Savings Bond annual purchase limits reduced to $5,000

Monday, December 3rd, 2007
Categorized as: Buying US Savings BondsSavings Bond FAQ

The Treasury announced today that beginning January 1, 2008, the investment limits on Savings Bonds will be reduced from the current $30,000 per year to $5,000 per year. The limits apply to a single Social Security Number and to a single series and type of bond.

As before, an individual can purchase the $5,000 annual limit in both electronic EE and I bonds at TreasuryDirect and in both paper EE and I bonds for a total investment of $20,000. If a co-owner is named, the co-owner can still make his or her own investment, since the limit is tracked by the Social Security Number on the bond.

Series EE bonds are such a poor investment the Treasury is doing EE bond investors a favor by limiting the size of mistake they can make. However, I bond investors have typically made much larger investments, and this new limitation will hurt.

While those with larger amounts who want to invest in I bonds can invest in TIPS as an alternative, TIPS have two disadvantages compared to I bonds – the risk of capital loss (the value of TIPS can go down) and the lack of tax deferment. On the other hand, TIPS typically pay higher rates.

Because of this change, the Treasury will no longer issue the I bond in the $10,000 denomination.

There continues to be no limit on the total value of Savings Bonds one person may own or may convert from paper to electronic bonds in one year.

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FDIC Insured Certificates of Deposit can pay 1 or 2% more than savings bonds when held for a similar length of time. See top CD Rates Below:

48 Comments

On December 3rd, 2007 Ethan said:

Boy, that came out of left field. Anyone know what’s behind this limit? Was it that good a deal? Perhaps the fear is that inflation will skyrocket and the US will be exposed like the subprime mortgage lenders?

On December 3rd, 2007 Tom Adams said:

Hi Ethan – It was out of left field for me, too. The only thing I can come up with is that the Bush administration has been trying to dismantle everything FDR did. Eight years is almost up and time is running out on their chance to blow up Savings Bonds.

Given the current banking crisis, I think we’re going to come to regret letting Bush take apart and throw away the New Deal.

Tom Adams

On December 3rd, 2007 Charles said:

I have a hard time believing this is for the public good – except to bail out the FED at the citizens expense. The timing is VERY suspicious. Am I paranoid?

On December 3rd, 2007 Ethan Finneran said:

Hi Tom:

Thanks for staying on top of this stuff for all of us. Did the Fed issue any statement of reasons for the action? i guess not, as you would have referred to it, but I am just checking. This limit hurts my retirement plan. Oh well, on to the next . . .

Ethan Finneran

On December 3rd, 2007 Stephen McCullough said:

Tom:
Is this just a 2008 year fluke? Hopefully, during 2008 the treasury will see that this is a mistake, go back to the drawing board, and increase the purchase limit.

I feel like I bonds are becoming more microscoped as they are a good investment supplement. Do you think that treasury has regrets about offering the American people such a safe and reliable investment tool, and now they are trying to make up for it by drastically decreasing the purchase limit? What kind of message is the government sending to its people when they do something like this?

To me it states that they [US] aren’t confident that letting the American public borrow from them is a good lending tool. What does that say about what the US credit rating will be in 2038 and beyond? What are your thoughts? Maybe I am just being paranoid. What a great tool to help the average citizen save and now it is just been decapitated (nearly).

On December 4th, 2007 Ken said:

I think this helps explains why the I-bond fixed rate has been so low during most of the Bush administration. The low fixed rate may have made sense in 2002 to 2005, but it should have been much higher than it was during the last 2 years. With this new absurd low limit, it’s now clear they don’t want Savings Bonds to compete with the banks and brokerages.

On December 4th, 2007 Tom Adams said:

All – For complete information, you can read the Treasury’s Press Release on this here.

The Press Release links to this FAQ about the new limits.

Savings Bonds make up just a tiny part of the government’s debt and I doubt Henry Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury and former Wall Street bigwig, knows much about them.

I suspect, however, that deeper within the Treasury there are political appointees who have influence over the Savings Bond program and who want to make Savings Bonds uncompetitive with Wall Street and banking products. I have no evidence of this; it’s just a suspicion.

