things in personal finance–and in life!–nothing is perfect. Before you look to load up on I Bonds, make sure you understand some of the disadvantages as well.
The Future is Unknown
Every investor has likely heard that you can't predict what the market will do next. I Bonds are no different. When the rate of I Bonds previously passed 7%, people thought that rate would be as good as it gets. Then, the US Treasury announced rates would go even higher–to nearly 10%!
When you purchase I Bonds, you lock into a set rate. So if rates go higher, you won't get that bump. While it's possible that these rates will go up, they might also go down. Timing the market isn't possible as much as we might wish it were. If you understand I Bond pros and cons, and you think that they fit in with your other financial goals, you likely don't want to worry too much about this drawback!
I Bonds Maturity Time
I Bonds are designed to be long-term investments that mature over the course of 30 years.
You can cash out your I Bonds early, though. You have to hold onto them for at least one year. If you want to dodge a penalty, though, you need to keep them for five years. Otherwise, you forfeit the last three months of interest.
If you're looking to purchase I Bonds, you want to be mindful of the fact that your money isn't very liquid. That means that it's harder to access. And that's no problem for a long-term investing. But if you are wanting to put your emergency fund into I Bonds, you might want to think again!
Limits on I Bond Amounts
I know what you're thinking! If the rate of return on I Bonds is a guaranteed 9.6% right now, I'll move over all of my money. Not so fast. There are limits on how much each individual can purchase every year.
The I Bond limits are currently:
- $10,000 per person (electronic bonds)
- $5,000 with your tax return (paper bonds)
There are also regulations around gifting and other details you might want to review. That doesn't mean you shouldn't purchase I Bonds. It simply means that I Bonds can't suddenly become your entire investing strategy.
I Bonds Purchasing Platform
Another disadvantage of I Bonds has to do with how you buy them. The platform you use to buy I Bonds (more on that later!) leaves a lot to be desired in terms of its interface. But there's not much by way of technology that savvy investors won't tolerate (we're looking at you, Vanguard).
Some users claim it's difficult to navigate. Others report that getting in touch with an actual person for live support is time consuming. But since the Treasury is churning out billions of dollars of I Bonds each month, we can cut them some slack here.
While it's true that Treasury Direct feels dated and clunky, what it lacks in user experience, it may more than make up for with it's guaranteed high return rate.
I Bonds Paperwork
Are you spoiled with a finance platform that makes it easy to grab at-a-glance summaries of your transaction history or send notifications about your money situation? You could be in for a rude awakening with I Bonds.
As an I Bonds investor, you have to keep track of your own paperwork. You want to keep a record of what you purchase and when. If you purchase more than the $10,000 annual limit, Treasury Direct will issue you a refund.
How to Buy I Bonds
Ready to purchase I Bonds? Great! You'll need to head over to the US Treasury's website at Treasury Direct. Then, you can follow these steps to buy I Bonds:
- Visit TreasuryDirect.gov.
- Create an account by clicking Open an Account,
- Check your email for your account information.
- Log in with your account number and a pass code that will also be emailed to you.
- Choose the BuyDirect option and select Series I.
- Indicate the amount you want to purchase. Note that there is a $25 minimum.
- Enter your bank account number that the money will come from.
- Decide if you want to set up recurring transactions.
- Review and complete your purchase.
- Revisit TreasuryDirect to purchase more bonds or to review your current balances.
You also want to note that you can't buy I Bonds with the money you keep in your IRA, Roth IRA, or any other retirement account. Instead, you have to purchase I Bonds with separate money. If you are someone who gets a tax refund, you might be pleased to know that you can use your tax refund to purchase up to $5,000 in paper I Bonds.
I Bonds Pros and Cons Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you know some of the main I Bonds pros and cons, it's time to get into the nitty gritty details of I Bonds. Specifically, we rounded up the most common questions we've heard people ask about I Bonds and did our best to dish on all the details.
Check out our I Bonds FAQ!
Can you lose money with I Bonds?
No, you don't lose money with I Bonds. But there are limits on how much you can purchase each year and when you can withdraw your money. If you're interested in I Bonds, you want to make note of their maturity period. I Bonds mature after 30 years.
Are you looking to get your money out sooner? I Bonds have to be held for at least one year. If you cash them out within five years, you lose the last three months of interest. So while you aren't losing your money, you are giving up some earning potential if you touch them before five years is up.
What is the difference between EE bonds and I Bonds?
If you remember our walk down memory lane from earlier, you might recall savings bonds from your childhood. Those were likely EE bonds. So what's the difference between EE bonds and I Bonds?
EE Bonds are designed to double in value over the life of the bond. After 20 years, you can decide if you want to redeem the value of the bond or let it earn interest for up to 10 more years.
I Bonds don't have a double value guarantee. Instead, they come with a fixed interest rate, plus a rate tied to the Consumer Price Index. When the fixed interest rate is high, I Bonds are an appealing options since that rate is locked in for the life of the bond.
What is the difference between I Bonds and Bond Funds?
I Bonds are purchased directly from the US Treasury at Treasury Direct. Bond funds can be purchased on your favorite investing platform, such as M1 Finance or Vanguard.
A bond fund is made up of hundreds or even thousands of different bonds. You still earn income from interest payments (just like an I Bond!), and because it's made up of many bonds, your portfolio is subject to less risk.
Final Thoughts on I Bonds Pros and Cons
I Bonds are an exciting concept right now. Many people see them as a way to battle record-setting inflation with little investment risk. Of course, there are some drawbacks, like the long maturity period and the fact that your money remains illiquid for so long.
Still, understanding I Bonds pros and cons can help you decide if purchasing I Bonds is the right money move for you.