In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department ended the over-the-counter sale of paper savings bonds. They are no longer sold at banks and other financial institutions, and can only be bought online in electronic format via TreasuryDirect. While the Tax-Time Savings Program allows taxpayers to receive tax refunds in the form of paper savings bonds, this program is also due to be phased out at the end of 2016.
The decision to eliminate paper savings bonds was made without debate, public hearings or any effort to obtain feedback from the general public. With this decision, Treasury officials have blocked savings bonds from individuals who do not have Internet or computer access, or who are not comfortable enough with computers to continue investing in this time-honored savings vehicle.
The biggest issue with the complete digitization of the savings bond program is that Americans on the other side of the digital divide – many of whom are low-income and need savings tools –Purchasing an electronic savings bond requires an online access and a certain level of computer savvy, as personal identification and banking information must be disclosed over the Internet.
The program is completely inaccessible for the quarter of Americans who don't have Internet access and the 8 percent without bank accounts. Plus, it presents hurdles for anyone concerned with cybersecurity and identity theft.
For more than 75 years, savings bonds have been a popular investment tool as well as a top option for parents and grandparents looking to give children a lasting gift and teach a lesson in financial responsibility. For many Americans, electronic savings bonds not only undermine this sense of tradition; they also can’t be easily given. While minors were allowed to hold paper savings bonds in their own names, parents must now set up special accounts in order for anyone under 18 to hold electronic savings bonds.
Once a physical symbol of hard work and patriotism, savings bonds have become yet another virtual casualty of the digital age.
More than 50 million Americans hold paper savings bonds, and nearly 90 percent were purchased in paper format.
A coalition of concerned citizens petitioning the government to bring back paper savings bonds has already collected thousands of signatures, and lawmakers are calling for a review of the electronic-only savings bond policy. Like other efforts to go paperless, no thought was given to maintaining access for Americans who are not tech-savvy, and in this case, the decision to digitize actually undermines an important tradition. We need to keep this American institution alive for all citizens – not just those with Internet access and the tech-savvy.
The SAVINGS Act, introduced by Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA) in the U.S. House and Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in the U.S. Senate, would protect access to savings bonds, which are no longer sold in paper form, by preserving the Tax-Time Savings Bond Program through 2020. The Tax-Time Savings Bond Program gives taxpayers the option to receive their tax refunds via savings bond(s). Currently, the U.S. Treasury has only committed to maintain the Tax-Time Savings Bond Program through the 2016 tax season.