Bonds: How do they work

Investing in Bonds

Bonds may not be as glamorous as stocks or commodities, but they are a significant component of most investment portfolios. Bonds are traded in huge volumes every day, but their full usefulness is often underappreciated and underestimated.

Why invest in bonds?

Bonds can help diversify your investment portfolio. Interest payments from bonds can act as a hedge against the relative volatility of stocks, real estate, or precious metals. Those interest payments also can provide you with a steady stream of income.  Additionally, because individual bonds have a face value and maturity date, investors like knowing how much and when to expect their investment.

Bonds as Part of Your Overall Portfolio Strategy

Bonds play an important role in your overall portfolio strategy, AKA investment mix.  As interest rates rise and bond prices are impacted, your overall portfolio allocation will be impacted as well.

For those of you who are managing a portfolio on your own and read this blog for education, or are hourly/project based clients, that will mean that you will need to monitor your portfolio and rebalance the allocation back to your original allocation/investment mix.  If you do not, then the amount of risk/projected return in the portfolio will not match the amount of risk/return you wanted in the portfolio.

For those of you who work with us on an ongoing basis for investment management/partnership based clients, we set up “target bands” according to your allocation/investment mix and make changes when your portfolio deviates from those bands.  So we do not wait until a certain time of year, we make changes as needed and only if needed.

I wrote earlier about the importance of rebalancing a portfolio and how rebalancing works.

How bonds work

When you buy a bond, you are essentially loaning money to a bond issuer in need of cash to finance a venture or fund a program, such as a corporation or government agency. In return for your investment, you receive interest payments at regular intervals, usually based on a fixed annual rate (coupon rate). You are also paid the bond’s full face amount at its stated maturity date.

You can purchase bonds in denominations as low as $100, and often in increments of $1,000 (though individual brokers may have a higher minimum purchase). Some are backed by tangible assets, such as mortgage contracts, buildings, or equipment. In many other cases, you simply rely on the issuer’s ability to pay. You can buy or sell bonds in the open market in the same manner as stocks and other securities. Therefore, bonds fluctuate in price, selling at a premium (above) or discount (below) to the face value (par value). Generally, the longer a bond’s duration to maturity, the more volatile its price swings. These factors expose bonds to certain inherent risks.

You can buy or sell bonds in the open market in the same manner as stocks and other securities. Therefore, bonds fluctuate in price, selling at a premium (above) or discount (below) to the face value (par value). Generally, the longer a bond’s duration to maturity, the more volatile its price swings. These factors expose bonds to certain inherent risks.

Bond risk factors

Although many bonds are conservative, lower-risk investments, some others are not, and all carry some risk. Because bonds are traded in the securities markets, there is always the chance that your bonds can lose favor and drop in price due to market risk; as a result, a bond redeemed prior to maturity may be worth more or less than its original cost. Much of this volatility in price is tied to interest-rate fluctuations. For example, if you pay $1,000 for a 5 percent bond, that same $1,000 might buy you a 6 percent bond the following month, if interest rates rise. Consequently, your old 5 percent bond may be worth less than $1,000 to current investors.

Since bonds typically pay a fixed rate of interest, they are open to inflation risk. As consumer prices generally rise, the purchasing power of all fixed investments is reduced. Also, there is a chance that the issuer will be unable to make its interest payments or to repay its bonds’ face value at maturity. This is known as credit or financial risk. To help minimize this risk, compare the relative strength of companies or bonds through a ratings service such as Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, A. M. Best, or Fitch. Finally, bonds also involve reinvestment risk: the risk that when a bond matures, you may not be able to get the same return when you reinvest that money.

Corporate bonds

Bonds issued by private corporations vary in risk from typically steady utility bonds to highly volatile, high-interest junk bonds. Also, many corporate bonds are callable, meaning that the debt can be paid off by the issuing company and redeemed on a predeterminded fixed date. The company pays back your principal along with accrued interest, plus an additional amount for calling the bond before maturity.

Some corporate bonds are convertible and can be exchanged for shares of the company’s stock on a fixed date. You can also purchase zero-coupon bonds, which are issued at a discount to (below) face value. No interest is paid, but at

You can also purchase zero-coupon bonds, which are issued at a discount to (below) face value. No interest is paid, but at maturity you receive the face value of the bond. For example, you pay $600 for a 5-year, $1,000 zero-coupon bond. At the end of 5 years, you receive $1,000. Corporate bonds have maturity dates ranging from one day to 40 years or more and

Corporate bonds have maturity dates ranging from one day to 40 years or more and generally make fixed interest payments every six months.

