How do bonds work?

Bonds are an important source of funding for many organizations. For example, a majority of the money needed to build and maintain new roads, bridges and schools is derived from selling bonds. Almost every government issues bonds to pay for projects. Large corporations also issue bonds regularly to raise money for various reasons.

When you purchase a bond, you're lending money to the issuing entity. They use that money for a specific period (the length of time until your bond "matures"). Once it reaches maturity, the company or organization repays you the amount you lent (the principal) plus interest (the coupon payment). The interest rate on most municipal or corporate bonds is fixed; however, some companies issue variable-rate bonds whose interest rate changes depending on market conditions.

bonds work

The simplest definition of a bond is when you invest or loan a sum of money to a government or corporate entity for a specific period (maturity period). Until the maturity date, you earn interest on that amount. Bonds are also known as debt instruments. But, if you want to know how to invest in bonds, here are 5 important things to remember about how bonds work:

  • The lender’s/bond buyer’s purpose is to make money by loaning it to an organization that needs cash.
  • The organisation gives you a specific amount of interest on your loan over the life of the bond and then returns all of your principal (the amount you initially invested) when the time is up.
  • Some types of bonds are treasury bills, corporate bonds, zero-coupon bonds, convertible bonds, and callable and puttable bonds. These are classified based on their period, interest type, the issuer, etc.
  • Based on the repayment capacity of the issuer and the risk of losing your money, credit rating agencies assign a score to the bond.
  • Once bought, bonds can be traded through a range of markets including exchanges and over-the-counter markets.

What is the difference between bonds and stocks?

Stocks are shares of ownership in a company while corporate bonds are debt instruments used by corporations when they need capital quickly without waiting for profits that may take years before being realized.

If the bond belongs to the government or a corporation, it's an IOU, a phonetic acronym of the words "I owe you". The buyer lends money to the issuer and in return receives an interest payment on top of the initial loan amount when the bond reaches maturity. Unlike with stocks, there is no ownership stake involved here. So, if you're buying bonds, don't expect any voting rights on new products or business decisions.

If the bond belongs to a mutual fund, you're simply investing in debt instruments issued by governments and companies which are then pooled together. Bonds can also be packaged together into something known as a bond ETF (Exchange Traded Fund). An ETF is like an index fund for bonds, as opposed to stocks or other kinds of investments. It often contains hundreds of different individual securities, which makes it even less risky than owning just one single bond. The same rules about ownership stakes do not apply here. You'll get interest payments but no voting rights whatsoever.

How to invest in bonds?

There are two primary ways to invest in bonds:

  • buying individual bonds
  • buying bond funds

The first option is to buy individual bonds. By purchasing individual bonds, you can get a better grasp of your exact holdings, as well as the risk and return associated with each particular investment. However, there are a few drawbacks to this approach.

  • Unless you have large sums of money to allocate or have access to an institutional dealer, you may be limited in the types of bonds that you can purchase directly (i.e., Treasury bonds).
  • Even if you do have large sums of money available or have an institutional dealer, it can still be time-consuming (and costly) to manage lots of individual bond positions.

Another option is to buy bond funds — either mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Bond mutual funds and ETFs offer diversification across numerous securities in a single investment vehicle at a low price point. There are now many different types of bond mutual funds and ETFs available to investors designed for specific weights towards different risk factors such as interest rate sensitivity, credit quality and more — something not easily achievable through direct investing in individual bonds due to cost concerns.

Significance of Bonds in the Stock Market

Bonds are an important part of the capital markets, as well as a useful tool for diversifying your investment portfolio. It's safe to say that most investors could benefit from them.

One of the main reasons bonds make sense for so many investors is that they're a good investment for passive income. Passive investing means you're not trying to constantly buy and sell stocks based on short-term market fluctuations; rather, you're sticking with long-term investments and using strategies like index funds and dollar-cost averaging to build wealth gradually over time.

Bonds are also one of the best ways to generate steady income—and if you have a large bond portfolio, it can become your primary source of income.