June 15, 2011 -- The U.S. Treasury's Bureau of the Public Debt is holding 44.7 million matured, unredeemed savings bonds worth $16.3 billion -- and one of them could belong to your family. "Matured" means they have finished earning interest.
"Unredeemed" means the owners haven't cashed them in. When you consider that savings bonds take 20 to 40 years to mature, it's easy to see how people could forget about them.
The good news is that in 2000 the Treasury Department started its "Treasury Hunt" website, where you can search for savings bonds in your family's name.
Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to try it out.
All you do is enter a social security number and the site returns results instantly. Here are additional questions and answers about searching for unredeemed savings bonds that will make your search more productive:
Q: I received savings bonds as a gift. Should I search under my social security number or the person's who gave me the bonds?
A: Both. In 1974, the Treasury started asking for a social when issuing a bond. Gift bonds are allowed to be listed in the name of the giver or the receiver.
Q: I think I bought bonds before 1974. How do I search for those?
A: The Treasury Hunt website only lists savings bonds purchased from 1974 to the present, because it is organized by social security number, and that is when socials started being required. If you believe you may be owed money from an older bond, you can request a hand search by filling out a form here or by calling 1-800-553-2663.
Q: What do I have to do to claim my matured, unredeemed savings bond?
A: If you find a bond for yourself or your family on the Treasury Hunt website, you will be prompted to submit a preliminary claim. (Don't miss this step. Treasury says its Treasury Hunt website has had 350,000 hits based on social security number since it went live, but that only 100,000 people left their contact information, so they could claim their bonds.)
A Treasury Department "finder" will then call you back to ask for more details and research your claim. If you are a match, then either the finder will mail you claim forms to fill out or you can download them from the website.
The claim forms for savings bonds must contain a certified signature. This process involves going to a bank, credit union, etc., presenting identification, and then signing the forms in the presence of a bank officer or notary who then certifies that your signature is valid.
Q: If I think there should be savings bonds in my name, but find nothing, do I have any other recourse?
A: Yes. Every month the Treasury Department adds another half million bonds to the database as they mature, so check back periodically.
Q: I believe I may own bonds that I have lost track of but that have not yet matured. How can I search for those?
A: You, too, can fill out a bond search request form, here, or call 1-800-553-2663. Treasury employees will research your query based on your social security number and other information provided.
Q: How do savings bonds work?
A: The Treasury has issued different savings bond series over the years and they are all slightly different. But the basic series "EE" savings bond listed in the Treasury Hunt search system worked like this:
1. You purchased the bond for half its face value. So, for example, a $50 bond cost $25.
2. That EE bond was guaranteed to grow to its face value after 20 years. So, a $50 savings bond purchased for $25 would have grown to $50.
3. The EE bond would then continue earning interest for another 10 years.
4. After 30 years, the EE bond was completely matured and no longer earned any more interest. For this reason, it's best to cash it in, or reinvest it, so that your money is once again working for you.
Q: I bought savings bonds years ago, but never received them in the mail. How do I claim my money?
A: The Treasury Department refers to these as "undeliverable" bonds. Once again, the answer is to request a hand search. You can do that by filling out a request form or by calling 1-800-553-2663.
Q: I own savings bonds and have records of the dates and types. How do I know if they have stopped earning interest?
A: Below are charts from the Treasury Department's website that will show you. Still unsure? Try Treasury's "Bond Wizard."
The following savings bonds no longer earn interest:
Series E, all issues
Series EE, issued January 1980 through June 1981
Series H, all issues
Series HH, issued January 1980 through June 1991
Savings Notes, all issues
A, B, C, D, F, G, J, K, all issues
Here's how long the following savings bonds earn interest:
Series E, issued May 1941 to November 1965, earn interest for 40 years
Series E, issued December 1965 to June 1980, earn interest for 30 years
Series EE, all issues, earn interest for 30 years
Series H, issued June 1952 to January 1957, earn interest for 29 years, 8 months
Series H, issued February 1957 to December 1979, earn interest for 30 years
Series HH, all issues, earn interest for 20 years
Series I, all issues, earn interest for 30 years
Savings Notes, all issues, earn interest for 30 years