A bearer bond is like other bonds sold by governments and corporations, except the bond is not registered in the name of an owner. Nearly all bonds sold in the United States are registered with a bond agent in the name of a specific individual or organization. Since bond agents have no record of ownership for bearer bonds, you have to follow some special steps to cash them in.
The U.S. Treasury and corporations stopped selling new bearer bonds in the United States in 1982. Congress prohibited the sale of bearer bonds because their anonymous nature made them a haven for tax evaders. The ban does not apply to state governments, but only Nevada and Wyoming still issue bearer bonds. Some pre-1982 bearer bonds had maturities of several decades and a few are still around. If you own any of these bearer bonds, you have to contact the bond issuer or bond agent to cash them in.
If you own bearer bonds issued by a corporation, you must contact the bond agent. Bond agents are firms that handle bond transactions on behalf of bond issuers. You can usually find contact information on the company’s investor relations website. If not, you’ll need to contact the company directly to find out the name of the bond agent. Send the bonds to the bond agent. You must provide a letter of instruction that states who gets the money and the address where it is to be sent. Include a completed and signed IRS Form W-9. If the bond has unpaid interest coupons, include these as well. It’s prudent to send the bonds and documents by insured registered or certified mail.
The Treasury Department called all its remaining bearer bonds as of 2009. If you happen to own some of these bonds you can still cash them in. The procedure is pretty much the same as for corporate bonds except you send the bonds to the Bureau of the Public Debt, not to a bond agent. Interest coupons 51 to 60 represent interest earned by the bonds at the time they were called and may be cashed in along with the bonds. If you have any of these coupons, include them with the bonds, a letter of instruction and a W-9 form. Treasury bearer bonds must be sent to Consumer Services Branch 3, Definitives Section, Bureau of the Public Debt, P.O. Box 426, Parkersburg, WV 26106-0426.
Some foreign countries still allow the use of bearer bonds. U.S. corporations and even the Treasury Department continued to issue foreign-targeted bearer bonds after 1982. Foreign-targeted means interest on the bonds is paid outside the United States and must be paid outside federal income tax jurisdiction. The procedures for cashing in foreign-targeted bearer bonds vary by country. To redeem these bonds, you must contact the bond agent or the authorizing agency in the country where the bonds were issued for instructions.