Get inflation-proof bonds paying 9.62 percent while there is still time


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With another painful inflation report showing rapidly increasing prices for rent, food, medical care, electricity and heating fuel in September, people are searching for a safe place for their savings.

If you have money to spare — parked in a low-paying savings account — the Treasury Department’s Series I savings bond is paying 9.62 percent right now, the highest yield since the bond debut in 1998.

But you only have a short window, until the end of October, to take advantage of the rate. Savers who want to lock in that rate for an additional six months have until Friday, Oct. 28 to make their I bond purchase to ensure that it will be issued by the Oct. 31 deadline.

Here’s why that cutoff period is important.

There are two components to the return for an I bond: a fixed rate and an inflation-adjusted rate. The fixed rate of return and the semiannual inflation rate are announced by the Treasury Department at the start of May and November every year.

While the fixed rate stays the same for the life of the 30-year bond (and is zero right now), the inflation rate adjusts every six months based on changes in the consumer price Index for all Urban Consumers.

Prices rose in September and ensure tough interest rates to come

Although inflation is still at historically high levels, the latest numbers show a slight slowdown, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some indexes declined in September, including those for used cars and trucks and apparel. Consumer price increases were partly offset by a 4.9 percent decline in the gasoline index. So, it is likely that the inflation index part of the I bond could see a rate drop in November.

However, investors who buy I bonds before Nov. 1 will still get the 9.62 percent rate for the first six months they hold the bonds. But you have to get your confirmation email for the purchase of your I bond by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern time on Oct. 28 to ensure you lock in the rate.

Here are some things you need to know about purchasing an I bond.

— To buy an electronic I bond, you must first set up an account at TreasuryDirect.gov.

— Individuals can purchase up to $10,000 in I bonds in a calendar year. For married couples, each spouse can purchase up to the $10,000 limit.

— Don’t buy an I bond with money you think you’ll need soon. This is not the place to put funds you need to access in case of an emergency expense such as a major car repair. Those funds should stay in your savings account. You have to hold an I bond for 12 months from the issue date before it can be redeemed.

— If you cash in the bond in less than five years, you lose the last three months of interest. Once your I bond is five years old, there is no interest penalty if you cash it in.

This key Treasury bond is paying a high rate. Here is how to buy it.

— If you have never set up a TreasuryDirect account before, take the guided tour on the website and be sure to read the directions carefully to minimize any issues. People who encounter problems will find it hard to reach a live person to help. Wait times for assistance at 844-284-2676 can be long. (Calls are accepted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday).

— Given the problems some people have had setting up a TreasuryDirect account, don’t procrastinate. Get it done now. Don’t wait until Oct. 28. Savers searching for information or help to resolve an issue about I bonds have flooded TreasuryDirect, causing much longer waits than usual.

— If you have trouble setting up an online account, you’ll need to get paperwork signed by your bank. If that happens, it’s not likely you’ll make the Oct. 28 deadline.

I initially tried to buy an I bond in June. TreasuryDirect said it had difficulty verifying the information I provided. I wasn’t told why there was an issue.

What to know about the inflation index bonds paying 9.62 percent

“We are not provided with any information related to issues with the account verification,” an automatic email from TreasuryDirect said.

Because of the problems verifying my information, I had to complete an account authorization form and mail it to a Treasury site in Minneapolis. The first email from TreasuryDirect said “the average approval takes 10-15 days but may be longer based on the volume of forms we receive.”

A few weeks after I mailed in the form, I received an email acknowledging Treasury had received my form and that the approval process could take up to 13 weeks for review and processing. It was good they managed my expectations. Two weeks later, I received yet another email from TreasuryDirect saying the hold on my account was removed, and I could make my I bond purchase.

If you have trouble setting up a TreasuryDirect account on your first try, you are unlikely to be able to meet the Oct. 28 deadline to take advantage of the 9.62 percent rate. There’s just not enough time to navigate the verification process.

But with inflation still high, I bonds will continue paying significantly more than a savings account or certificate of deposit even after the rate resets in November. So don’t give up if you hit a snag in the process.

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