Savings bonds: The older the better?

Dear Dr. Don,
I have a number of U.S. savings bonds that are several decades old. How much would a $20 savings bond purchased in 1958 be worth today?

— Scott Scenario

Dear Scott,
According to the government’s Savings Bond Wizard website, savings bonds weren’t sold in $20 denominations in 1958. Bonds of similar values were sold at that time, however.

A Series E savings bond issued in January 1958 with a face value of $25 and purchased for $17.25 is worth $183.12 today. That’s the same value it was worth in January 1998 when it reached its final maturity.

It earned an average yield of 5.78 percent over its 40-year life, but not a penny in interest since. Further bad news, the interest earnings are taxable in the year that the bond matured. Back in 1998, you could have used the proceeds to buy a Series HH savings bond and continued to defer the tax liability, although income taxes on the interest income from the Series HH savings bond were due annually. Series HH savings bonds are no longer issued, so the continuance of the tax deferral is no longer an option.

Work with your tax professional to establish the tax liability on the interest earnings. Most savings bond investors defer payment of income taxes over time instead of paying it in the year it was earned. If that’s what you did with your bonds, you not only owe the income taxes, you are likely to owe a penalty for the late payment of that tax liability.

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