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AS I SEE IT

Posted 4/18/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

I don’t know what most parents use as an option for providing savings accounts for their children, but one of the ways that we (my wife and I) have always thought was a good idea was to buy them U.S. Savings Bonds.
Granted, compared to other types of savings accounts or investment alternatives, U.S. Savings Bonds may not have been the ideal investment tool. But the concept of the government savings bond was pretty good. You bought the bond at half of its face value and then after “x” number of years, it matured to its full face value. We used the concept to teach our two boys that if they kept their hands off their savings and didn’t continually tap into it over the course of the years, they would have stashed away a nice nest egg.
So around our house, in additional to traditional presents, our boys just came to expect getting a U.S. Savings Bond on their birthdays and other special events in their lives. It was just another bond that they would tuck safely away in one of their drawers and think about the day years away that they could finally spend it.
And it was so easy for us to buy a U.S. Savings Bond. We just bopped into one of our local financial institutions and wrote a check for half of the cost of the bond. And then magically, in a few weeks, the bond showed up in the mail just in time for “gift giving.” And when the time came for the boys to cash out their bonds, all they would have to do is go to a financial institution and redeem them, along with their accrued interest, for cold, hard cash.
What in the world could have been simpler? Or for that matter what could have taught these two young boys who are now young men, the value of doing a little financial planning and the importance of saving for the future better than a U.S. Savings Bond?
But as you can probably tell, this isn’t just a story about how strongly I believe in the importance of savings, but rather how the U.S. government screwed up a really good thing.
Have you ever tried to buy a U.S. Savings Bond since the government in its infinite wisdom back in January decided it was time to take the process “paperless?”
I did. And after spending the better part of two hours trying to navigate around the TreasuryDirect.gov website, I came to the conclusion that I would never buy another U.S. Savings Bond.
Why?
First, you can only do it on a computer. And that means that you have to struggle through a long registration process. And to make matters worse, the person you want to give the bond to has to have an account as well or you can’t give anything.
Second, you pay full price for the bond and then transfer the bond to the recipient’s account. You won’t be getting a real bond in the mail from the U.S. government to remember that special occasion. But if you want, you can download a gift certificate from the website to tuck into your special card.
Yes, the process may be “paperless,” but the magic and wonder of the former paper U.S. Savings Bonds is gone. There are no more paper bonds to hold in your hands. And without the paper bonds, also gone is the ability for a person to  finger through them, check their maturity dates, manually add them all up and dream about what the bonds could buy when they are matured.
Nope, the magic of the U.S. Savings Bond is gone. Now if you want to see how much you have in “paperless U.S. Savings Bonds,” you just log into your special account and instantly see what you have. And should you decide to cash out your “bonds” at any time, you can with just a press of the button.
Which leads to the question, “why would anyone want to go through the hassle of buying a “paperless savings bond” and then trying to manage the account online when you can just give them money and tell them to put it in their savings account?
Call me old-fashioned, but this is another example of where the rush to embrace technology and to eliminate paper has ruined a once cherished way for Americans to save.
I don’t like it. And since I’m not buying them anymore, I don’t suppose my boys will much like it either.