Tom Adams

On December 5th, 2007 william losch said:

Another example of the K-winter, slow motion implosion which will gain speed quickly so we should be thankful we got in before the the cloud of smoke.
Thanks

On December 5th, 2007 jdj said:

Thanks Tom.

It’s bad enough that the government can’t even encourage us to save more — for fear of a consumer-led recession — but now they won’t even let the minority of us who wish to save have a tax-deferred vehicle.

And it adds insult to injury on the day before we learn about the details of the subprime bailout “freeze”!

NUTS!

On December 6th, 2007 Robert Ranlett said:

The rationale offered by the Treasury Department seemed somewhat disingenuous. They want to restore savings bonds as a vehicle for savers with only small amounts of money and therefore are rolling back the annual limit to the 1973 level. I wonder what $5,000 in 1973 dollars translates into 2008 dollars? I also wonder if that is what so-called Patriot Bonds was all about – only individuals with small amounts of money would support the “Global War Against Terror”. What is so odd is that the Bush administration actually proposed “national savings accounts” if I remember correctly – isn’t that what TreasuryDirect is? I for one would be happy to buy TIPS in my 401K or IRA account if either I could (401K) or I could buy them without brokerage fees (IRA). Otherwise because of the tax treatment they do not seem to be as good a long term savings tool as I Bonds despite the rather low real interest rate that I bonds currently offers. I will raise this issue with both my senator and my representative not that I have any faith in either of them.

On December 6th, 2007 Patrick in Germany said:

Tom,

Is this the end of US Savings Bonds as we know it or is this a “G Dubya Bush” thing? I am currently putting in about 9k a year in savings bonds, but to lower that to 5k is like not saving much at all.

On December 6th, 2007 Tom Adams said:

Robert – your point about 1973 dollars is a good one. I have the CPI numbers here, the average for the twelve months of 1973 was 44.4. The most recent figure was 208. So today’s CPI-adjusted equivalent to $5,000 in 1973 is more than $23,000.

As a communications professional, I can tell you the communications professionals at the Treasury are stretching as hard as they can to put a good spin on this change, and you just caught them at it.

They also say, “Approximately 98 percent of all annual purchases of savings bonds by individuals are for $5,000 or less.” But aren’t the other 2% of purchases made by the Treasury’s best and most profitable customers? Why cut them off, of all people, unless you were trying to destroy the program?

A letter-writing campaign is a good idea. Your representatives need to know this is an issue for us.

Tom Adams

On December 6th, 2007 jdj said:

I just wrote letters to my senators and representative. I also sent letters to:

Max Baucus – Chairman of Finance Committee

Charles Grassley – Ranking member of Finance Committee

Spencer Bachus – Ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee

On December 11th, 2007 Robert Ranlett said:

Tom,

If Treasury really wanted a savings program for individuals with small means why not restarting the WW II era “Savings Stamps” program? Why not get rid of the 12 month holding period and why not sell bonds and saving stamps at the Post Office? How does TreasuryDirect with requirements for a computer, internet access and linked bank account address the needs of individuals many of whom don’t have and can’t get bank accounts?

On December 13th, 2007 Vince Gallo said:

Well!

This administration has done everything it can to destroy this once-great savings program. I have encouraged people for years to buy bonds. Now, I feel like a fool!

What did I expect? The Treasury Secretary came from Goldman Sachs, as well as the person who heads the trading desk at the Federal Reserve Bank.

I guess the big money guys can’t live with competition from a no cost, no middleman, savings vehicle.

My only question is if this is our national debt, why shouldn’t “We the People” be allowed to support it without having Wall Street sell it all to us??

On December 13th, 2007 Ernie said:

Tom, you really should send an alert on this to your mailing list. 1/1/2008 is right around the corner and I bet a lot of people haven’t gotten the (bad) news yet.

On December 15th, 2007 Bob K said:

I thought the old limit of $30,000 per individual was too high for a program designed for small investors. How many small investing couples can put anything like $60,000 into Ibonds per year?

On the other hand, the new limit of $10,000 per individual or $20,000 per couple seems too low. Can’t we strike a happy medium here?

On December 16th, 2007 Vince Gallo said:

Tom:

The more I think about this, the more it bothers me. Is it possible for you to organize an on-line petition to be delivered to the Whitehouse & the Congress expressing our deep disappointment about this latest attack on bonds?

