If you are wracking your brain trying to figure out what to get your loved ones as a holiday or other type of gift, consider adding bonds to your shortlist. These investments aren’t particularly flashy, so don’t expect such a gift to be met with extreme initial excitement. Hugs and high fives are usually spurred by instant gratification, not a piece of paper that could be potentially worth something more over the years.
Still, that’s not to say that giving a bond as a gift is a bad idea. These investments can provide the start of a nice nest egg for the recipient’s future as well as offer a useful lesson in saving and managing money. The best gifts often are those that are appreciated for years to come. Based on that logic, you can’t really go wrong with buying your loved ones a potentially lucrative bond investment.
- Gifting a bond could boost the future finances of the recipient and, in the meantime, teach them a useful lesson about managing money.
- There are plenty of kinds of bonds in which to invest, although savings bonds often work best for the majority of people’s gifting needs.
- These instruments can be bought for as little as $25 from the TreasuryDirect website, with either a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate that keeps up with inflation.
- Savings bonds must be held for at least 12 months, usually stop paying interest after 30 years, and are only taxable at the federal level.
What Are Bonds?
When you take out a loan, you are expected to pay interest to the lender and eventually pay back the money, or principal. Bonds work in the same way—only this time, you, the investor, become the lender.
There are several different categories of bonds, with each type named after the entity to which the money is being lent. In other words, a government bond involves lending money to a government entity, while a corporate bond essentially involves lending capital to companies.
Which Bond Should I Buy as a Gift?
When you lend money to a government, company, or another entity, the amount of interest that you are paid as compensation for your investment usually depends on the health of the borrower. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the risk that it defaults on the loan and is unable to pay it back, the greater the interest rate payment you'll receive (more risk requires more reward).
Many U.S.-based gift-givers will find that savings bonds check most of their desired boxes. These securities essentially offer citizens the opportunity to lend money to the U.S. government to help fund federal spending. In exchange, the people putting up the capital are rewarded with interest payments until the loan is eventually repaid.
The beauty of savings bonds is that by being backed by the U.S. Treasury, they are guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. They’re also really easy to gift and can be affordable. With corporate bonds, you typically need to cough up at least $1,000 for a minimum purchase. Savings bonds, on the other hand, can be bought for as little as $25.
Types of Savings Bonds
There are two common types of savings bonds: Series EE Bonds and Series I Bonds. Both are sold at face value, have an annual purchase limit of $10,000, and pay interest, which accrues monthly and is compounded semiannually, up until the 30th year. The key distinctions that separate the two are the rate of interest that they pay out and that Series I Bonds can be purchased in paper format with an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax refund.
Series EE Bonds issued after May 2005 pay a fixed interest rate that’s determined at the time of purchase and guaranteed for the first 20 years, making them ideal when rates are higher than normal and likely to fall. They also come with a promise of doubling in value if kept for 20 years.
Series I Bonds (aka TIPS, or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) don’t make such promises but do deliver another benefit instead: protection against inflation. These bonds provide a semiannually adjustable variable rate on top of a fixed rate, giving the owner peace of mind that they won’t erode in value due to inflation.
Before deciding which savings bond to opt for as a gift, it would be wise to consider the outlook for interest rates and inflation, as well as how long you expect the recipient to hold it. If the gift isn’t going to be cashed in for at least 20 years, and if inflation and interest rates are likely to fall in that period, then the Series EE Bond probably makes more sense. Conversely, the prospect of rising living costs, rate hikes, and an earlier withdrawal would make the Series I Bond a better option.
Can't Decide Which Bond to Buy? Consider ETFs
If government savings bonds aren't your style, bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are a great way to gift multiple bonds in one transaction. Broad-based bond ETFs typically contain a mix of government, agency, corporate, and municipal debt issues. You can choose index-based ETFs, (which usually have the Standard & Poor's 500 or the Bloomberg Aggregate ETF Tracker as their benchmarks) such as BND, AGG, and BNDX (includes foreign bonds), among many others. Or you can opt for more specific types of bonds, such as bank loans, or Chinese-issued bonds. Most bond ETFs only hold investment-grade bonds (>BBB), so as to be attractive to conservative-minded investors.
There is virtually an ETF for most any country or duration, or holding period, which should make your decision a lot easier. You can search the web for the specific bond (or fixed Income) ETF that covers the sector, region, or index that you're attracted to, and you're likely to get many selections back from which to choose. Also, to make ETFs even more attractive, they function like regular shares and can be bought and sold on a fractional basis (see below), too.
If buying a corporate bond ($1,000 face value) is beyond your gifting budget, a bond ETF may be the answer you're looking for. As with most other securities today, you can buy a fractional amount, or dollar-based amount, that fits your gift-giving generosity.
