How Treasury Bills (T-Bills) Are Taxed
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How Treasury Bills (T-Bills) Are Taxed

4 Min.

It's essential to note that the interest earned from Treasury Bills (T-bills) is only subject to federal income taxes, not local or state taxes. The amount of interest income earned in a year is recorded on Form 1099-INT. Investors can choose to have up to 50% of their Treasury bills' interest earnings automatically withheld. If you reside in a state with high local taxes, then investing in T-bills might be more advantageous than other short-term fixed instruments, such as CDs.

Basics

Each tax year concludes with Treasury bill owners receiving a Form 1099-INT from the Department of the Treasury, typically by January 31. This document outlines the accrued interest on government securities for the year, a report concurrently submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It's imperative to note that interest gained from all U.S. Treasury securities, encompassing Treasury bills, enjoys tax exemption at the state and local levels but is subject to full taxation at the federal level.

Overview of Treasury Bills (T-Bills)

To grasp the essence of Treasury bills, let's start with a swift review. These are brief-term debt commitments entirely supported by the confidence and creditworthiness of the U.S. government. Available in denominations ranging from $100 to $5 million, T-bills mature in less than one year, with typical durations of one month, three months (13 weeks), or six months (26 weeks).

Similar to all Treasury securities, T-bills are deemed risk-free assets. The prospect of the U.S. government defaulting on its debt is exceedingly remote, attributed to its authority to levy taxes, issue currency, and, notably, the robust reputation of the United States.

This reputation for security prompted investors to turn to Treasury securities during the 2007-2008 financial crisis as losses mounted in stocks and other assets. Those who had previously heavily invested in Treasury securities effectively shielded their capital.

Tax Implications of Treasury Bill Investments

Upon the maturity of a T-bill, the interest earned becomes taxable as investment income for that year. This income must be disclosed on the federal tax return, Form 1040, and is subject to taxation at the investor's marginal tax rate. Even without a Form 1099-INT, the investor is responsible for reporting and paying taxes on the interest income generated by T-bills.

Should an investor purchase a T-bill at a discounted rate and subsequently sell it at a premium, any resulting profit may also be subject to taxation as a capital gain. To alleviate the federal tax burden, automatic tax withholding is an option. Investors holding Treasury bills can choose to have a portion, up to 50%, of their interest earnings automatically withheld. This percentage can be specified through any retail securities site, and the Treasury ensures the transfer of withheld amounts to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, reporting the details on the 1099-INT form.

Comparative Tax Analysis: T-Bills vs. CDs

While T-bills may not offer the highest interest rates, their exemption from state and local taxes provides a distinct advantage over fully taxable short-term fixed-income assets like certificates of deposit (CDs). This advantage is particularly pronounced for investors in high-income-tax states such as California, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon. To assess the tax implications and determine the more favorable option between a CD and a Treasury bill, a calculation of the after-tax yields for both investments is essential.

Consider a scenario where a single taxpayer in New York, earning $100,000 annually, evaluates a one-year Treasury bill yielding 0.07% as of April 21, 2021. At a federal tax rate of 24% and a state income tax rate of 6.33%, the after-tax earnings from the Treasury bill amount to 0.053% (0.07% x [100% - 24%]).

In contrast, the CD, subject to both federal and state taxes, leaves the investor with only 69.67% of the yields after taxes (100% - 24% - 6.33%). Dividing the after-tax yield of the Treasury bill (0.00053) by 0.7003 yields 0.00076, the equivalent yield for a certificate of deposit. Thus, for this income level, a CD must yield more than 0.076% to surpass the Treasury bill as the more favorable option.

Conclusion

The tax landscape for Treasury Bills is characterized by federal taxation only, providing a notable advantage over other short-term fixed-income assets. The interest income earned is meticulously recorded on Form 1099-INT, offering transparency in tax reporting. Investors, especially those in high local tax states, may find T-bills more advantageous than alternatives like CDs. As an additional benefit, automatic tax withholding of up to 50% of interest earnings offers a streamlined approach to managing the federal tax burden. T-bills stand as a resilient and tax-efficient investment choice in a diversified portfolio.

Treasury Bill
Taxes
Form 1099-INT
Certificates of Deposit (CDs)
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