Just a thought!

Thanks

On December 16th, 2007 Rick said:

This is actually pretty simple folks. First, head over here and educate yourselves about how our system actually works:

http://market-ticker.denninger.net/2007/12/moneycredit-cycle.html

T-bills, notes, and bonds are marketable, meaning, that they can be sold. SAVINGS Bonds, on the other hand, are issued to a SS#, and you can’t sell them on a secondary market.

That being said, the current financial system is in stagflation, which has traditionally been a period of moderate inflation, with little or no economic growth. Stagflation is always transitional. The important point now is that we are headed for deflation, which means that the actual value of a dollar bill will start to rise, since money (credit) is being destroyed. So, by investing in a non-marketable, non-callable security (SAVINGS bonds), the government will “lose” money, since they will be paying YOU back with money that is worth MORE than when YOU gave it to them! Losing scenario for them, and they know this, which is why they decreased the max from $30k to $5k. Also, I believe the general trend is people are starting to spend less, which further promotes deflation, the actual thing they are trying to prevent at all costs!

Now, you may wonder about the other marketable bonds, notes, and bills. Well, in a deflationary economy, their value will fall just like all other assets around them, making them discounting, so you will absolutely HAVE to hold them to maturity, or face a loss and sell them in the secondary market! They know this too!

Hope this helps on getting a leg up on your financial future!

On December 17th, 2007 Tom Adams said:

Hi Rick – I continue to think the lowering of the limit was more political than a reaction to the current economic situation. Savings Bonds are such a tiny part of what the Treasury does it would never give a thought to their economic impact.

Nonetheless, you are correct that a big advantage of Savings Bonds over Treasury securities is that their value never declines. The value of marketable Treasury securities goes down when interest rates go up.

With Savings Bonds, on the other hand, after one year you can redeem them on any business day of the year for their current redemption value, no matter what happens with interest rates.

Tom Adams

On December 17th, 2007 Charles said:

Gov’t debt is gov’t debt. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Savings Bond or a T Bill. Anyone who has ever stood in line at the bank while the teller fumbled with all the paper work on a $25 Savings Bond (not to mention all the paper work involved in mailing and eventual cashing of the bond). Could make a very good argument that a higher minimum purchase amount should have been set rather than a lower limit. The cost to the Savings Bond program has to be much higher for small purchases than for large. Especially anyone using Electronic Treasury Direct.

On December 17th, 2007 Robert Ranlett said:

For anyone who is interested: Tomorrow at noon ET there will be a web based live discussion on the Washington Post Web site – Financial Futures – which is essentially a questions and answers format. The guest will be Dr Zvi Bodie the author of “Worry Free Investing”. He writes about the important of I Bonds/TIPS for retirement savings.

On December 17th, 2007 Robert Ranlett said:

Just a comment on what Rick wrote: The advantages of savings bonds is that you don’t have to know if there will be inflation or deflation because between the two types of savings bonds you have both covered. You also know exactly what you will have in 30 years without running a Monte Carlo Simulation. In Canada an individual is allowed to own $500,000 worth of each type of savings bond. As for the fiction about restoring the US Savings Bond to the small saver – in the official history of the savings bond program it was noted that even when the “Baby Bond” program was started in 1935 with the Series A Bonds the $1000 bond was among the most popular purchase. We are being sold out to the interests of the financial industry pure and simple.

On December 19th, 2007 Mister Yeti said:

As a young(er) person whom is not knowledgeable in the ways of investing money, what should I do? Where would be a good place to invest for when I am old, my kids hate me, and the newest president is tryin’ to keep me down?

..I doubt that I would have 30-60,000 or with my wife 60-120,000 to invest, but, the new limit is crazy.

On December 20th, 2007 bob said:

Yeti, don’t blindly listen to anybody’s advice. Educate yourself.

On December 20th, 2007 Tom Adams said:

Yeti – I agree with Bob. You can learn about Savings Bonds on this site, but a Roth IRA is the first and best place to start saving. Do a Google search and invest with a reputable company like Vanguard or TIAA-CREF.

