Can I Buy I Bonds on an H-1B Visa?

By  Jane Mepham, CFP®

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Today, I’m going to answer the question, “Can I buy I bonds on an H-1B visa or another work visa?   

To clarify, I’m going to discuss the Series I Savings Bonds, which are commonly known as the I bonds. These are not to be confused with the Series EE savings bonds. A post for another day.

Over the last couple of months, I bonds have been paying some of the highest interest rates, meant to combat inflation. Due to this, there is a heightened interest from the general public. This includes those who are on work visas, like H-1B, L-1, etc., wondering if they can share in this opportunity.

To answer the question, I’m going I’ll address the following areas:

  1. What are I bonds, and how do they work?
  2. How much can you buy?
  3. H-1B visa holders and I bonds
  4. Considerations for H-1B visa holders to buy I bonds
  5. Taxation of the I bonds and H-1B visa status
  6. If you have to leave the country and have invested in the I bonds

What Are I Bonds?

They are debt securities issued by the US Treasury to help pay for government needs. Because they are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, they are very safe. They are designed to protect cash from inflation. This is the reason why as inflation goes up, the interest rate paid on these bonds goes up. It’s also the reason why everybody is very interested in them. They earn interest from both a fixed rate and a variable rate. They are also non-marketable, meaning they cannot be traded on the market like stocks, mutual funds, etc. (1) They have been a great alternative for those looking for a safe alternative that pays more than safe fixed investments like CDs and high-yield savings accounts.

How Do I Bonds Work?

The I bonds are purchased directly from the government at Treasury Direct website. (2) The interest you earn on them adjusts every 6 months. The overall rate, known as the composite rate that the I bonds earn is calculated as follows:-

Composite rate = Fixed Rate + the Inflation Rate

This means that you’ll know what the interest rate is at the time of purchase, but there is no way to know what it’s going to be 6 months from now.

For example, right now, the composite interest rate for I bonds issued from November 2022 to April 2023 is 6.89%. If interested in seeing an example of the calculation, check out this page (3).

How Much Can You Buy?

You can buy any amount between $25 and $10,000 per year and can hold them for between 1 to 30 years. If you redeem them in less than 5 years, you end up losing the last three months of interest.

The 10k limit is per entity or per social security number, which raises some interesting options. You can go beyond the 10k if you have the money available, as follows. The initial 10k is purchased electronically. You can buy an extra 5K worth of I bonds per year if you use your tax refund direct. But, keep in mind that these will be paper bonds.

Other entities that can purchase these I bonds include the following. The ownership does not really matter. This means you could buy 10k worth of bonds as an individual, and you could also have your trust purchase the same.

  •  A trust
  • An LLC or
  • A sole proprietorship

If buying them for your business, ensure that the business accounts are separate from the personal funds. If you end up buying them under different entities, please keep excellent records.

You can also buy I bonds as a gift for your kids (4). You should designate a beneficiary, otherwise, when you pass on, they become a part of your estate.

H-1Bs Visa Holders and I Bonds

H-1B visas are the most common work visas, but others like L-1 and O visas fall neatly into this category. The requirements to buy an I bond are as follows:

  • An adult US individual (18+) that can make legal decisions for themselves.
  • A valid social security number.
  • A US address.
  • A bank account for electronically paying for the bonds.
  • An email address.

If an H-1B visa holder meets the substantial presence test, then they are considered US residents for tax purposes.  Based on the above, yes, an H-1B visa holder can purchase I bonds.

Other Considerations for an H-1B Visa Holder to Buy I Bonds

Based on the above, we know H-1B, and other work visa holders can buy the I bonds.

The question is, should they?

If you are looking to save for college for your kids, and for some reason, you can’t use the 529 plan, the I bonds are a great option.

Under the Education Savings Bond Program, the interest earned can be excluded from federal income tax if the proceeds are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. The bond needs to be cashed in the same year as the expenses are accrued.

On the hand, if you are looking to spend the money in less than a year, so use it as an emergency fund, you should refrain from purchasing them. This caution applies to everybody including green card holders and citizens. If you have high-interest debt, you should consider paying it off first, before investing in I bonds.

Taxation of the I Bonds and H-1B Visa Status

The interest from I bonds is reinvested into the principal, which allows the principal to keep growing. A few more things to keep in mind regarding the taxation of the I bonds.

  • You pay federal income taxes on the interest, but not state taxes.
  • You have the option of reporting and paying interest every year, or you can choose to defer it until the day you sell it. Note that once you make a choice in the first year, you must stick with that choice.
  • As an H-1B visa holder, if you choose to be taxed when you withdrew the money there is nothing else for you to do. There are reasons for choosing to be taxed yearly, but it’s probably easier to just wait until you redeem it to pay taxes.

What Happens if You Have to Leave the Country and You Have Invested in the I Bonds?

It all depends on your visa status when you leave.

If you’ve already become a permanent resident (green card holder), you’ll be treated like any other tax resident. This means you’ll be taxed on your worldwide income and so this continues to be a part of your portfolio.

If you are still a visa holder, as soon as you leave the US, you are no longer a US tax resident. You can still cash the bonds out. The process is very clearly laid out on the Treasury Direct website, especially for paper bonds (5).

You’ll need to file Form W-BEN (Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for US tax withholding and reporting). This basically establishes that you are a citizen of a foreign country which might determine how much you pay in taxes.  

If electronic bonds, you should still be able to redeem them online, but it’s probably best to get in touch with Treasury Direct before you make the move.

Need Help Figuring Out Where to Invest Your Hard Earned Cash?

Be proactive and work within the existing tax code to save yourself some money or do more to hasten your American Dream.



This article was originally published here and is republished on Wealthtender with permission.

About the Author

Jane Mepham

I enjoy simplifying the complexities of the financial system for immigrants and foreign-born individuals nationwide.

Website | Wealthtender Profile

To make Wealthtender free for readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and firms that pay to be featured. This creates a conflict of interest when we favor their promotion over others. Learn more. Wealthtender is not a client of these financial services providers.
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