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Income Bonds: What They Are, How They Work, and Pros & Cons

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Abi Bus

Edited by

Fact checked by

Income bonds are unique debt securities that promise to repay the principal amount and don’t guarantee regular interest or coupon payments. Instead, interest is paid to bondholders only when the issuer has sufficient earnings to cover them. This article explains income bonds, their features, and their role in corporate finance, particularly during debt restructuring. Learn how income bonds differ from traditional corporate bonds and why they are issued, often as adjustment bonds, in scenarios like Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations.

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What is an income bond?

An income bond is a distinctive form of debt security. Unlike conventional bonds that assure both the repayment of principal and regular interest payments, income bonds only guarantee the return of the face value to investors. Interest or coupon payments are made at the issuer’s discretion, contingent on their earnings being sufficient to cover these payments.

Income bond explained

In essence, an income bond represents a departure from the typical corporate bond. Traditional corporate bonds are known for making periodic interest payments to bondholders, with the repayment of the principal investment upon maturity. Investors in these bonds expect regular coupon payments and bear the risk of default if the issuing company faces financial difficulties and cannot meet its debt obligations.
Bond issuers with high default risk usually receive low credit ratings from bond rating agencies to reflect the elevated level of risk associated with their securities. Investors who purchase such high-risk bonds demand higher returns to compensate for lending their funds to these issuers.
However, income bonds present a unique proposition. While they guarantee the face value at maturity, the payment of interest depends on the issuer’s earnings over a specified period. The issuer commits to paying coupon payments only when its financial statements show sufficient income. This flexibility makes income bonds an attractive option for companies seeking capital for growth or sustaining their operations. Unlike traditional bonds, interest payments on income bonds are not fixed; they fluctuate based on the issuer’s earnings. Importantly, failing to pay interest on an income bond does not result in default as it would with a traditional bond.

Debt restructuring and income bonds

Income bonds serve a unique corporate purpose, somewhat similar to preferred shares, although they differ in significant ways. Unlike preferred shares, where missed dividend payments accumulate and must be paid in the future, income bonds do not require issuers to pay or accumulate unpaid interest at any point. In some cases, income bonds may be structured to accumulate unpaid interest payments, which become due upon the bond’s maturity, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Income bonds often play a crucial role in corporate finance during challenging times. They are typically issued by companies facing solvency problems as a means to quickly raise funds, potentially averting bankruptcy. Failed companies in the midst of reorganization may also issue income bonds to maintain their operations during bankruptcy proceedings. To attract investors, these corporations offer higher bond rates than the average market rate, providing a stronger incentive for bondholders.
For companies navigating Chapter 11 bankruptcy, income bonds, referred to as adjustment bonds, can be a vital component of their debt restructuring strategy. These bonds include terms that stipulate interest payments should only be made when the company generates positive earnings. If the company’s revenues are negative, no interest payments are due.
Weigh the risks and benefits
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of income bonds.
  • Flexibility in interest payments based on issuer earnings
  • Attractive option for companies in financial distress
  • Can help companies raise capital quickly
  • Uncertain interest payments for bondholders
  • Issuer not obligated to pay or accumulate unpaid interest
  • Higher risk for bondholders due to uncertain income

Frequently asked questions

How do income bonds differ from traditional bonds?

Income bonds differ from traditional bonds in that they do not guarantee regular interest payments. Interest on income bonds is paid only when the issuer has sufficient earnings to cover them, making these payments variable.

Why are income bonds issued during corporate debt restructuring?

Income bonds are often issued during corporate debt restructuring, such as Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, to help companies in financial distress raise capital quickly and maintain their operations. These bonds provide flexibility in interest payments, making them attractive to issuers facing uncertain financial situations.

Are income bonds a high-risk investment?

Income bonds can be considered higher risk compared to traditional bonds because interest payments are uncertain and contingent on the issuer’s earnings. Bondholders must assess the financial health of the issuer before investing in income bonds.

How are income bonds taxed?

Income from income bonds is typically subject to income tax. The interest payments received by bondholders may be taxed as ordinary income, and the tax implications can vary based on the investor’s jurisdiction. It’s advisable to consult with a tax professional or financial advisor to understand the specific tax treatment of income bonds in your area.

Are income bonds a suitable investment for risk-averse investors?

Income bonds are generally considered riskier than traditional bonds due to the uncertainty of interest payments. They are not typically recommended for risk-averse investors seeking stable, fixed income. Conservative investors may prefer other fixed-income investments, such as government bonds or highly-rated corporate bonds, which offer more predictable interest payments.

Can an issuer convert income bonds into traditional bonds?

It is possible for an issuer to convert income bonds into traditional bonds with fixed interest payments. This conversion may occur if the issuer’s financial health improves to the point where they can commit to regular interest payments. Such a conversion would typically require the approval of bondholders, and the terms and conditions may vary based on the specific bond agreement.

Key takeaways

  • Income bonds promise the return of the principal amount and offer variable interest payments based on the issuer’s earnings.
  • These bonds are commonly issued during corporate debt restructuring, including Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, to raise capital quickly.
  • Investors in income bonds face uncertainty regarding interest payments, making them a higher-risk investment compared to traditional bonds.

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