Michele Clark
Clark Hourly Financial Planning - Chesterfield, MO Advisor
1415 Elbridge Payne Road, Suite 255
Chesterfield, MO 63017 USA
Work 636.264.0732
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Bonds: How do they work

June 29th, 2017

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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Michele Clark in the News: US News and World Report about Reliable Retirement Planning Advice

March 7th, 2017

I was honored to help US News and World Report recently in their article “How to Get Reliable Retirement Planning Advice” with an important topic that is causing some friction in our industry right now.  The public is having their eyes opened to the importance of having a fiduciary relationship with their financial advisor, however, it is looking like the fiduciary rule could possibly get postponed.  Not all brokerage firms and advisors want to be subject to the fiduciary rule.  I am a fiduciary, and I share my thoughts on how to find quality, fiduciary advice.

The advice that I share is to “Look for a seasoned advisor who has been in the business through a market cycle or two, is a fee-only fiduciary and a certified financial planner who works primarily with clients like you.”

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Asset Allocation: Rebalancing a Portfolio in an Appreciated Market

February 22nd, 2017

You probably already know you need to monitor your investment portfolio and update it periodically. Even if you’ve chosen an asset allocation, market forces may quickly begin to tweak it.

For example, if stock prices go up, you may eventually find yourself with a greater percentage of stocks in your portfolio than you want, and therefore a more aggressive portfolio than you originally intended. If the market corrects, your portfolio will go down more than you originally felt comfortable with, because you had more in stock than you originally intended, due to stock market appreciation.

Do you have a strategy for dealing with those changes? You’ll probably want to take a look at your individual investments, but you’ll also want to think about your asset allocation.

How rebalancing works

To bring your asset allocation back to the original percentages you set for each type of investment, you’ll need to do something that may feel counterintuitive: sell some of what’s working well and use that money to buy investments in other areas that now represent less of your portfolio.

Typically, you’d buy enough to bring your percentages back into alignment. This keeps what’s called a “constant weighting” of the relative types of investments.

Let’s look at a hypothetical illustration. If stocks have risen, a portfolio that originally included only 60% in stocks might now have 70% in equities. Rebalancing would involve selling some of the stock and using the proceeds to buy enough of other asset classes to bring the percentage of stock in the portfolio back to 60%. This example doesn’t represent actual returns; it merely demonstrates how rebalancing works. Maintaining those relative percentages not only reminds you to take profits when a given asset class is doing well, but it also keeps your portfolio in line with your original risk tolerance.

Methods for Rebalancing your Portfolio

Knowing that the market can be volatile and that rebalancing is a disciplined process that helps offset the risk of volatility, how do you know when to rebalance your portfolio? There are a couple of methods for rebalancing.

Target Bands

One common rule of thumb is to rebalance your portfolio whenever one type of investment gets more than a certain percentage out of line, say, 5 to 10%. This type of monitoring typically requires sophisticated software and an alert system to send you an automated alert whenever your portfolio is outside of acceptable balance range.

Otherwise it would be a daily manual exercise of updating the value of each investment and the relative value of the asset classes of the overall portfolio. This is a daily disciplined practice that most investors would not maintain on a sustained basis over years, which would be required.  When we work with clients on an investment management basis, we use Target Bands as our method of rebalancing. We can do this because we have daily access to their account information and the software to monitor the accounts versus our target allocation.

Annual Rebalancing

You could also set a regular date for rebalancing. To stick to this strategy, you’ll need to be comfortable with the fact that investing is cyclical and all investments generally go up and down in value from time to time. When we work with clients on an hourly basis, we encourage them to come back to us on an annual basis for portfolio rebalancing. Because we do not have access to their accounts, we rely on investment statements that they provide us. In this situation, this is a good way to rebalance the portfolio back to the target allocation. The concern comes when too much time elapses between rebalancing periods and due to market fluctuation the portfolio can become an allocation that is not in line with their risk tolerance.

Our example has been about an appreciated stock market, because that is the market that we are experiencing. However, in a depressed market you would also want to rebalance. If stock prices go down, you might worry that you won’t be able to reach your financial goals because you no longer have the stocks needed to hedge against inflation, so you would want to rebalance back to your original asset allocation model. The same is true for bonds and other investments.

Balance the costs against the benefits of rebalancing

Don’t forget that too-frequent rebalancing can have adverse tax consequences for taxable accounts. Since you’ll be paying capital gains taxes if you sell a stock that has appreciated, you’ll want to check on whether you’ve held it for at least one year. If not, you may want to consider whether the benefits of selling immediately will outweigh the higher tax rate you’ll pay on short-term gains. This doesn’t affect accounts such as 401(k)s or IRAs, of course.

In taxable accounts, you can avoid or minimize taxes in another way. Instead of selling your portfolio winners, simply invest additional money in the asset classes that are underweighted in your portfolio. Doing so can return your portfolio to its original mix.

Sometimes rebalancing can be done in the tax deferred or tax free accounts, which will minimize the changes that need to be made in the taxable accounts, to minimize tax consequences.

You’ll also want to think about transaction costs; make sure any changes are cost-effective.

Also, look out for the impact that a sale in the taxable accounts can have in other areas of your financial plan. If your income goes up will it impact your FAFSA/college financial aid, Medicare means testing, Social Security benefit be taxed at a higher rate, put you in a higher income tax rate, etc.

No matter what your strategy, work with your financial professional to keep your portfolio on track.

