Unclaimed Assets: Find and Claim Lost or Unredeemed U.S. Savings Bonds

Bureau of Public Debt: Savings Bonds / Postal Savings System / Treasury Bonds, Bills & Notes

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Unclaimed Money Search - US Savings Bonds

► U.S. Savings Bonds - $17 Billion Unredeemed

The Savings Bond Program had its inception in 1935. Some 55 million Americans own bonds, long popular as gifts for newborns and graduates, and investments purchased through payroll withholding plans.

The value of unredeemed bonds which have reached final maturity and are no longer earning interest currently exceeds $17 billion. With added interest, an unredeemed bond may be worth more than five times the original face value.

This figure has increased dramatically over just the last few years, because we’re in a time period when both 30- and 40-year bonds issued during the heyday of this type of investment are coming to final maturity. Another reason: less than 1% of all bondholders – only owners of Series H and HH bonds - are notified when their bonds reach final maturity.

All others, including holders of Series EE U.S. Savings Bonds and family members whose deceased relatives may have owned bonds, must take affirmative action to replace or redeem lost or matured securities.

Note In addition to unredeemed bonds, each year over 15,000 savings bonds and 25,000 savings bond interest payments go undelivered, when the owner moves and fails to provide a forwarding address. 

Any bond over 40 years old is not currently paying interest. Series E bonds issued December 1965 and later reach final maturity in 30 years; as do Series H and Series EE bonds, and Savings Notes/Freedom Shares issued during the Vietnam War.

Series E bonds issued before December, 1965 earned interest for 40 years after date of issue. Series HH reached final maturity after 20 years. As they were first issued in 1980, they stopped earning interest in 2000.

Partly to lower administrative costs, and partly to help rectify this issue, as of 1 January 2012, the Bureau of the Public Debt no longer allows paper savings bonds to be sold at financial institutions. Electronic savings bonds in Series EE and Series I are now available for purchase through TreasuryDirect®, an online portal operated by the Bureau since 2002.

Those currently holding paper savings bonds can continue to redeem them at participating financial institutions. The Bureau of Public Debt processes in excess of $10,000 in claims each day - the passage of time does not cause savings bonds to become null and void. Long after final maturity, the owner may present the bonds for redemption.

While there is no time limit on redemption, if six years have passed since final maturity, you must supply serial numbers when making a claim. While records of every bond purchase do exist, they are organized by serial number rather than by name or social security number - Social Security numbers weren't added to issue records until 1974.

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► Missing Savings Bonds in Safe Deposit Boxes  

Many investors store bonds and other securities in safe deposit boxes. Due to the long term nature of these investments, they often slip through the cracks after death of the owner. Because the contents of safe deposit boxes with expired leases and no further rental payments eventually revert to government custody, the bonds may be held by a trustee.

Dormancy periods - the time during which there has been no box entry or rental payment - vary by state, but typically range from 1-5 years. Boxes are drilled and contents remitted to an unclaimed property trustee in the state of the owner's last known residence. In the event there is no address on record, the contents go to a custodian in the state in where the bank or safe deposit facility is located.

It is important, therefore, when searching for securities issued by federal agencies that may be owed a deceased family member, to understand non-federal entities may be in possession, even though these assets would normally be exempt from remittance under unclaimed property statutes.

Also be aware most states auction off the contents of escheated boxes after one to three years. Although the cash received may always be available for claim, items of personal significance may be lost forever. Intangible assets such as registered securities typically would be excluded from sale by auction, but certificates that might be mistaken for having only historical or collector’s value may not be.

► Unredeemed Savings Bonds in State Custody

It’s worth noting the fate of unredeemed U.S. Savings Bonds has long been a point of contention between local and federal officials. The United States Treasury has repeatedly opposed efforts to transfer a portion of the unredeemed bonds it holds to states, who assert they are better equipped to locate missing owners.

In a 2010 lawsuit brought by several states, the U.S. Treasury successfully argued the states’ claim to the money would impermissibly interfere with contracts between it and the owners of the bonds, and was barred by the ‘Supremacy Clause'.

Even if universal notification were to be attempted, it would likely enjoy very limited success, given issue records of the 44.7 million investors owed funds are decades old and most addresses are not current.

► Uncashed Government Checks 

For most checks , state unclaimed property statutes consider the underlying funds to still be owed the payor, even if the instrument is not deposited or cashed. If a lost or destroyed check is not reissued by the payee, the face amount of the check must be reported as unclaimed property after expiry of the dormancy period, usually 1-2 years. This is true even if a check has a 'void after' date stamped on it.  

Checks issued by federal agencies, however  - including the IRS, Social Security Administration and the Bureau of Public Debt - do not come under the purview of state statutes. Checks drawn on the U.S. treasury are void after one year, after which time they must be reissued.