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Answering Ask-Post questions about I bonds, crypto cons, bank accounts

With the stock market crashing and inflation rising, readers want advice on cryptocurrency, I bonds and when to expect higher interest rates on their savings accounts

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There’s so much we need to know related to money that many people could use a personal assistant to manage their financial lives.

My husband and I have a regularly scheduled financial meeting on Monday evenings. We rarely get through the list of agenda items, which gets longer every week. We have to table so many things because we have to go searching for an answer before making a decision.

That’s the idea behind our new ASK-POST toll-free line (855-275-7678). I figure I can help you get answers to your most pressing personal finance questions.

Although I can’t answer all the questions that come in, I’ll pull some to address in a column every so often. Or, I’ll use some to write about a specific topic as I did recently in discussing the problems with the TreasuryDirect website during the onslaught of interest in Series I savings bonds.

Here are some answers to recent reader questions left on the phone line about cryptocurrency scams, high-yielding I bonds, and savings interest rates.

What can I do to warn my family and friends about cryptocurrency scams?

I have stressed myself out in recent years trying to protect people from Ponzi and pyramid schemes involving cryptocurrency.

So many people are suffering from FOMO, or the fear of missing out, on what they believe is the next great investment opportunity involving crypto. Folks are becoming reckless in the pursuit of becoming rich by buying bitcoin and all other kinds of cryptocurrencies.

Do what I do. Point them to the Federal Trade Commission’s online post: “What To Know About Cryptocurrency and Scams.”

You can also share this cautionary opinion from my colleague Helaine Olen and stories about crypto-related scams.

Six signs crypto investment is a classic Ponzi scheme

Then wait to support them emotionally when the scheme robs them of their hard-earned money.

What should I do if I can’t reach someone at TreasuryDirect with a question about I bonds?

Move over, cryptocurrency. The inflation-protected Series I bonds are the new hot investment right now. The inflation rate component of these bonds is paying 9.62 percent until the end of October. Because of the safety of these bonds and the incredible rate, interest is extremely high.

To buy and own an electronic I bond, you must establish an account at TreasuryDirect.gov. But many people have been having trouble with new and existing accounts. The TreasuryDirect website crashed the day after the new rate was announced.

One reader reported being put on hold for four hours.

Treasury has acknowledged that the call center that handles inquiries for bonds is overwhelmed.

“Call center staffing is based on past call volume trends,” a Treasury spokesman said. “As call volume has increased, we have been expanding capacity by shifting staff to support the call center.”

The spokesman recommended trying to call as soon as the phone lines open. The current call center number is 844-284-2676, and the hours are Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time.

Customer service representatives can answer questions regarding all Treasury securities and transactions. This includes providing assistance to an account owner having difficulty navigating the TreasuryDirect application or website. They also provide guidance in interpreting and completing required forms.

Inflation-linked U.S. bonds crashed the TreasuryDirect website

Can I buy I bonds over the phone?

Unfortunately, electronic savings bonds can only be purchased through the online TreasuryDirect application, according to the Treasury spokesman.

Customer service representatives who answer the phones cannot open an account on an individual’s behalf and make purchases.

Now is a good time to buy this inflation-indexed savings bond

Can I expect a higher interest rate on my savings account?

With the Federal Reserve raising its interest rate to combat inflation, savings accounts at some banks and credit unions have bumped up what they are paying for cash parked with them.

“Savings rates already are on the rise if you’re looking in the right place,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “We’ll see these payouts continue to rise as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.”

The top-yielding, nationally available savings accounts offer yields of 0.8 percent to 1 percent and are on the rise, with online banks often offering the best rates, McBride said.

CIT Bank, a division of First Citizens Bank, is advertising a savings account paying 0.90 percent, according to a list compiled by Bankrate.com of the best savings accounts for May.

The average savings account at large banks is a paltry 0.06 percent.

“The bigger banks that already have a pile of deposits won’t be in any hurry to increase their rates and bring in more,” McBride said. “The moral of the story is that you want to put your savings where it is wanted and welcomed with open arms and higher yields.”

And with the Fed expected to continue raising rates, the competition for your money will increase.

“As the summer progresses, you’re going to see more and more of those savings accounts with yields over 1 percent,” McBride said. “By the time we get to the fall, we’re going to start to see some touching the 2 percent mark.”

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