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      Cashing in on US savings bonds

      You may be sitting on a gold mine and not even realize it.

      At one time, U.S. savings bonds were a popular way to invest money.

      Over the years, the popularity has dwindled, but there are still many bonds out there that may have reached their maturity.

      "As of January 2012, bonds are no longer issued in paper form," Gretchen McGee, the Senior Vice President of Marketing at First Bankers Trust Company said.

      They are all online. The website you need to know is www.treasurydirect.gov. By being electronic, that means you can no longer go into your local bank and buy a bond. You can cash them in at the bank, but there are limits. Chances are, your local bank will help you with the process.

      "The life of a bond is 30 years. If you have old bonds at home, all E bonds have reached their maturity and they are no longer earning interest," McGee said.

      That means check your house. If you have any bonds that are older than 1983, they are not earning a single penny. Your best bet is to cash them in and reinvest it in some other fashion. If you want to check on your bond and see how much it's worth, it's the same website, www.treasurydirect.gov.

      "You can actually plug in the bonds you have at home and you can go in from time to time and see what you're updated value is," McGee said.

      The interest rate on savings bonds fluctuates, and they will continue to draw interest over a 30 year period. After that, they stop and will not earn any more money. You also have to hold onto a bond for at least a year before you cash them in to avoid a penalty.

      One final tip, if you're buying savings bonds to use for educational reasons, the bonds should be put in the parent's names ... not the child's.