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A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Bonds

Last updated 03/20/2024 by

SuperMoney Team

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Bonds are a type of fixed-income security that represents a loan made by an investor to a borrower, typically a corporation, government, or other organization. By purchasing a bond, investors essentially lend money to the issuer of the bond, who pays them interest over the life of the bond and repays the principal at maturity.
Investing can be an effective way to grow your wealth, but with so many options available, it can be difficult to know where to begin. One investment vehicle that you may have heard about is a bond. Bonds are often considered a more conservative option than stocks, and they offer a way to earn income while preserving your capital.
However, if you’re new to investing, you may be wondering what exactly bonds are, how they work, and whether they’re right for you. In this beginner’s guide to bonds, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make informed investment decisions.

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What are bonds?

A bond is a type of investment that involves loaning money to a borrower, who agrees to pay back the loan with interest. When you buy a bond, you’re essentially becoming a lender to the issuer, which can be the government, a corporation, or other organization. In exchange for lending your money, the issuer of the bond agrees to pay you interest at a predetermined rate, also known as the coupon rate.
Bonds come in different forms, but they all have two important features in common: a coupon rate and a maturity date. The coupon rate is the interest rate that the issuer of the bond promises to pay to the investor over the life of the bond. The maturity date is the date when the issuer of the bond must repay the principal amount of the bond, which is the original amount the issuer received.
Most investors consider bonds to be a lower-risk investment than stocks. Because of this, they can be a good option for investors who want to earn income while preserving their capital.

Types of bonds

There are several different types of bonds available to investors. Keep in mind that each of the bonds below carries its own unique risks and characteristics.
  1. Government. As you may have guessed, governments issue government bonds. They’re generally considered to be the safest type of bond because they’re backed by the full faith and credit of the government. Both national and local governments can issue government bonds, which can come in the form of a Treasury bond, municipal bond, or savings bond.
  2. Corporate. As with government bonds, corporate bonds are issued by corporations. They’re generally riskier than government bonds because they’re backed by the corporation’s ability to repay the loan instead of the government. Corporate bonds fall under both investment-grade bonds and high-yield bonds. Financially stable companies issue investment-grade bonds, while companies with lower credit ratings issue high-yield bonds (also known as junk bonds).
  3. Municipal. These are bonds issued by state and local governments and finance public projects such as schools, hospitals, and roads. Municipal bonds are generally exempt from federal income tax and may also be exempt from state and local taxes.
  4. International. In addition to U.S. governments, foreign governments or corporations can issue international bonds. Investing in international bonds can provide diversification benefits, but it also carries currency risk and the possibility of political instability or economic volatility in the issuing country.
  5. Asset-backed securities. Unlike those above, asset-backed securities are backed by a pool of assets — such as mortgages, credit card receivables, or car loans — rather than a specific entity. Investors generally consider asset-backed securities to be riskier than government or corporate bonds because their value is dependent on the value of the underlying assets.

What is a bond with an example?

Let’s say you buy a $10,000 government bond with a 2% coupon rate. In this case, you’d receive $200 in interest each year. At the end of the bond’s term (which could be several years), the government would repay you the principal of $10,000.

Advantages and disadvantages of investing in bonds

As with any investment vehicle, review the pros and cons of bonds before purchasing one. After all, it may turn out that bonds aren’t the best investment vehicle for your goals and risk tolerance.
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
  • Regular income
  • Capital preservation
  • Diversification
  • Predictability
  • Tax benefits
  • Credit risk
  • Could lose money if interest rates rise
  • Inflation
  • May be hard to sell certain bonds
  • Call risk

Pros explained

  • Regular income. Bonds generally provide a fixed income stream, typically paid out twice a year. This can be an attractive feature for investors who want a reliable source of income.
  • Capital preservation. Bonds are generally considered to be a lower-risk investment than stocks, and they can help investors preserve their capital. Because the issuer of the bond has a legal obligation to repay the principal at maturity, bondholders have a certain level of protection against default.
  • Diversification. Including this investment in a well-diversified investment portfolio can help reduce overall risk. Bonds often have a low or negative correlation with stocks, which means that they can help offset losses in a stock portfolio during market downturns.
  • Predictability. Because the coupon rate and maturity date of a bond are known at the time of purchase, investors have a good idea of the returns they’ll receive over the life of the bond.
  • Tax benefits. Certain types of bonds, such as municipal bonds, may be exempt from federal income tax and may also be exempt from state and local taxes. This can make them a more tax-efficient investment for some investors.

Cons explained

  • Credit risk. This is the risk that the issuer of the bond will default on the loan, which can result in a loss of principal for the investor. For instance, junk bonds will typically have a higher credit risk as these are issued by companies with lower credit ratings.
  • Interest rate risk. If interest rates rise, the value of existing bonds will decrease. When interest rates rise, companies and organizations can issue new bonds with higher coupon rates, which makes existing bonds with lower coupon rates less attractive to investors.
  • Inflation risk. Inflation is a major concern for most financial products. Over time, inflation may erode the purchasing power of the income generated by the bond. If the rate of inflation exceeds the coupon rate of the bond, the investor will lose money.
  • Liquidity risk. This is the risk that it may be difficult to sell the bond at a fair price if the investor needs to raise cash quickly. Some bonds are less liquid than others, and certain types of bonds may be more difficult to trade than others.
  • Call risk. This refers to the risk that the issuer of the bond will call it back early, which can result in a loss of income for the investor. Because of this risk, most companies issue callable bonds with a higher coupon rate.
Overall, bonds can be a valuable investment option for investors looking to generate a reliable source of income and preserve their capital. By offering regular income payments, diversification, and potential tax benefits, bonds can help investors meet their financial goals and build a well-diversified portfolio. Just remember to keep your investment goals in mind when considering this investment vehicle.

Key Takeaways

  • Bonds represent a loan made by an investor to a borrower. In return, the borrower pays the investor interest over the life of the bond and repays the principal at maturity.
  • This investment vehicle can offer a reliable source of income, diversification, and potential tax benefits.
  • There are several types of bonds, including corporate, government, municipal, treasury, and high-yield bonds.
  • Investors should carefully consider the risks and benefits of investing in bonds and choose a portfolio that aligns with their individual needs and risk tolerance.

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