Nov. 3, 2008 -- As Americans watch their retirement accounts and investment portfolios atrophy, I thought I'd offer an antidote: There could be thousands of dollars worth of U.S. savings bonds in your family's name that you've forgotten to cash in.
Here's a consumer quiz for you. True or false? "You should hang on to U.S. savings bonds as long as possible." The answer is false. Today's U.S. savings bonds mature in 30 years. After that, they stop going up in value. (There was a time when the government also issued 40-year bonds.) Unfortunately, millions of Americans either don't realize this or have forgotten they even have savings bonds.
There are 25 million U.S. savings bonds that have never been cashed in. If you were to line them up end to end, they would stretch all the way from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. The total value of all those orphan bonds is about $9 billion. Most of us could use a little "found money" right now. At the very least, you'll want to get that money working for you again. The U.S. Treasury Department has launched a campaign to help people claim their bonds.
Barbara S. heard about the campaign. She had been holding onto a savings bond for 32 years. It had a face value of $500. A family member paid the discounted rate of $375 for it back in the 1970s, and gave it to Barbara as a gift.
Barbara had no idea how much it would be worth. When she cashed it in, she got a pleasant surprise: $2,800.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK:
1. Check around your house to see if you can find any evidence of uncashed savings bonds. If you find the paper certificates, check them to see if they've matured yet.
2. To double-check whether there is an outstanding savings bond in your name, go to the Treasury Department's Web site here.
3. If you feel fairly certain you own an outstanding savings bond, but it's not listed on the Web site, you can write to the Treasury Department and ask the agency to search old microfiche records by hand.