Tom Adams

On January 6th, 2008 david said:

say what you like but the national ass. of bankers.never liked the fact that the purchse limits were so high on savings bonds.this money otherwise is in low yeilding bank accounts loaned out at 9%.henry has done a favor for the bankers and wallstreet.

On January 28th, 2008 Andrew said:

What sense, on principle, does it make to restrict federal debt held by Americans in the form of bonds, but depend upon the Chinese Communist Government to buy the majority of our federal bonded debt? Someone is not thinking in Washington.

On February 14th, 2008 Jon said:

This is another in a series of steps the Treasury has taken to dismantle what used to be a good savings bonds program. I can recall buying bonds over the internet and using a credit card to pay for them. Paper bonds, $10,000 bonds, higher purchase limits, shorter “must-keep before penalty” periods, etc.

This government just doesn’t want Americans to save. Of course the government spends much more than it has, and HUGE debt is no problem for them. Accumulating and having a surplus is foreign to them.

On March 9th, 2008 Mark said:

Hi Tom. With the ever tightening money supply & credit crisis, lowering the limit of purchase amounts, (I believe gov’t did this to limit its debt obligations), and gov’t debt at all time highs, I’ve heard that gov’t plans to do away with “backed in full faith of US gov’t”. Thereby eliminating “safety” factor of savings bonds. This is supposed to happen in 18-24 months. Interesting scenario. Is this probable or even very possible? A couple of signatures could change everything. As did with purchase amounts.

On March 10th, 2008 Tom Adams said:

Hi Mark – the idea that the government lowered the Savings Bond purchase limit to “limit its debt obligations” is nonsense. Savings Bonds are a tiny part of the government’s debt obligations – well under 5% of the total.

The reason the limits were lowered is that some Bush-league bureaucrats deep in the bowels of the Treasury don’t want the government competing with banks for deposits under $100,000 (small enough to be guaranteed by FDIC insurance).

Most people today are worried that the government is going to add it’s “full faith” to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages; meanwhile you’re worried that the government is going to remove its “full faith” from Savings Bonds.

Personally, I much more concerned that the government’s “full faith” will become worthless than I am that it might be removed from Savings Bonds.

Tom Adams

On March 13th, 2008 Michael Binder said:

Hi Tom,
I was reading about savings bonds on the Fat Wallet forums. Several people have mentioned in the last few days that they are able to buy more than $5,000 of bonds on the treasury direct site.

On March 14th, 2008 Tom Adams said:

Michael – That’s interesting! Thanks for the tip.

Tom Adams

On March 17th, 2008 Rich S said:

I asked the Treasury Dept. what would happen if someone getting gift bonds from multiple recipients exceeded the limit, which is, of course, more likely now. The reply stated that “depending on the circumstances, the refunding of the excess purchase may be required”. Presumably, the 12-month holding period would be waived. Given that people have found the limit not to be being enforced on the Treasury Direct site, it appears that the rule is not actively enforced, but who really wants to risk breaking it when they have all the information online. At least, a gift recipient could plead ignorance.

On March 29th, 2008 Mike L said:

Our current credit crisis has many people on edge. They worry that the value of their home, an asset they viewed as a rock-solid investment as well as a roof over their heads, is falling. In that finantial environment they have begun to worry about their other investments such as stocks, bonds, even perhaps bank deposits. If your local bank were to fail, could you get the money out to pay your bills? I don’t know the answer to that, but I can imagine that there might be a delay; one that any of us might ill afford. In any event, paranoid or not, these could be legitimate thoughts of concern.

Perhaps the treasury people foresaw a potentially calamitous situation whereby massive numbers of mid-level savers who had never even considered savings bonds before, became sufficiently frightened by this scenario of systemic collapse, and preceived the relative safety of savings bonds against both loss of capital and inflation to be a logical choice.
Under the previous limits, each couple could have moved up to $120,000 from their savings into savings bonds.

If the idea caught fire, and in these internet-connected days ideas like that do catch fire (witness the run on Northern Rock in Britain), it could have precipitated runs on local banks to buy savings bonds. The banks may not have failed if the fed stepped into fill the liquidity deficit but I can imagine what a chaotic mess it could have become.

