Web Site Offers Savings Bonds

Americans are getting a new place to buy U.S. Savings Bonds: They're on sale in cyberspace.

A new Internet site called the Savings Bond Connection, which started operating Tuesday, will let people buy savings bonds online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's the latest step by the Clinton administration to make savings bonds easier to buy and a more attractive investment for Americans.

Approximately 55 million Americans own savings bonds worth $185 billion.

"It never used to be possible to buy a savings bond at two in the morning on a Tuesday. Now it will be," said Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who unveiled the Web site at a news conference Tuesday. Winston and Barbara Caperton of Warrenton, Va. made the first online purchase for their grandson, Noah.

"By bringing Savings Bonds as close as your home computer, this program makes it more convenient for millions of Americans to add to their savings," Summers said.

The traditional Series EE bonds, which sell for half their face value, will be available in denominations ranging from $50 to $1,000. Series I bonds, which carry a lower interest rate, but are adjusted to reflect inflation, will be sold in $50 to $500 denominations.

To purchase savings bonds online, consumers will go to www.savingsbonds.gov and link to a page to conduct a transaction, officials said. Online buyers will provide information, including name, Social Security number and mailing address, just as they do when they purchase bonds from banks and other financial institutions.

Bonds bought on the Internet must be purchased by credit card. For now, only MasterCard and Visa will be accepted. The credit card companies will post such sales as a regular purchase, not as a cash advance, which is more expensive, said Van Zeck, commissioner of Treasury's Bureau of Public Debt. After orders are processed, the bonds are mailed to buyers.

Last year, people received the option of buying savings bonds by authorizing the government to deduct the costs automatically from their banks accounts. That program, called the EasySaver Plan, was intended to complement the payroll deduction plan.

The payroll savings plan has become a popular way for people to save for retirement, their children's education or other future needs.

Treasury introduced the first savings bonds in 1935. The program was designed to encourage Americans to save money by investing in small denomination U.S. Treasury securities.