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Who can advise on EE bonds?

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Dear Dr. Don,
I bought Series EE savings bonds for my daughter beginning in 1994 through 2008. Who can I talk to about what to do with them: a tax adviser, attorney, financial consultant or a Treasury Department representative? I can’t find any usable information on the websites.
— Sterling Savings

Dear Sterling, 

Perhaps you’re looking at the wrong websites. Along with Bankrate’s features on savings bonds, including a few Dr. Don columns, the place to go is the TreasuryDirect website. It’ll provide you with all the details about savings bonds — short of offering investment advice.

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I recommend starting out by putting them all into the Savings Bond Wizard. It’s a free download available on TreasuryDirect, and it’ll let you know the particulars of every bond in the portfolio.

My guess is that she has some winners in the portfolio, along with some bonds she wouldn’t mind redeeming and putting that money to work somewhere else. There’s a three-month interest penalty if she redeems a bond within five years of its issue date, but most of the portfolio is past that date.

Savings bond owners have a choice of paying income taxes on the interest earnings annually, called the accrual method, or to defer the income tax until the bonds are either redeemed or mature, called the cash method. For children, it can sometimes be advantageous to pay the interest annually. She can convert from the cash method to the accrual method. In the year of change, she must report all interest accrued to date and not previously reported for all her bonds. IRS Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses, has more on the tax choices. You may want to bring your accountant into the conversation before changing the tax method.

I’m assuming that the savings bonds are in her name and not yours. If they are in her name, then she can’t take advantage of the education tax exclusion when cashing in the bonds to meet her qualified higher education expenses. The TreasuryDirect Web page on Education Planning has more information about this topic.

This would be a great opportunity to discuss the portfolio with your daughter and her goals for the money, the tax implications, and whether she should redeem any bonds and reinvest the proceeds elsewhere. You can certainly bring in an investment or tax professional if needed, but try to get your arms around the do-it-yourself approach first. At a minimum, you’ll be better able to discuss her situation with those professionals.

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