I’m not happy at all with the reduction of limits, but think this could explain the thinking behind it. Too bad the government doesn’t explain its thinking itself so we wouldn’t have to guess.

And that my two bits.

On March 30th, 2008 Robert said:

Mike L,

I agree with you. For any one in the 33% or higher tax bracket I-bonds are probably the best virtually risk-free place to put your money. It doesn’t take an economic genius to figure this out. Your tax deffered savings on interest is 33% or higher and your tax free savings on intrest is a another 7% or more depending on what state you live. All of a sudden the realized gaurenteed return for a government backed security is 6% or more depending on the looming rise of inflation. For those who have the resources they would have to be crazy not to put their money into I-bonds during the ‘worse of times’ if it were coming, and believe me its coming. Image if just one million housholds maxed out their I-bond allowances under the old rules–that would be 60-120 billion dollars sucked out of the more liquid markets. Money that would be needed to keep things going during a rough time. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I am sure that there are persons at the Fed and the Treasury Department that are saying we can’t risk the potential loss of liquid capital in the economy that could ensue if people would be able to shelter this much of their assets. It would great for the idividual but disasterous for the economy. Is it fair? No. Is it prudent? Maybe.

On March 31st, 2008 Tom Adams said:

Hi Robert – money going into Savings Bonds doesn’t suck any more liquidity out of the economy than money going into Treasury bills, notes, and bonds.

Savings Bonds are just a pittance compared to the other Treasury securities – less than 5% of the total. So, sorry, but I can’t buy this theory.

Tom Adams

On April 2nd, 2008 Randy said:

Tom: The limit for I bonds is $5000 for electronic and $5000 for paper bonds per year.
Why the fuss, when you can convert paper bonds to your treasury direct account.

Why don’t they just make it 10K per social security number, so we don’t have to mess with paper bonds which are so retro.

On April 4th, 2008 Scott said:

I just made a purchase, was unaware of the limit, and have now purchase $8300 of I bonds on treasury direct! They actually sent me an email at 12:00am asking me to delete any pending transactions that exceed the limit. I went to check on the purchase tonight, saw the message, went to cancel it, and they had already processed it in full! Why are they letting people purchase more than $5000????? I emailed them to see what I need to do, but I don’t know what I can do!!!! I’m a little frightened that their controls are that lacking….

On April 5th, 2008 Scott said:

So has anybody else contacted TD after inadvertently exceeding the purchase limit?

I tried to email them using the contact us link that is on the page after you log in, which of course does not work! So I found another link, and emailed them. Since it was a Friday night, I’ll have to wait until next week for a reply (hopefully)….

The other thing I do not understand is why is the limit 5k online and 5k paper for each bond type? What is the point of that??? I converted all my paper bonds so I would not have to deal with them anymore, and now in order to purchase more than 5k I have to buy them again? To probably only convert them later???? WHAT IS THE POINT????

Anyway, I will follow up with a post once I get a reply from them. I am hoping since I didn’t exceed the overall limit of 10k for the year ($8300 so far), they let this slide…..

On April 7th, 2008 Tom Adams said:

Hi Scott – we’re all rooting for you. Let us know what happens.

Tom Adams

On April 7th, 2008 Scott said:

Ok, I had ended up sending emails through 2 different links, as I was not sure which was best (the secure one from the account page was broken), and I got 2 replies, which are as follows (names removed):

Hello Scott,

Effective January 1, 2008, the annual (calendar year) purchase limit applying to Series EE and Series I savings bonds is $5,000, issue price, for each series. The limit is applied per Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN). Individuals or entities may purchase up to $5,000 worth of each series in paper form. In addition, individuals can buy up to the same amount of each series in TreasuryDirect online accounts, or a total of $20,000 (issue price) in sole or primary ownership form per calendar year.

Unfortunately, the TreasuryDirect system does not stop the account owner from purchasing over the limit. You can keep the bonds purchased in March even though it is over the limitation as you were not aware of the limitation when you purchased the bonds. Future excess purchases may result in a refund of the money and possible closure of the account if there are repeated violations.

There was a temporary problem with the “Contact Us” link but it has now been fixed. We’re sorry for any problems this may have caused you.

