Will the Treasury raise the I Bond fixed rate on Nov. 2?

Savings-Bond-II Bond investors are going to be getting back in the game on Nov. 2, after suffering through six months of 0.0% returns, which effectively cut off all I Bond sales from May to October 2015. Only a sucker would sign up for 0.0%.

Series I Savings Bonds pay a composite interest rate comprised of two interest rates – the permanent fixed rate (currently 0.0%) and the variable inflation rate (currently -1.60% annualized). On Nov. 2, the variable rate will rise to 1.54% because of a 0.77% rise in inflation from March to September. We won’t know the new fixed rate until the Treasury announcement – probably coming at 10 a.m. on Nov. 2. Tip: This page will update on the Treasury site, you can watch it on Monday.

I will be buying I Bonds next week even if the fixed rate remains at 0.0%. A 1.54% return is decent for a super-safe investment that will track inflation into the future. I Bonds can be sold after a year with a small (three-month) interest penalty, or after five years with no penalty. Income taxes are deferred. I Bonds are deflation proof, too.

Because the Treasury limits us to buying $10,000 per year per person, I think it’s smart to continue building a cache of I Bonds, pushing inflation-protected money into the future. If the fixed rate rises in the future, sell some of your I Bonds with 0.0% fixed rates to buy new ones, up to the limit.

But is there a chance the fixed rate will rise?

Yes, there is a chance. I think it is fairly slim, maybe a 30% chance the fixed rate will rise to 0.1% or even 0.2%. Remember, the Treasury sold practically zero I Bonds from May to October. If it wants to give buyers an incentive, it should raise the fixed rate as a token gesture. That is what it should do, but the Treasury doesn’t come to me for advice.

Back in November 2013, the Treasury shocked everyone by raising the fixed rate to 0.2%. That move came out of the blue. At the time, a 10-year TIPS was yielding 0.5%, meaning it had only a 30 basis point spread over an I Bond. That is the lowest spread in history for any I Bond with a fixed rate higher than 0.0%.

Then, six months later, in May 2014, the Treasury lowered the I Bond fixed rate to 0.1%, resulting in a 33 basis point spread with a 10-year TIPS. Since then, the fixed rate has been 0.0%.

Here is a chart showing the historical spread of the I Bond fixed rate and 10-year TIPS yield. At the top is our current situation, and the resulting spreads for fixed rates of 0.0% to 0.3%.

Month I Bond Fixed Rate 10-Year TIPS Basis Point Difference
Oct 29 2015 0.0 0.63 63
Oct 29 2015 0.1 0.63 53
Oct 29 2015 0.2 0.63 43
Oct 29 2015 0.3 0.63 33
May 2015 0.0 0.18 18
Nov 2014 0.0 0.43 43
May 2014 0.1 0.43 33
Nov 2013 0.2 0.50 30
May 2013 0.0 -0.64 -64
Nov 2012 0.0 -0.77 -77
May 2012 0.0 -0.28 -28
Nov 2011 0.0 -0.04 -4
May 2011 0.0 0.75 75
Nov 2010 0.0 0.49 49
May 2010 0.2 1.32 112
Nov 2009 0.3 1.41 111
May 2009 0.1 1.80 170
Nov 2008 0.7 3.09 239
May 2008 0.0 1.52 152
Nov 2007 1.2 2.00 80
May 2007 1.3 2.19 89
Nov 2006 1.4 2.29 89
May 2006 1.4 2.42 102
Nov 2005 1.0 2.00 100
May 2005 1.2 1.61 41
Nov 2004 1.0 1.67 67
May 2004 1.0 2.09 109

The good news is that even at a fixed rate of 0.3%, the spread drops to only 33 basis points, which is in line with that November 2014 move by the Treasury. The bad news is that over the last 10 years, the Treasury has let the spread rise as high as 239 basis points. It also kept a fixed rate of 0.0% in May 2011, resulting in a spread of 75 basis points.

As a general rule, I think the Treasury would like to keep the I Bond spread 75 to 100 basis points below a 10-year TIPS. I Bonds have a lot of advantages over TIPS. Tax deferral is a big one, and they have a flexible term of 1 to 30 years.

But things have changed dramatically since the mid-2000s, and inflation fears have turned to deflation fears. The Treasury may want to give I Bonds a boost. I hope so.

Conclusion. Whether or not the fixed rate rises, I will be buying I Bonds next week, up the limit. If the fixed rate rises, I will also buy my 2016 allocation in January. If it stays at 0.0%, I will hold off purchasing them until later in 2016.


About Tipswatch

Author of Tipswatch.com blog, David Enna is a long-time journalist based in Charlotte, N.C. A past winner of two Society of American Business Editors and Writers awards, he has written on real estate and home finance, and was a founding editor of The Charlotte Observer's website.
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7 Responses to Will the Treasury raise the I Bond fixed rate on Nov. 2?

  1. tipswatch says:

    Scott, you will be able to buy only $10,000 of the new I Bonds, per person. So if you sell $10,000, you can buy $10,000, but your net total remains the same.

  2. Scott & Cindy says:

    I have a quick question. This is an example. I have $10,000 in I bonds with a fixed rate of 0.0%. If the time comes and the fixed rate is e.g. .5% and I sell my $10,000 with a fixed rate of 0.0% and buy $10,000 the I bonds with a fixed rate of .5% will I also be able to buy an additional $10,000 of I bonds in that same year? Also what is the max you are allowed to sell in 1 year and repurchase that same year. Thanks Scott

  3. tipswatch says:

    Len, my answer is that no super-safe investment is guaranteed to beat inflation, not with our current low rates. You could do a 5-year CD at maybe 2.25%. That might beat inflation. It might not. If you could hold it a Roth IRA (I can’t), you could avoid taxes. I’d say a Roth IRA has a better chance to beat inflation. Not an option for me so I look for alternatives.

  4. Len says:

    Believe me your work is much appreciated (how many people are recommended by Zvi Bodie?) but ignoring taxation gives people the false impression their investment will track inflation. At these low rates, regardless of holding period, one is guaranteed to lose “real” money over time unless you expect to pay zero taxes in the future.

  5. tipswatch says:

    S, the usual advice is that when you buy I Bonds near the end of the month you still earn a full month’s interest. However, my money market cash is currently earning 0.02%, so it makes no difference. I’ll just do it and check off that task.

  6. S says:

    Since you said you’ll buy I bonds next week, I was wondering if there’s some reason you’re not waiting until the end of November? I’ve seen that advice repeated various places, e.g.:

  7. Clara Hickey says:

    Thank you so much for this very important information.

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