1. Money

Bonds 101

What They Are and How They Work

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This bond investing article is part of How to Invest in Bonds, a guide to the basics of buying, selling, and investing in bonds, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, and other fixed income securities.

What Are They?

Say you are in the grocery store with a friend on a Thursday afternoon and see something you need for your house; a broom for example. Although you get your paycheck the next day, you ask your shopping buddy to borrow a few dollars so you can purchase the broom now, in return for which you will not only pay them back tomorrow, but buy them dinner as well. Your friend, finding these terms acceptable, loans you the money and you purchase the item.

This is, in essence, what happens in the corporate world when a company issues bonds. Generally, as a business grows, it doesn't generate enough cash internally to pay for the supplies and equipment necessary to keep it growing. Because of this, most businesses have one of two options. They can either 1.) sell a portion of the company to the general public by issuing additional shares of stock, or they can 2.) issue bonds. When a company issues bonds, it is borrowing money from investors in exchange for which it agrees to pay them interest at set intervals for a predetermined amount of time. In essence, it is the same thing as a mortgage only you, the investor, are the bank.

Why Would Anyone Invest in Bonds?

Most everyone knows that over the long-run, nothing beats the stock market. This being the case, why would anyone invest in bonds? Although they pale in comparison to equities in the long run, bonds have several traits that stocks simply can't match.

First, capital preservation. Unless a company goes bankrupt, a bondholder can be almost completely certain that they will receive the amount they originally invested. Stocks, which are subordinate to bonds, bear the brunt of unfavorable developments.

Secondly, bonds pay interest at set intervals of time, which can provide valuable income for retired couples, individuals, or those who need the cash flow. For instance, if someone owned $100,000 worth of bonds that paid 8% interest annually (that would be $8,000 yearly), a fraction of that interest would be sent to the bondholder either monthly or quarterly, giving them money to live on or invest elsewhere.

Bonds can also have large tax advantage for some people. When a government or municipality issues various types of bonds to raise money to build bridges, roads, etc., the interest that is earned is tax exempt. This can be especially advantageous for those whom are retired or want to minimize their total tax liability.

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