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Susan Tompor: Old savings bonds, gift cards can bring extra summer cash

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 16, 2014


Everybody needs a rainy day fund to cover a broken water heater, an out-of-the-blue blowout on a car tire and other fiscal fiascoes.

But what about a few to-do items to fill a rainy day job jar? Maybe target small tasks that you easily can do to shore up your finances during downtime this summer.

EXPLORE THE LAND OF MISSING U.S. SAVINGS BONDS: About 48 million savings bonds are in limbo and could be just sitting in a box or a bag in the attic uncashed. Itís real money.

Sure, the big buzz this summer is that the trendy Uber, the on-demand car service, raised $1.2 billion in additional funding and now essentially would be valued at a staggering $17 billion. This is nothing but a paper number. What the car service company would actually be worth one day is unknown.

But consider this less sexy fact: Around $16.4 billion in real money is out there in savings bonds that are no longer earning more interest but have not been cashed. The amount was as of late May.

Itís up to you to figure out if any of those bonds belongs to you. So why not take time this summer to get a handle on savings bonds, especially if you suspect you or your parents might have picked up savings bonds 30 years ago or more and forgot to cash them.

Frankly, a few thousand dollars of those missing bonds might be in Dadís attic or basement. Iíve heard one too many stories from baby boomers who cleaned up the house after Mom or Dad passed away and were shocked to spot a stack of savings bonds. I know that story well. I once placed some bonds in my motherís cedar chest and forgot about them for more than 20 years.

To start a search, go to TreasuryDirect.gov and click on Treasury Hunt.

Here you might be able to track down information on Series E bonds issued in 1974 and after and Series EE Bonds issued in 1980 and after. A Series EE bond bought in June 1984 or earlier has already matured. Others bought in 1984 in later months will reach full maturity this year.

All issues of Series E savings bonds are no longer earning interest.

If you find the bonds at home, great. You can also go to TreasuryDirect.gov to find out what theyíre worth and they can be cashed at your bank. At the site, you can find more forms.

Iíd recommend taking a second step and do a more complete search by filing Form PD F 1048 to track down savings bonds that might have been bought in the early 1970s, 1960s or 1950s. Those bonds, too, would have stopped earning interest but would not show up in the electronic Treasury Hunt system.

GRAB A LITTLE SUMMER READING: Pick up financial books that can help you figure out your own finances ó or understand the bigger financial picture.

Baby boomers can spot useful tips in "How to Retire the Cheapskate Way" by Jeff Yeager, whose website is UltimateCheapskate.com.

One of Yeagerís tips: Put together a household inventory of valuables. Youíd have a record for insurance or help you realize youíre underinsured, too. Knowing what you own ó say, coins ó could help if you need to generate extra cash one day or give your heirs an idea of what might be valuable. Any such inventory, of course, also could turn into what Yeager calls a "screaming wake-up call" that shows what you have that you do not even use.

For deeper dives, a reading list might include "A Fighting Chance" by Elizabeth Warren, who discusses the financial fight for the middle class, or "Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt" by Michael Lewis, who highlights how the stock market is rigged to benefit insiders.

TAKE A SMALL STEP TO GET A BETTER EYE ON YOUR CASH: Take a few minutes to set up alerts on your checking or banking account to spot signs of trouble.

"Most issuers let you set up text message or email alerts that will alert you when a payment is due, if you are approaching your limit, or if a purchase exceeds a dollar threshold, for example," said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com.

Such alerts can help you stay on top of things while traveling, too.

COUNT UP THE "EXTRA CASH" YOU HAVE ON HAND: Maybe you let your credit card rewards pile up unused. Or toss aside gift cards. That money can just sit there unused, unless you pay attention. Ditto for coupons or gift cards received for a rebate.

Itís all potential walking-around cash during the summer. Who knows? If you spot uncashed savings bonds that you received for a birthday 30 years or 35 years ago, you could end up with a super summer after all.