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Public Purpose Bonds: Definition, Benefits, and Risks

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Alessandra Nicole

Edited by

Fact checked by

Public purpose bonds are municipal debt securities used to finance public works projects benefiting communities. They are tax-exempt at the federal level and often at the state level, making them attractive investments for those seeking tax advantages. This article explores the workings of public purpose bonds, their benefits, and how they differ from private purpose bonds.

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What is a public purpose bond?

A public purpose bond is a type of municipal bond issued by a state, municipality, or county to fund projects that benefit the public welfare, such as schools, parks, or public roads. Unlike private purpose bonds, which finance projects benefiting private entities, public purpose bonds must primarily serve the interests of the general public. These bonds are typically backed by the taxing authority of the issuing jurisdiction and are considered a form of general obligation bond (GO).

How public purpose bonds work

Public purpose bonds serve as a means for municipalities to raise funds for projects that may not attract private investment or generate revenue. Examples of projects financed by public purpose bonds include infrastructure improvements, community facilities, and public services. These bonds are exempt from federal income taxes and may also be exempt from state income taxes, providing tax advantages to investors.

Tax exemption

One of the key features of public purpose bonds is their tax-exempt status. Interest income earned from these bonds is typically exempt from federal income tax, making them particularly attractive to investors in higher tax brackets. Additionally, investors may also benefit from state tax exemptions if they reside in the state where the bonds are issued.

Backed by the issuing municipality

Public purpose bonds are backed by the credit and taxing power of the issuing municipality, rather than the revenue generated by the specific project being funded. This means that the municipality pledges its full faith and credit to repay the bondholders, relying on its ability to levy taxes and generate revenue from other sources to meet its debt obligations.

Municipal securities rulemaking board (MSRB)

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) oversees the issuing and sale of municipal bonds, including public purpose bonds. It establishes rules and policies for investment firms and banks involved in the municipal securities market, ensuring transparency and investor protection. Issuers of municipal bonds are required to provide specific information to the MSRB, including financial reports and notices of events that may affect the bonds’ tax-exempt status.

Public purpose vs. private purpose bondsmarkets

Definition and purpose

Public purpose bonds are issued to finance projects that primarily benefit the public welfare, such as infrastructure and community facilities. In contrast, private purpose bonds are used to finance projects that primarily benefit private entities, with at least 10% of the project’s benefits accruing to private sector entities.

Tax treatment

Interest income earned from public purpose bonds is generally tax-exempt at the federal level, while income from private purpose bonds is typically taxable. This tax advantage makes public purpose bonds more attractive to investors seeking tax-exempt income.


A public purpose bond may fund the construction of a new public library or the renovation of a city park, benefiting the entire community. In contrast, a private purpose bond may finance the construction of a sports stadium or a corporate headquarters, primarily benefiting the private entities involved.
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
  • Tax-exempt income at the federal level
  • Potential tax-exempt income at the state level
  • Investment in projects benefiting the public welfare
  • Backed by the credit and taxing power of the issuing municipality
  • May have lower yields compared to taxable bonds
  • Subject to interest rate and credit risk
  • Dependent on the financial health of the issuing municipality

Frequently asked questions

Are public purpose bonds suitable for all investors?

Public purpose bonds may be suitable for investors seeking tax-exempt income and willing to accept the risks associated with municipal bonds. However, investors should assess their individual financial situation and investment objectives before investing in any security.

How can I purchase public purpose bonds?

Public purpose bonds are typically available through brokerage firms, financial advisors, and directly from the issuing municipality. Investors can purchase these bonds in the primary market when they are first issued or in the secondary market from other investors.

What factors should I consider before investing in public purpose bonds?

Investors should consider the creditworthiness of the issuing municipality, prevailing interest rates, and market conditions before investing in public purpose bonds. It’s also essential to evaluate the specific project being financed and its potential impact on the community.

Can public purpose bonds be sold before maturity?

Yes, public purpose bonds can be sold before maturity in the secondary market. However, the price at which they are sold may be higher or lower than their face value, depending on prevailing market conditions and changes in interest rates.

Key takeaways

  • Public purpose bonds finance projects benefiting the public welfare, such as infrastructure and community facilities.
  • These bonds enjoy tax-exempt status at the federal level and may also be exempt from state income taxes.
  • Investors should assess the creditworthiness of the issuing municipality and consider their investment objectives before investing in public purpose bonds.

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