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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Financial Records: What to Keep, Where to Keep, and How Long

February 1st, 2017

Keeping your financial records organized is an important part of managing your personal finances.  Whether it’s a paid personal property tax receipt or a W-2 to correct a conflict with Social Security records, there may be times when you need to locate a financial record or document–and you’ll need to locate it quickly.

By taking the time to declutter and organize your financial records, you’ll be able to find what you need when you need it.

What financial documents should you keep?

If you tend to keep stuff because you “might need it someday,” your desk or home office is probably overflowing with nonessential documents. One of the first steps in determining what records to keep is to ask yourself, “Why do I need to keep this?”

Documents you should keep are likely to be those that are difficult to obtain, such as:

  • Tax returns
  • Legal contracts
  • Insurance claims
  • Proof of identity

On the other hand, if you have documents and records that are easily duplicated elsewhere, such as online phone bills and credit-card statements, you probably do not need to keep paper copies of the same information.

How long should you keep your financial records?

Generally, a good rule of thumb is to keep financial records and documents only as long as necessary. For example, you may want to keep ATM and credit-card receipts only temporarily, until you’ve reconciled them with your bank and/or credit-card statement. On the other hand, if a document is legal in nature and/or difficult to replace, you’ll want to keep it for a longer period or even indefinitely.

Some financial records may have more specific timetables. For example, the IRS generally recommends that taxpayers keep federal tax returns and supporting documents for a minimum of three years up to seven years after the date of filing. Certain circumstances may even warrant keeping your tax records indefinitely.

Keep in mind that if you purchased an investment in a taxable account, you will need to have proof of what you paid for that investment, including reinvested capital gains and dividends. The investment companies are required to supply that information for purchases as of January 2012 and after. Before that date they may or may not have it. Do not throw away old investment statements and confirmations of trades before that date for taxable accounts.

Listed below are some recommendations on how long to keep specific documents:

Records to keep for one year or less:

  • Bank or credit union statements (that do not contain information used for tax returns)
  • Credit-card statements (that do not contain information used for tax returns)
  • Utility bills

Records to keep for more than a year:

  • Tax returns and supporting documentation
  • Mortgage contracts
  • Property appraisals
  • Annual retirement and investment statements
  • Receipts for major purchases and home improvements

Records to keep indefinitely:

  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • Adoption records
  • Citizenship and military discharge papers
  • Social Security card

Keep in mind that the above recommendations are general guidelines, and your personal circumstances may warrant keeping these documents for shorter or longer periods of time.

Out with the old, in with the new

An easy way to prevent paperwork from piling up is to remember the phrase “out with the old, in with the new.” For example, when you receive this year’s auto insurance policy, discard the one from last year. In addition, review your files at least once a year to keep your filing system on the right track.

Finally, when you are ready to get rid of certain records and documents, don’t just throw them in the garbage. To protect sensitive information, you should invest in a good quality cross cut shredder to destroy your documents, especially if they contain Social Security numbers, account numbers, or other personal information.

Additionally, you should verify information in your documents, for example pull your credit report and verify that the information contained in it is correct compared to your other documents such as credit card statements. When you look at your Social Security Benefit Statement annually, verify that the earnings history is correct versus your W-2 information.

Where should you keep your financial records?

You could go the traditional route and use a simple set of labeled folders in a file drawer. More important documents should be kept in a fire-resistant file cabinet, safe, or safe-deposit box.

If space is tight and you need to reduce clutter, you might consider electronic storage for some of your financial records. You can save copies of online documents or scan documents and convert them to electronic form. You’ll want to keep backup copies on a portable storage device or hard drive and make sure that your computer files are secure.

You could also use a cloud storage service that encrypts your uploaded information and stores it remotely. If you use cloud storage, make sure to use a reliable company that has a good reputation and offers automatic backup and technical support.

Once you’ve found a place to keep your records, it may be helpful to organize and store them according to specific categories (e.g., banking, insurance, proof of identity), which will make it even easier to access what you might need.

Please note that if you have elected electronic statements with your investment firms, they send you an email notice that your statement has been created and the electronic version is ready for download. They are expecting you to pull up your statement and print it or save an electronic version. Brokerage firms will make an electronic version available to you for a certain period of time ranging from a few years to ten years depending on the firm. After that period they will not have the statement for you. Keep in mind that for taxable investments they were not required to keep track of cost basis information before 2012, although some did.

Tax Preparation Documents

Consider creating a central location to collect the documents, such as 1099s and W-2, needed to prepare your tax return so that as they arrive at the beginning of the year you have one place to collect them, making the task of tax preparation easier. This location can be used throughout the year to collect copies of receipts for donations and major home improvements.

Consider creating a personal document locator

Another option for organizing your financial records is to create a personal document locator, which is simply a detailed list of where you have stored your financial records. This list can be helpful whenever you are trying to locate a specific document and can also assist your loved ones in locating your financial records in the event of an emergency. Typically, a personal document locator, kept in a very secure location, will include the following information:

  • Personal information
  • Personal contacts (e.g., attorney, tax preparer, financial advisor)
  • Online accounts with username and passwords
  • List of specific locations of important documents (e.g., home, office, safe)

Keeping your financial records organized will reap long term rewards in time saved and peace of mind for years to come.

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 December 2016

November 9th, 2016

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 CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional Michele Clark and Jan Roberg Enrolled Agent.

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 Tax Questions Answered

Coffee with Michele and Jan
Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield, MO
Wednesday December 7, 2016
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.

Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield, MO address and map

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