Bonds are Sexy
These are some difficult financial times— and I know that it can be scary, especially when words like “recession” and “depression” are thrown around. Frankly, I’m anticipating that the economy is going to get more precarious before it stabilizes.
But this is why I’m here. This is why I write The Money Minute, this is why I have my podcast, this is why I do what I do: to help you get through difficult economic times. I chose to focus my career on financial literacy in the wake of the 2008 recession, because I saw financial knowledge making the biggest difference in people being able to live the lives they want, without huge amounts of disruption. During the recession I was broke, but I was able to get myself through, in part, because I sought out the financial tools to build a proverbial shelter to weather the storm. And if I made it through 2008, you can make it through 2022. So let’s get prepared for the storm ahead.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the way to build real wealth is to invest. But with the current financial landscape, I do recommend buying into some safer investments.
And the best safe investment you can make right now, is the Series I Bond. And I know— your eyes are glazing over because bond talk makes you fall asleep. And can I just say— poor bonds, they get all sorts of flack. People think bonds are bad birthday gifts, boring, lame, and so on. But here’s the thing: if bonds aren’t the sexy investment of the moment, what is?
Is it Tesla? Because at the time I’m recording this, Tesla is down 45.8% since the beginning of this year.
Is it Apple? Because even Apple is down 27.7% since January.
Is it Bitcoin? Hell no. Bitcoin is down 57.6% since January.
You know what the current interest rate on a Series I Bond is? 9.62%— and that’s 9.62% gains, not losses.
So, I ask you again: what is sexier? A 50% loss on your investment or nearly 10% in gains? Yep. Bonds are the hero that we need in this economy.
Bond, I Bonds
There are many different types of bonds, which you can learn more about here. In this article, I’m going to focus just on the Series I Bond, because it’s the MVP of all bonds right now.
Here’s what makes the Series I Bond so special: the yield is based on two different rates. One is a fixed interest rate— and that stays the same for the life of the bond. The second rate is based on inflation— and that is where the “I” in “Series I” comes from. That second rate changes every six months based on inflation— so your I Bond yield will stay dynamic to keep pace with inflation.
Right now the fixed interest rate for I Bonds is 0%, and the semiannual rate based on inflation is 4.81%— so annualized, you get a composite rate of 9.62%.
Let’s pause for a second because this is an important thing to realize— when we talk about Series I Bonds, we talk about the annualized rate, but that’s not what you’re actually going to earn every time the interest compounds— because the interest compounds semiannually every six months, which, of course, is two times a year. So, when you see the Series I interest rate, just know that you’re going to earn half of that annualized rate on a six-month basis. Let’s take the current rate as an example. The Series I annualized rate is 9.62%, so if you were to buy a Series I bond now, you would earn half of that— or, 4.81%— on your investment over six months.
And here’s another important thing to understand: even though you’ll earn 4.81% during this six month period, your rate may change for the next six month period. Because again— the interest rates on I Bonds adjust for inflation twice a year— on May 1st and November 1st. So that annualized 9.62% interest rate can and will change: it will go up, or down, depending on what inflation does.
And I know this gives potential investors pause, because our minds immediately go to a response like “Oh— my ROI could go down?! Well, screw that, that doesn’t sound like a good bang for my buck.” And yes, the Series I ROI could be smaller in future years than it is right now, and you should understand that going in.
But in my opinion, we should be prioritizing investments that protect against inflation. Inflation is a very real force that is rocking the economy— and analysts say it’s here to stay. Plus, even if your ROI on an I Bonds shrinks, the lowest it can go down to is zero. In other words, you might earn no interest, but your initial investment will still be intact. So, with I Bonds, you’re never going to lose your initial investment— like you might if you invested in Bitcoin, just saying…
Let’s talk about the maturation timeline. Once you buy an I Bond, there’s no other action required from you in order to keep your investment growing. For as long as you keep the bond, it automatically adjusts to the new rate every six months, your interest is reflected monthly, your interest is reinvested every six months, and compound interest does its thing.
Like most bonds, you’re incentivized to hold onto your investment for a while. The earliest you can cash in on your bond is a year. So when you’re deciding how much money to put toward a Series I Bond, choose an amount that you can live without for a year. There’s no paying for rent or groceries with an I Bond.
If you cash in on the bond after one year, but before five years have passed, you will get a small penalty of three months worth of interest. So, for example, if you cash in on your I Bond after three years, you’ll get back two years and nine months worth of interest.
However, if you cash in your bond after five years, there is no penalty. You get your investment back, plus all of the interest you’ve accrued. The bond matures completely after 30 years. So, once those three decades are up, (if you haven’t already), cash that baby in because it won’t be generating any more interest.
If you’re sold on I Bonds, which I’m hoping you are, you can buy them online at TreasuryDirect.gov. You’ll need to create an account, which is easy to do, and their site is pretty easy to navigate.
The minimum amount you can buy in a Series I bond is $25 and the maximum is $10,000 per year; any amount between that minimum and maximum is fair game. You could buy an I Bond for $9,999.99 you could buy an I Bond for $1,234.56… you get the picture. Just remember: choose to invest an amount that you won’t need for the next year. Instead, look at your 5-30 year goals— and invest in yourself, because there is an “I” in I Bond.
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