The current 2.2 percent rate on Series I savings bonds may be tempting, but buying the bonds has become more complicated, according to Consumer Reports. You can no longer purchase paper Series I and EE savings bonds - those convenient envelope-stuffer gifts - at banks and credit unions. Rather, you must buy electronic bonds through the Treasury Department's Web-based system, TreasuryDirect.
In buying a savings bond for ?her young nephew, CR's reporter learned that the process can be clunky. Here's help:
First, go to treasurydirect.gov, find the section labeled "Open an Account," then click on "TreasuryDirect." Have on hand your Social Security or taxpayer identification number (and the recipient's, if it's a gift), the savings or checking account number from which you'll be making purchases, and the institution's ?routing number.
To open an account for a child, the parent or guardian must first set up his or her own account, then the child's account. The accounts are linked, and the parent has control until the child turns 18.
Once you receive your account number and enter it, TreasuryDirect will send you an email with a one-time passcode - different from the account password - to access the account. Registering your computer eliminates the need for a passcode each time you log in.
You choose your security settings, then add a "registration" or owner. Choose "sole owner" if one person - you or a gift recipient - will own the bond. Choose "primary owner" if two people will own the bond (the site lets you designate a second co-registrant). Choose "beneficiary" only to designate who gets the bond when you die. Next, TreasuryDirect takes you to a new page, where you choose the owner's name from the "Add New Registration" drop-down menu.
If you're buying for someone who doesn't yet have a TreasuryDirect account, you can still buy the bond by clicking "This is a Gift" during purchase. Until you transfer the bond to the recipient, it will be stored in a virtual gift box.
Series I and EE savings bonds have a fixed rate of return. New EE bonds' current rate is 0.6 percent. Series I bonds also have a variable, semiannual inflation rate that is adjusted in May and November. You can buy electronic bonds in any denomination between $25 and $10,000, down to the penny. They're bought at face value: a $50 bond costs $50. Interest begins to accrue at the point of purchase.
To get a piece of paper to hand the recipient, print out a gift certificate in one of several designs offered on the TreasuryDirect site.
For a demonstration, go to treasurydirect.gov/indiv/planning/plan_giftsdemo.htm.
Legal DIY sites lackluster
For a fraction of what you'd pay for a lawyer, websites such as LegalZoom, Nolo and Rocket Lawyer can help you create your own will, power of attorney and other important legal documents. But can they really save you a visit to a lawyer?
CR recently evaluated those t?hree services. Using their online worksheets or downloads, CR ?created a will, a car bill of sale for a seller, a home lease for a small landlord, and a promissory note. It then asked three law professors to review the processes and resulting documents in a blind test. The law experts consulted were Gerry W. Beyer of Texas Tech University School of Law, who specializes in estates ?and trusts; Richard K. Neumann ?of Hofstra University, a contract specialist; and Norman Silber, an expert in consumer and commercial law at Hofstra and Yale.
The verdict: Using any of the three services is generally better than drafting the documents yourself without legal training or not having them at all. But unless your needs are simple - say, you want to leave your entire estate to your spouse - none of the will-writing products are likely to entirely meet your needs. And in some cases, the other documents aren't specific enough or contain language that could lead to "an unintended result," in Silber's words.
You can no longer purchase paper Series I and EE savings bonds.