U.S. government securities

The securities backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government carry minimal risk. United States Treasury bills (T-bills) are issued for terms from a few days to 52 weeks. They are sold at a discount and are redeemed

United States Treasury bills (T-bills) are issued for terms from a few days to 52 weeks. They are sold at a discount and are redeemed for their full face value at maturity. Other Treasury securities include Treasury notes, which have terms from 2 to 10 years, Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), which have terms from 5 to 30 years, and Treasury bonds, which have a term of 30 years. Although the interest earned on these securities is subject to federal taxation, it is not subject to state or local taxes.

Other Treasury securities include Treasury notes, which have terms from 2 to 10 years, Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), which have terms from 5 to 30 years, and Treasury bonds, which have a term of 30 years. Although the interest earned on these securities is subject to federal taxation, it is not subject to state or local taxes.

Various federal agencies also issue bonds. As with any investment, these bonds carry some risk. However, because the U.S. government guarantees timely payment of principal and interest on them, they are considered very safe. Some of these bonds use mortgages as collateral. Most mortgage-backed securities pay monthly interest to bondholders.

Municipal bonds

Municipal bonds (munis) are issued by states, counties, or municipalities, and are generally free from federal taxation (with some exceptions). Some may be completely tax free if you are a resident of the state, county, or municipality of issuance. Though municipal bonds generally offer lower interest payments compared with taxable bonds, their overall return may be higher because of their tax-reduced (or tax-free) status. Some municipal bond interest also could be subject to the alternative minimum tax. You must select bonds carefully to ensure

Though municipal bonds generally offer lower interest payments compared with taxable bonds, their overall return may be higher because of their tax-reduced (or tax-free) status. Some municipal bond interest also could be subject to the alternative minimum tax. You must select bonds carefully to ensure

You must select bonds carefully to ensure a worthwhile tax savings. Because municipal bonds tend to have lower yields than other bonds, the tax benefits tend to accrue to individuals with the highest tax burden.

Munis come in two types: general obligation (GO) bonds and revenue bonds. GO bonds are backed by the taxing authority of the issuing state or local government. For this reason, they are considered less risky but have a lower coupon rate. Revenue bonds are supported by money raised from the bridge, toll road, or other facility that the bonds were issued to fund. They pay a higher interest rate and are considered riskier. Therefore, research the project being funded to the extent possible before you invest, to make sure that it will generate sufficient income to make payments.

Monitoring your bond portfolio

Of course, you’ll want to keep an eye on your bond portfolio, as you should with all of your investments. Although other factors may affect them, bond prices are often closely tied to interest rates. When rates go up, the market price of your bonds tend to go down; when interest rates fall, your bonds generally rise in value.

Interest rates also tend to affect a bond’s current yield, which measures the coupon rate of your bond in relation to its current price. The current yield rises with a corresponding drop in the price of a bond, and vice versa. In addition, inflation, corporate finances, and government fiscal policy can affect bond prices.

The major bond-rating services offer letter grades regarding the relative strength of a corporation or bond.  Your brokerage statement or brokerage account website will often have the credit rating for your bonds.  Keep an eye on the credit rating to make sure that it is still in investment grade range which for Standard and Poor’s is BBB- or higher and Moody’s is Baa3 or higher.

Portions of this blog post are from an article prepared by Broadridge Investor Communications Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017  But, I just had to add my own two cents!

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Coffee with Michele Clark, CFP® and Jan July 2017

Come to the Community Room at Kaldi’s in Chesterfield, MO with your financial planning and tax questions and enjoy a cup of coffee with Michele Clark CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional in St. Louis and Jan Roberg Enrolled Agent.

Financial Planning and Tax Planning Questions Answered

There is no prepared presentation, just a casual conversation in a small group environment; your opportunity to pick our brains.  Feel free to invite family or friends who could benefit from an hour with us.  Open to registered attendees only, due to the size of the room.

Coffee with Michele Clark and Jan Roberg

Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield, MO
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
10:30 am to 11:30 am

RSVP Information
RSVP online Clark Hourly Financial Planning and Investment Management RSVP or call 636-264-0732.
Space is limited.  Coffee and pastries are complimentary.

Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield address and map
The Community Room is an enclosed room in the back of the coffee shop.

We hope you can join us!

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Coffee with Michele Clark, CFP® June 2017

Come to the Community Room at Kaldi’s in Chesterfield, MO with your financial planning questions and enjoy a cup of coffee with Michele Clark CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional in St. Louis.

Financial Planning Questions Answered

There is no prepared presentation, just a casual conversation in a small group environment; your opportunity to pick our brains.  Feel free to invite family or friends who could benefit from an hour with us.  Open to registered attendees only, due to the size of the room.

Coffee with Michele Clark
Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield, MO
Wednesday, June, 14th, 2017
10:30 am to 11:30 am

RSVP Information
RSVP online Clark Hourly Financial Planning and Investment Management RSVP or call 636-264-0732.  Space is limited.  Coffee and pastries are complimentary.

Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield address and map
The Community Room is an enclosed room in the back of the coffee shop.

We hope you can join us!

