If you plan to invest in bonds, you have a lot of options. Here’s a list of the main categories of bonds.
Table of Contents:
• Treasury Bonds
• Agency Bonds
• Municipal Bonds
• Corporate Bonds
• Mortgage Bonds
In case you don’t know what a bond is, here’s a quick definition: a bond is an IOU. It means someone is indebted to you and must pay you back the loan with interest.
Now let’s look at the 5 main types of bonds:
1. Treasury Bonds
The United States Department of the Treasury issues treasury bonds. These are widely considered to be the safest bonds to purchase. The U.S. government is one of the richest and most stable governments on the planet.
The Treasury also issues treasury bills and treasury notes. Here’s the difference:
• Treasury bills (T-bills) have a maturity date of fewer than 2 years.
• Treasury notes (T-notes) have a maturity date between 2 and 10 years.
• Treasury bonds (T-bonds) have a maturity date over 10 years.
Interest on treasury bonds is exempt from Federal taxes. Local and state taxes may still apply.
2. Agency Bonds
Agency bonds come from quasi-government institutions. These groups raise money with the intention of helping the economy.
The three biggest examples are:
• The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)
• The Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae)
• The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac)
The U.S. Federal government is not obligated to financially back these agencies. However, some investors speculate the government would help them if they needed it.
These agencies have minimal credit risk. Many consider these relatively safe bonds to purchase.
Agency bonds usually pay higher interest rates since they are slightly riskier than treasury bonds.
They are usually taxed at federal and state levels.
3. Municipal Bonds
Municipal bonds (munis) come from local governments. They are categorized into investment-grade or high-yield classes.
Investment-grade means the local government is less likely to default, but they typically pay lower interest.
High-yield means the local government is more likely to default on its loans, but they pay higher interest.
Local governments do default on their loans from time to time. A modern example is Detroit.
Municipals bonds are exempt from taxes. That doesn’t mean they produce more money though. Other bonds may be taxed, but they can still give higher yields.
4. Corporate Bonds
Corporate bonds fall into two categories:
• Investment-grade corporate bonds (high quality)
• High-yield corporate bonds (low quality). High-yield bonds are sometimes called ‘Junk bonds.’
Investment-grade corporate bonds mean the company is less likely to default on its loans. They typically offer lower interest rates.
High-yield corporate bonds mean the company is more likely to default on its loans. Therefore they offer higher interest rates.
Standard and Poor’s ranks companies on their risk of defaulting. The top of the scale begins at AAA, then descends to AA, A, BBB, BB, B… and so on.
If a company ranks BBB or higher, then it has investment-grade bonds. If a company ranks lower than BBB, then it has high-yield bonds.
Corporate bonds are taxed.
5. Mortgage Bonds
Mortgage bonds finance real estate assets such as houses. Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae, and Freddie Mac issue most of these bonds. Investment banks can also issue them.
When a bank issues a mortgage, it rarely keeps ownership of the mortgage. The bank will sell the mortgage to a government agency or investment bank.
These institutions take on a lot of mortgages. In turn, they issue bonds using the real estate as backing.
They’re essentially passing a loan onto investors.
Once a bank or agency receives mortgage payments, they will pass on the money to bondholders in the form of interest.
If homeowners default, their property and equipment can be liquidated to repay bondholders. Typically, homeowners pay off their mortgage, since they want to keep their homes.
A glaring exception to this rule is the 2008 housing market crash. Consequently, some investors buy these bonds with caution. Today, institutions have regained a lot of trust from investors.
If homeowners default on their mortgages, their property is collateral for bondholders.
These bonds are taxed at all levels.
Which bonds will you invest in?