A bond is a loan an investor makes to a corporation, government, federal agency or other organization in exchange for interest payments over a specified term plus repayment of principal at the bond’s maturity date. There are a wide variety of bonds including Treasuries, agency bonds, corporate bonds, municipal bonds and more. Likewise there are many types of bond mutual funds.
When you invest in bonds and bond mutual funds, you face the risk that your investment might lose money, especially if you bought an individual bond and want or need to sell it before it matures. And bond mutual fund prices can fluctuate, just as stock mutual funds do. Risk will also vary depending on the type of bond you own.
Bonds and bond mutual funds often can be an important component of a diversified investment portfolio.
A bond’s term, or years to maturity, is usually set when it is issued. Bond maturities can range from one day to 100 years, but the majority of bond maturities range from one to 30 years. Bonds are often referred to as being short-, medium- or long-term. Generally, a bond that matures in one to three years is referred to as a short-term bond. Medium- or intermediate-term bonds are generally those that mature in four to 10 years, and long-term bonds are those with maturities greater than 10 years. The borrower fulfills its debt obligation typically when the bond reaches its maturity date, and the final interest payment and the original sum you loaned (the principal) are paid to you.
What happens to the Treasury bonds you bought a couple of months ago at the lower interest rate? They’re not as attractive. If you want to sell them, you’ll need to discount their price to a level that equals the coupon of all the new bonds just issued at the higher rate. In short, you’d have to sell your bonds at a discount.
Bond Yield and Return
Yield is a general term that relates to the return on the capital you invest in a bond.
There are several definitions that are important to understand when talking about yield as it relates to bonds: coupon yield. Coupon yield is the annual interest rate established when the bond is issued. It’s the same as the coupon rate and is the amount of income you collect on a bond, expressed as a percentage of your original investment.