==========================================
SECOND REPLY:

Hi,

As the excess purchase of electronic bonds was not intentional, it will be forgiven. You need to do nothing further regarding the purchase. However, please note that future excess purchases may result in a refund of the excess and possible closure of the account if there are repeated violations.

The TreasuryDirect system will not allow a purchase of more than $5,000 at one time. If you purchase over $5,000 in total, the system will send you a message to that effect.

Effective January 1, 2008, the annual (calendar year) purchase limit applying to Series EE and Series I savings bonds is $5,000, issue price, for each series. The limit is applied per Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN). Individuals or entities may purchase up to $5,000 worth of each series in paper form. In addition, individuals can buy up to the same amount of each series in TreasuryDirect online accounts, or a total of $20,000 (issue price) in sole or primary ownership form per calendar year.

There was a temporary problem with the Contact Us link but it has since been resolved. We apologize for any inconvenience.

===========================================

So basically, they let it slide…. I assume if I were over the 10k total limit for I-Bonds, they might have refunded it, but know way to know for sure.

On April 8th, 2008 Tom Adams said:

Scott – great info. Thanks for reporting back.

Tom Adams

On April 24th, 2008 Jon said:

I believe the Treasury has undergone a prolonged systematic attempt to dismantle the savings bond program. It seems that every time they tinker with it, the tinkering diminishes the program’s value. When I e-mail the savings bonds folks questioning the changes they make, they seem to always provide weak justifications for the changes. For example, their attempt to eradicate the paper bond was to save money on paper. We spend billions a month on a needless war and we’re worried about the cost of the paper that is involved with a savings bond program? The paper for savings bonds cost us more billions per month than the war? Give me a break!! …And I won’t even go into the billions spent on pork-barrel projects…

The drop in the limit on I-Bond purchases to $5000 was to encourage the small investor who may have only 50 or 100 dollars to invest. The 50 and 100 dollar denominations were in place before the drop in the limit and they’re still there now. So what did the change bring in that regard?

When I look at what my $10,000 I-bonds have done in the past 8 years I think I can see the real answer to the limit change. The interest rates were great!

The Bush government runs on credit and it has no problem using the Treasury to bail out big business (and big campaign contributors) with liberal credit. I guess we live in an age when saving isn’t cool. But it sure is nice to know about those 10K I-Bonds being secure when I see the stock market dropping, overextended mortages resulting in defaults, credit card debt soaring, and credit bubbles bursting as though it’s Saturday night with Lawrence Welk!

I long for the old days when I could purchase a $10,000 paper I-Bond online using my cash-back credit card. Those were the days!

On January 16th, 2009 Mark said:

In 2008, I purchased a $5,000 paper I bond and $5,000 through TreasuryDirect. After I received the paper bond, I completed paperwork to convert it to electronic form and mailed in the form and bond. The bond was mailed back to me with a statement that I had already purchase my $5,000 limit in electronic form, so a conversion was unallowed.

On January 19th, 2009 Tom Adams said:

Mark – see the comments here for more on this issue.

On February 17th, 2009 Jarrett said:

I want to do my patriotic duty and help my country in this time of financial crisis. Instead of borrowing $8,000,000,000,000 from China and other nations, why not let American citizens hold most if not all of that debt. I know I have America’s best interest in my heart so let me buy more bonds! Raise the cap!

On February 17th, 2009 Tom Adams said:

Jarrett – While I totally agree with you that the annual purchase limits on Savings Bonds are a disgrace, it’s important to understand the relative size of these debts. All Savings Bonds outstanding, including accrued interest, are worth about $200 billion. A “war bond” type effort might be able to double that, but $200 billion has become peanuts compared to the public and private debts of US citizens.

Tom Adams

Comments Closed

June 1, 2010

After six years, over 400 posts, 3,680 real comments, and over 90,000 spam comments (thank you, Akismet, for making managing a blog with comments possible), I am closing public comments on Savings-Bond-Advisor.com. I will contine to update the main articles on this site, but not the comments.

Virtually every question about Savings Bonds has been asked and answered on this site multiple times. Use the search feature (see the box in the gray area near the top of this page) or the detailed menu on the lower part of the home page to find the information you're looking for. If you have a copy of Savings Bond Advisor, you can ask me a question here.

Tom Adams

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