In this case, you're interested in gifting a corporate bond to your recipient. For example, let's say BND is trading at $71.30, but you're only thinking of gifting $50 for your present. With fractional shares, you can buy exactly $50 of BND for your gift and stick to your gift-giving budget.
How to Gift Savings Bonds
Savings bonds can be purchased from the U.S. Treasury Department, banks, and credit unions. Often, the simplest way to buy them as a gift is through the TreasuryDirect website. The process is fairly straightforward, and there are plenty of useful guides and tutorials available on the site to help guide you through it.
In short, you’ll need to take the following steps:
- Enter the TreasuryDirect website.
- Create a TreasuryDirect account and then log in.
- Purchase the savings bond you want in the desired denomination ($25 to $10,000).
- After the mandatory five-business-day holding period ends, deliver the gift to the recipient’s TreasuryDirect account. To do this, you’ll need to know the recipient’s account number and legal name, as well as their Social Security number. For children under age 18, a minor linked account can be created by a parent or guardian.
- Print out a gift certificate and give it to the chosen recipient.
How To Cash In a Savings Bond
Once the savings bond has been gifted, the recipient can withdraw the proceeds at any point after 12 months. However, it’s generally advisable to leave the bond alone for at least five years—or 20 years, in the case of the Series EE version.
The actual process of cashing in is simple. All the recipient needs to do is log in to their TreasuryDirect account and follow the instructions to redeem the bond. Once this task has been completed satisfactorily, the cash value should be credited to the designated bank account within two business days.
Before collecting the proceeds from their gift, the recipient should check what the bond is worth. For paper bonds, this can be achieved by logging in to your account and using the TreasuryDirect savings bond calculator. Remember, most savings bonds stop earning interest after 30 years, and those sold within five years are subject to a penalty—if the recipient sells before then, they’ll lose three months’ worth of interest.
A U.S. savings bond will earn interest monthly and compound semiannually until it is either redeemed or has reached its maturity of 30 years.
Gifted Bond Tax Considerations
U.S. government bonds, unlike corporate bonds, are not subject to state income tax. The owner of a savings bond is only taxed at the federal level, and because interest payments are not distributed until the investment matures or is redeemed, it’s not necessary to pay any taxes on them until later.
Most people will take advantage of this option and defer reporting interest on these bonds until they actually receive the money. In this case, they would declare the total amount that they received from their investment on their federal income tax return in the year when it matured or was sold.
The option of reporting interest accrued every year to the IRS shouldn’t always be completely written off, though. For example, this might make sense if the savings bond is registered in a child’s name. The logic here is that the child will likely be earning little to no income and thus be in a lower tax bracket than they presumably will be in later years, when the bond matures.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that interest from U.S. savings bonds may be excluded from federal income tax if the proceeds are used to pay higher education expenses.
What is the difference between EE and I Bonds?
EE and I Bonds are two types of U.S. saving bonds. What distinguishes them mainly is the returns that they offer. With an EE Bond, the interest rate is fixed and there’s a guarantee that it will double in value if held onto for 20 years. I Bonds function differently. What they offer is a rate that moves with inflation, ensuring that payouts are protected from rising living costs.
Is there a deadline for gifting a savings bond?
Not according to TreasuryDirect. Once purchased, it’s necessary to wait five business days to deliver the savings bond gift. However, it’s also possible to hold onto the bond for much longer before giving it away. Should the bond mature before it has been delivered to the beneficiary, its monetary value will be held in a gift box within the owner's TreasuryDirect account for them to collect and present to the recipient.
Do you pay taxes on savings bonds when cashed?
Yes. When you receive money from an investment, the IRS must be notified. Fortunately, savings bonds aren’t taxed at the state and local levels, meaning any interest earned is only subject to federal income tax. In addition, because interest isn’t distributed until the bond matures or is redeemed, it’s not necessary to keep the IRS informed about how much the bond is generating in income every tax year. If you wish, you don’t need to declare anything until the bond eventually pays out.
The Bottom Line
Rather than a gift of stock, which could drop in value over time, gift-givers may want to look at giving bonds as a financial present. Highly rated bonds (>BBB) represent a lower-risk investment and are most likely to meet all their financial obligations, such as paying interest and principal. The gift of a bond is also a great way to get the recipient more involved in savings and investing by teaching lifelong money management skills.
Government savings bonds (EE & I) are among the simplest and most convenient ways to give a bond investment. Investors can transact saving bonds easily through the U.S. government's TreasuryDirect website, where various savings bonds can be purchased. Alternatively, you can seek out an appropriate bond ETF and purchase it on a fractional basis, or for a fixed U.S. dollar amount.