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American Health Care Act Passed by House

On May 4, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA). With some changes, this is essentially the same law that was pulled from consideration by the House back in March. Compared to the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), the AHCA repeals the health insurance mandate for both individuals and large employers; caps Medicaid funding to states beginning in 2020; eliminates several ACA taxes, including those applicable to high-wage earners; and replaces tax credits and subsidies based on income with tax credits based on age and income. The House passed the AHCA prior to an updated analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as to the budgetary effects of the law.

Some ACA provisions remain

Here’s a brief description of some elements of the ACA that remain in place under the AHCA:

  • Insurers are prohibited from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. However, beginning in 2019, the law allows states to apply for waivers, in which case insurers in those states could charge people in the individual Marketplace with pre-existing medical conditions higher premiums for about a year if they have a gap in coverage of at least 63 consecutive days.
  • All individual health plans purchased during open enrollment are required to be “guaranteed issue,” meaning an applicant must be offered coverage regardless of health status.
  • The requirement that health plans cover 10 essential health benefit categories remains. However, beginning in 2020, states may apply for waivers, which allow states to redefine essential health benefits for coverage in the individual and small group markets.
  • Dependent young adults can remain on their parent’s health-care plan to age 26.
  • Current lifetime and annual out-of-pocket dollar limits for essential health benefits remain the same, which can be changed for states electing a waiver.
  • Federal funding of Medicaid continues to states that extended coverage to include more people and more services through 2019. Beginning January 1, 2020, federal funding to those states will continue, but only to people who were in the Medicaid program at the end of 2019. Otherwise, beginning in 2020, Medicaid funding to states will be a fixed amount based on the total number of Medicaid enrollees (per capita), and not based on the actual cost of Medicaid services provided to individual recipients.
  • Health insurance Marketplaces and open enrollment periods remain in place.

Major changes

The following are some of the significant changes made by the AHCA:

  • The health insurance mandate and penalty for people who don’t have qualifying health insurance coverage are eliminated, retroactive to December 31, 2015, meaning the penalty would not apply to anyone who didn’t have health insurance in 2016.
  • The mandate that large employers provide health insurance to eligible employees is repealed.
  • The limit that insurers can charge their oldest enrollees for insurance premiums is changed from three times what they charge their youngest enrollees to five times the premium charge.
  • Insurers are allowed to charge a late enrollment penalty of 30% of premiums for health insurance applicants who have a lapse in insurance coverage of 63 days or longer.
  • Starting in 2020, premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies are replaced with a flat, age-based tax credit that can be applied to any eligible individual health insurance policy regardless of where it’s purchased (the policy wouldn’t have to be obtained through a Marketplace.) The credits would start at $2,000 for individuals up to age 29 and increase in $500 increments until capping at $4,000 for individuals age 60 and older. Credits are gradually reduced for individuals with yearly incomes exceeding $75,000 and for households that earn over $150,000.
  • Establish a State Patient and State Stability Fund for states that seek waivers of essential health benefits and health rating requirements. Federal funding is available to states electing waivers to provide financial help to high-risk individuals.
  • The 3.8% tax on unearned income for high-income taxpayers is repealed. The 0.9% Medicare payroll tax on high-wage earners is repealed effective January 1, 2023.
  • The tax-free contribution limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) are increased. Also, the provision excluding costs for non-prescribed over-the-counter drugs from reimbursement through an HSA is repealed.
  • The annual limit on contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) is repealed.
  • The Cadillac tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans is suspended for tax years 2020 through 2025.
  • The tax on tanning beds is repealed.
  • The taxes on health insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers are repealed.

The AHCA now moves to the Senate, where it will be debated and possibly altered. It is also likely that the Congressional Budget Office will provide its estimate of the budgetary effects of the AHCA.

Effective 2020, the AHCA repeals tax credits available for low-wage, small employers that provide health-care coverage to their employees.

Article Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

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Coffee with Michele Clark, CFP® and Friends May 2017

Come to the Community Room at Kaldi’s in Chesterfield, MO with your financial planning and long-term care, life, and disability insurance questions and enjoy a cup of coffee with Michele Clark CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional in St. Louis.  Michele has invited insurance brokers to be at the event to be able to answer your questions.

There is no prepared presentation, just a casual conversation in a small group environment; your opportunity to pick our brains.  Feel free to invite family or friends who could benefit from an hour with us.  Open to registered attendees only, due to the size of the room.

Financial Planning and Insurance Questions Answered

Coffee with Michele Clark and Friends 

Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield, MO
Wednesday, May 10th, 2017
10:30 am to 11:30 am

RSVP Information
RSVP online Clark Hourly Financial Planning and Investment Management RSVP or call 636-264-0732.  Space is limited.  Coffee and pastries are complimentary.

Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield address and map
The Community Room is an enclosed room in the back of the coffee shop.

We hope you can join us!

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