Can the homeless have savings bonds or financial accounts?

**** The information written here is not legal advice and the author of this blog is not your lawyer.  These posts merely contain ideas to help you plan and organize your legal research and identify potentially helpful sources of law. ****

The short answer to this question is that you do not have to be poor to be homeless. A person may have any number of reasons for not living in a private or permanent home. So, being homeless does not automatically mean that a person cannot have financial accounts or bonds.

Homeless or not, however, everyone has to pay taxes on the interest or dividends earned on financial accounts. Banks and investment houses are required to report their customer earnings to the Internal Revenue Service. Even when people without their own homes do not receive the tax forms or interest and dividend statements mailed by financial institutions, they are still obligated to pay their taxes because those financial assets are their property.

Having assets such as savings bonds or trusts can make a homeless person ineligible for federal benefits including housing programs.[i] It might be necessary to spend those assets before applying for federal assistance.[ii]

Eligibility guidelines for Medicaid are available at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/home/medicaid.asp; housing eligibility is at http://www.hud.gov/; disability is at https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/. See also the interactive benefits eligibility form at http://www.govbenefits.gov/govbenefits_en.portal.

Trusts

Trusts only make payments at certain times under circumstances that are written in that particular trust document. So it may not be necessary or even possible to spend them before applying for federal housing or food stamps, etc… The terms of the trust document might say that the beneficiary can only collect if someone dies or other things happen beyond the beneficiary’s control. If the trust pays out one big lump sum every year, that annual payout can disrupt federal benefits by temporarily making the recipient too wealthy for the program. And if a trust beneficiary just applying for federal benefits still has funds that were previously paid out from the trust, then that paid out trust money might be a high enough amount to prevent him from getting the federal benefits (housing, medical assistance, temporary aid to needy families, etc…)

People deemed by the Social Security Administration to be disabled, can benefit from a “special needs” trust.[iii]  This kind of trust can be established by an agency or a parent or guardian and the funds can come from various sources (including money awarded in a court case). The funds in the trust can only be used for disability related expenses such as equipment, therapy, and medication and will not affect federal program applications. An existing trust can be changed to a special needs trust.

Savings Bonds

Savings bonds are long-term investments identified by serial numbers. Because they can be redeemed for cash almost immediately, savings bonds count as assets in federal program applications. If they are worth more than the current asset threshold for benefits they have to be redeemed and spent before federal benefits will be granted.

Even though the owner’s address is included in an application to get a savings bond, the Treasury Department certainly would not expect that people are still at the same address years later when their bonds mature. Redeeming bonds is done in person by presenting the bonds at a major bank.

If the bonds are lost or destroyed, the owner can still cash them in by completing a form for the U.S. Treasury Department that will then be used to make sure that the bonds have not already been cashed. The information that has to go on that form is mainly for identifying the bond. You have to know the serial number, the date the bond was issued, the name and address you had when you got the bond, and your social security number.

The form, which is Treasury form PD-F-1048, also asks for explanations of when and where the bond was last seen and who else might have had access to it.[iv]  Because a replacement bond will be issued so that the owner can cash it in at the desired time, it is necessary to provide an address on that Treasury form so that you can receive it somewhere. That address does not have to be for a place where you live, only a place where you can pick up mail.


[i] Income determines whether a family is eligible for federal housing programs. According to 24 CFR §5.609(a)(4) “annual income also means amounts derived…from assets to which any member of the family has access.”

[ii] Spending down too quickly or transferring it to someone might make an agency suspect that you still have access to the money and are trying to pretend that you no longer have it. When you read the law about a federal benefit program, see if there is a section about “spending down”.  Here is an example: 42 USC §1396p(c) is the section of the Social Security Act that tells how that agency will determine when asset transfers affect eligibility for medical assistance benefits.

[iii] 42 USC §1396P(d)(4)(a)&(c). See also, Daryl L. Gordon, Special Needs Trust, 15 Quinnipiac Probate L. J. 121-131 (July-Dec. 2000) and the following books: Stephen Elias, SPECIAL NEEDS TRUSTS (Nolo, 2005); Barbara D. Jackins, et al, SPECIAL NEEDS TRUST ADMINISTRATION MANUAL: A GUIDE FOR TRUSTEES (IUniverse, 2005).

[iv] The form for redeeming savings bonds and other related information is at http://www.savingsbonds.gov/.

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