How to Recover Lost US Savings Bonds

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Here’s a drawback to US savings bonds that you might not have considered: Savings Bonds are easy to forget about. Paper savings bonds are often left in safe deposit boxes and forgotten. Electronic savings bonds do not generate a paper trail either – no monthly statements, no annual tax forms, nothing. There is not even a reminder when they mature and stop earning interest. If something unexpected happens to the owner, it’s quite possible nobody else will realize the savings bonds are still there, perhaps still compounding away.

How many have been forgotten? The US Treasury is currently sitting on over $25 billion in matured, unclaimed U.S. savings bonds. This is according to the WSJ article States Battle Treasury Over Billions in Unclaimed Savings Bonds (paywall?).

Three Missouri sisters from a Russian immigrant family—Bessie, Anna and Mary Segal—socked away money into U.S. savings bonds for decades starting in the 1940s, investing $25 or $50 at a time.

They never married and by 1998, all three had died, with little money to their names. What the sisters didn’t realize was that those bonds, stored and forgotten in a Kansas bank, had turned into more than $670,000.

Most of that article is about how individual states are fighting with the federal government over who gets the manage the forgotten savings bonds. Both sides talk about fighting for us “little guys”, but the another incentive is that the winner also gets to keep whatever is left over as unclaimed property… again, billions of dollars.

Here’s how to recover lost savings bonds for you and or your relatives, including those gifted to you in the past. Do it as soon as possible, as there may soon be a countdown after which the state will eventually take the money for themselves as unclaimed property.

  • Click here and download Form FS Form 1048 (PDF direct link), “Claim for Lost, Stolen, or Destroyed United States Savings Bonds”. This used to be called Public Debt Form 1048.
  • You will need to fill it out to the best of your ability to help them in a manual search. Ideally you would have the serial numbers, but include all of the information that you can gather. Your name and Social Security Number, the giver’s name and SSN (parent? aunt/uncle? grandparent?), addresses, former addresses, middle initials, etc. If you don’t know something, just leave it blank.
  • Indicate whether you would like a replacement savings bond or direct deposit of the value into your bank account.
  • Obtain a medallion signature guarantee from a financial institution in order to verify your identity.
  • Mail it to the specific PO Box address listed at the bottom of the form. There is no fee.

Kathryn Davenport Bernard was surprised to learn in 2017 from a Kentucky law firm that she could collect on bonds found in the name of her uncle, Roger Lovelace, who died during World War II when she was a girl.

After several months of paperwork, Ms. Bernard and her twin sister each got a $1,300 check. “I just squirreled it away,” she said of the unexpected funds.

If you have existing savings bonds, be sure to create a backup list of all your bonds including purchase date, amount, owner info, and serial numbers. Here is the TreasuryDirect page on what happens upon the Death of a Savings Bond Owner, which applies to paper bonds only.

If you have electronic savings bonds in a TreasuryDirect account, be sure to keep a record of those as well. The TreasuryDirect website directs you to contact the Bureau of Fiscal Service directly if you know of someone with an online account that has died. They will put a hold on the account and give specific instructions for the situation.

Pre-emptive selling? While putting together my other estate documents, I realized that this complexity may not only be a hassle to my loved ones, but if they forget they may lose access to the money completely. Therefore, if I find myself in a year with relatively low income (and thus a lower tax bracket), I will probably sell off all my paper savings bonds and possibly my electronic ones as well. Savings bonds have been a useful tool in building up my investment portfolio, but they are not the best fit if you don’t keep detailed records and/or your family is not adept in navigating bureaucracy.

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Comments

  1. If you’re planning to keep any savings bonds (i.e. not close out your Treasury Direct account), then there’s no need to sell your paper savings bonds just to clear the clutter.

    The Treasury Department will convert those savings bonds to electronic form, so long as you are an owner of the bonds. It gets a little more tricky if you’re beneficiary and the owner has died, since technically you’re not (yet) the owner. In that case, you submit paperwork to do a simultaneous transfer into your name and conversion to electronic form. I’ve done that as well as simple conversions.

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/articles/res_invest_articles_smartexchange_0508.htm
    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/indepth/smartexchangeinfo_conversion_faqs.htm

    Don’t forget that once savings bonds reach final maturity, you’re required to declare any deferred income on your (federal) tax return, even if you don’t redeem the savings bonds – even if you’re still looking for them.
    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/indepth/ebonds/res_e_bonds_eetaxconsider.htm#when

  2. Bond holder says:

    There is a process whereby you can send in and convert your paper bonds to electronic and add them to your Treasury account. Check the Treasury website for instructions.

  3. The Treasury Department has agreed to make the savings bond information more accessible. Sen. John Kennedy (LA) has put $25 million in the TD budget to modernize their system. Right now it’s a hot mess.
    The states wanted the information of bonds with the last known address in their state. Some states actively search for owners of unclaimed property in their state, unlike the Treasury Department that just waits for you to claim it. The states would not “keep” the savings bonds but the information would be accessible on their unclaimed property site. The states lost their case in their appeal to the Federal Court of Claims.
    Here’s the link to the info about the TD making the bond information more accessible. Presently, there is no way to search their database.
    https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_c43d37f8-e525-11e9-9a0d-0362b91b3f57.html?fbclid=IwAR3qUeKIUNsgSfqxa3Co02U_pAjnSJG2oYzq0CTdSphdlj8yvHVRGQClVWk

  4. I might add, you can’t put your treasury direct bonds in a trust. https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/help/TDHelp/help_ug_292-EntityAccountsLearnMore.htm

    I have told my children if anything happens to us, immediately log into treasury direct and sell everything. This will send all the money to the checking account which is in the Trust.

  5. Hello guys,

    If you had limited funds, would your 1st priority be electronic or paper I Bonds to prepare for extreme events that Jonathan and Steve described to easily access the funds?

    Also as you mentioned IBonds are not accessible for 1 yr after the purchase, are there any exemptions?

    Can you own IBonds in a brokerage account like Vanguard?

  6. Are you required or is it best to immediately sell bonds that belong to your loved one? Can you keep as is and have them accrue interest?

    • Hmm, good question. My guess it doesn’t matter as long as its in the tax year of death. Otherwise, there will probably be tax/inheritance questions. Just my opinion.

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