As November approaches, savers are asking themselves the usual question: should they buy I Bonds now, or wait for a new rate to be announced on November 1?
Warning: there may be no need to rush.
The current rate on an I Bond purchased from May to October is 4.3%. This rate includes a base fixed rate of 0.9% for I-bonds purchased up to October – and an inflation-adjusted annualized rate of 3.38% on top of the fixed rate.
Based on the latest inflation data announced on October 12, the inflation-indexed rate for I-Bonds is expected to be 3.94%, according to Ken Tumin, who founded DepositAccounts in 2009, and is now part of LendingTree. The site tracks and compares bank rates.
Add to that a fixed rate of 0.9%, Tumin said, and you could get a composite rate of 4.86%.
However, Mr. Tumin and others suggest that it might be better to wait until November to buy I-bonds for another important reason. Remember, even if you buy I-bonds now, you’ll still get that higher inflation-adjusted rate in the future. What you wouldn’t get if you bought now is a higher fixed rate.
According to the experts, there’s a good chance that a more attractive fixed rate will be available for the new I Bonds, and that this higher fixed rate will remain associated with this bond for the 30-year life of the Series I U.S. Savings Bond.
According to Tumin, the fixed rate on I bonds purchased between November and April 2024 could well be higher than 0.9%.
“If you’re interested in the long term, it makes sense to wait,” said Mr. Tumin.
According to him, the new fixed rate could be between 1% and 1.5%. The actual rate won’t be announced until November 1, or perhaps a little earlier, by the U.S. Treasury Department.
“Although the Treasury is not revealing how it chooses the fixed I-bond rate, it is believed that there is some correlation with the actual yield on 10-year TIPS,” said Tumin.
David Enna, who runs a website called Tipswatch.com, expects the fixed rate on I-bonds issued from November to April to reach between 1.4% and 1.7%.
“That would be a radical increase, but it seems justified,” said Enna, who noted that you’d have to go back to November 2007 to find a fixed I-bond rate of 1% or more.
In his view, it is clear that the fixed rate will rise for I-bonds issued in November, given the trend in yields. At the lower end of the scale, “a fixed rate of at least 1.2% seems very likely, but you never know”.
According to Enna, everything will depend on bond market activity and real yields over the next three weeks.
The fixed rate on I-bonds reflects real yields on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), which have risen considerably over the past six months.
What is the expected inflation adjustment for I Bonds?
Inflation, although a little lower than last year, continues to be part of the economic landscape.
Consumer prices rose by 3.7% in the 12 months to September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rising housing costs were the main factor behind the 0.4% increase over the previous month.
The new variable, the inflation-based interest rate for I-bonds, is expected to be 3.94% at the November reset, according to Enna and Tumin.
If the new fixed rate is 1.2%, Enna said, those buying U.S. Treasuries from November through April could generate a composite rate of 5.2% for U.S. Treasuries issued at that time.
“But that’s not certain,” Mr. Enna clarified.
The inflation rate for I-bonds is the percentage change in the consumer price index for urban consumers over a six-month period ending before May 1 and November 1.
The inflation-linked rate can, and usually does, change every six months after your bonds are issued.
The inflation adjustment is added to any I-bonds you purchased previously, for example, if you bought these bonds a year ago or even if your children were born 10 years ago. Series I Savings Bonds were launched 25 years ago – and the original bonds continue to earn interest and receive new inflation adjustments over time if you keep them.
The fixed rates on I-bonds vary considerably over time, depending on when the bonds are issued.
I-bonds issued in 2021 and 2022, for example, have a fixed rate of 0%. Enna notes that I-bonds with a fixed rate of 0% would have an estimated compound rate of 3.94% – reflecting recent inflation – over a six-month period.
The highest fixed I-bond rate was 3.6% for bonds issued from May to October 2000, making them the last bonds we would wish to redeem. If inflation were adjusted to 3.94%, these bonds would yield 7.54% over a six-month period.
I Bonds won’t turn heads now
U.S. Treasury bonds experienced three consecutive high yields from late 2021 to early 2023, after very high inflation.
Investors who bought U.S. Treasury bonds issued between November 2021 and April 2022 benefited from a compounded rate of 7.12% applied to the first six months after the bonds were issued. The fixed rate on I-bonds issued at the time was 0%.
This impressive rate was eclipsed by a rate of 9.62% in the six months following bond issue for investors who purchased I Bonds between May 2022 and October 2022. The fixed rate for bonds issued at that time was 0%.
Those who bought I bonds issued between November 2022 and April benefited from an attractive rate of 6.89% applied during the six months following the bond issue date. The fixed rate was 0.4%. The annualized inflation rate was 6.48%.
Savers who kept their old I-bonds issued several years ago also benefited from higher inflation adjustments. The inflation rate that the Treasury Department sets each year in May and November for I Bonds applies to a six-month period for all I Bonds that have already been issued and not yet redeemed by savers.
You can find the current value of an I Bond on TreasuryDirect.gov by consulting your account information. If it’s a paper bond, you can use the savings bond calculator on TreasuryDirect.gov.
For bonds less than five years old, the values shown on TreasuryDirect and the Savings Bond Calculator do not include the last three months of interest. In fact, according to the TreasuryDirect site, if you redeem a bond before five years, you won’t receive the last three months of interest.
Can you find a better deal?
Seeing I Bonds close to 4% or 5% isn’t going to generate much enthusiasm, especially for savers looking for a short-term solution. If you’re looking, some certificates of deposit offer very attractive rates.
Rates on competing certificates of deposit issued by a bank or credit union – which remained low when inflation began – have risen significantly.
Online banks are offering one-year CDs with an average annual yield of 5.18%, says Tumin. Some of these high-yield certificates of deposit only require a minimum deposit of $1,000.
I’ve seen local credit unions offer special deals on CDs or certificates from 4.25% to 5.2% on short-term CDs. Again, you should look for the best rates on CDs, as they can vary considerably.
“Currently, CDs are more advantageous for a one-year period than bonds,” said Tumin.
Mr. Tumin gives the following example: if a person plans to redeem Bond I after 13 months, the annualized yield would be 3.51% after taking into account a three-month penalty if the bond is not held for at least five years. This example is based on a Bond I purchased in October and redeemed just over a year later, in November 2024.
Mr. Tumin then explained that the 3.51% example would apply if someone bought an I bond and redeemed it on exactly the same date, say October 21, then redeemed it on November 21, 2024. He noted that it is possible to increase yields slightly by buying the I bond at the end of the month and redeeming it at the beginning of the month.
Savers who live in states like California or New York, where income tax rates are high, can still look to I-bonds rather than CDs, Tumin said, because interest on U.S. savings bonds is tax-exempt at the state level.
However, he added that current I-bond rates are not high enough for the state-level exemption to matter in many places.
However, long-term savers may want to use I Bonds as part of their savings to hedge against inflation, set aside some of their savings for emergencies, and earn higher returns than a regular savings account.
Important points to remember about I-bonds: You can’t redeem an I-bond until you’ve held it for one year. And if you cash it in before five years, you’ll lose the previous three months’ interest.
Interest is added monthly and compounded every six months.
Each calendar year, a person may purchase up to $10,000 of Electronic I Bonds in the TreasuryDirect system at TreasuryDirect.gov. You can invest from $25 or any higher amount down to the euro cent. Each year, investors can also purchase up to $5,000 in printed I Bonds using their federal income tax refund, but they must file Form 8888 with their income tax return.