Fixed income securities are a vital pool of investments that are an important part of investors’ strategies, whether they’re institution or individual investors. And while the public is more likely to hear about the ups and downs of the stock market on the news, the fixed income security market is worth trillions, and of vital importance to the overall financial system.
Understanding fixed income securities, and how they fit into an investing strategy, can be critical for investors of all stripes.
What are Fixed Income Securities?
To understand fixed income securities and investing in fixed income securities, it’s important to understand what “fixed income” means, and how that designation sets these financial securities apart from other investments that can be bought and sold.
“Fixed income” refers to the structure of the security itself: fixed income securities like bonds return a preset payment that legally can not change, known as the interest, and also the principal, which is returned at a set time in the future, known as “maturity.”
And like other types of securities, they have their upsides and downsides, and potentially, a place in an investor’s portfolio. With that in mind, too, it can be a good idea for investors to know how to buy bonds.
💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.
Pros and Cons of Fixed Income Securities
Here’s a quick rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of fixed income securities for investors.
Pros of Fixed Income Securities
Perhaps the biggest advantage of fixed income securities is that they are relatively low-risk, and experience less price volatility compared to equities. They can also offer more or less guaranteed returns through regular interest payments (stocks, by comparison, offer no such guarantees other than perhaps dividends), and some of them may offer tax benefits or advantages, too.
Cons of Fixed Income Securities
Fixed income securities can have their downsides, too. For most investors, there are lower potential returns to be derived from fixed income securities (lower risk and lower returns). Given that they tend to be less volatile, too, there can be fewer opportunities to sell them for a sizable return. They can also be subject to things like interest rate risks, which may not apply to other types of securities.
How Fixed Income Securities Differ from Other Securities
The payments (dividends, potentially) from a fixed-income security, like a bond, are likely known in advance. Investors know what they’re getting, in other words, and can more or less depend on a fixed income stream. The trade-off, though, is that many of those same securities do not typically have the same potential for price appreciation as stocks, as discussed.
It’s worth noting, too, that some bonds are “callable” (versus non-callable). Callable bonds can be riskier for some investors as the issuer can “call” it, requiring an investor to perhaps reinvest their money at a different rate. So, in that sense, callable bonds may not be quite as “fixed” as they seem.
Utilizing Bonds as a Fixed Income Security
Bonds are the heavy hitters of the fixed income world. Bonds are, in effect, investments in the debt of a government or a corporation, or sometimes consumer debts like mortgages or auto loans.
Think of bonds vs. stocks like this: Because of their predictable yield, bonds are generally more low-risk than stocks, which have a value that can fluctuate minute to minute.
There are a few different types of bonds, each of which have their own unique attributes. It’s also worth noting that some bonds can be “callable” — meaning, the issuer can choose to repay investors the face value of the bond before the maturity date arrives. In those cases, interest is not always guaranteed.
There are trillions of dollars worth of corporate bonds outstanding that run the gamut from very safe, low-yield bonds issued by huge companies to the riskier, higher-yield bonds, issued by companies whose prospects for future earnings are more uncertain.
High-yield bonds used to be called “junk bonds.” These are bonds issued to fund companies that often don’t have long track records of steady profits or have fallen on tough times recently and thus have to pay more for the privilege of borrowing money.
While these bonds are considerably more risky than bonds in the so-called “blue chip” market, they also provide more opportunities for profits, both because their value tends to sway and that they have higher coupon payments.
Typically the easiest way for an individual or retail investor to invest in corporate bonds is to use an investment product like an exchange-traded fund, what’s known as a “fixed income” or bond ETF, specifically for bonds.
Know, too, that there are a multitude of investment funds on the market, many of which may include or use bond investments.
While the corporate bond market is almost unfathomably big, it’s actually a smaller portion of the world of bonds. Government bonds are issued by governments or public agencies that issue debt to fund their activities, and pay it off with either tax payments or a stream of fees that governments have special access to.
Whenever you hear about the “national debt” of a country, you’re hearing about a set of outstanding bonds that a country uses to cover the gap between taxes and spending. This concerns the federal government in the U.S. There’s also debt issued by states and local governments, some of which offers tax advantages for investors, and debt issued by government-affiliated agencies, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two housing finance corporations.
Debt issued by the federal government tends to have the lowest possible yield of any debt for its duration (meaning the time during which an investor gets the coupon payments), because it’s assumed by the market to be risk-free. (Think government savings bonds.) This is why corporations or institutional investors with a large amount of cash will sometimes buy government debt in order to earn something back but not risk their overall investment, compared to keeping it in cash.
💡 Quick Tip: Investment fees are assessed in different ways, including trading costs, account management fees, and possibly broker commissions. When you set up an investment account, be sure to get the exact breakdown of your “all-in costs” so you know what you’re paying.
Similar Investments to Fixed Income Securities
While bonds do most of the heavy lifting in the fixed income securities world, they’re not the only types of investments that behave in roughly the same way, or which can be used by investors to provide the same type of service in a portfolio. Here are some examples.
Dividend-paying or Preferred stocks
Preferred stocks may have fixed payouts like a bond and are given a “preference” over common stock, meaning that before dividends are paid to common stockholders, they need to be paid to preferred stockholders. Preferred stockholders are also prioritized when a company liquidates or goes out of business — the “senior debt,” aka bondholders, get paid out first, then the preferred stockholders, and finally the common stockholders get paid last.
Money market funds
Money market mutual funds are invested in short-term instruments, and investors can use them as a sort of buoy to try and maintain portfolio stability. These accounts typically invest in short-term debt investments that provide low yield but are low-risk as well. One way to think of a money market mutual fund is as a fixed income investment product that you can always sell out of and into at a stable price.
They can be used in a similar way to checking accounts but do not have the type of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance that bank products will have.
Certificates of Deposit (CDs)
One of the most well-known types of fixed income security, Certificates of deposit (CDs) may not seem like a “security” at all and are typically purchased through a bank, not a broker.
Unlike a bank account, however, CDs cannot be accessed for a set amount of time, which makes them more similar to traditional fixed income investments. Likewise, with a CD an investor gets a contractually obligated stream of payments that is predetermined when they purchase the security. It may be worth reading up the differences in bonds vs. CDs.
One unusual aspect of CDs is that they’re insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000, which can be attractive to some investors. They’re generally low-risk investments, too — but that lower risk tends to come with correspondingly low interest rates, making CDs a savings product more than an investment one.
Investing with SoFi
Fixed income securities like bonds, preferred stocks, money market accounts, and CDs offer steady payments and little to no income fluctuation. But with that low level of risk comes a generally low level of payoff. For investors who like knowing exactly what they’re getting, fixed income securities can be an asset to a portfolio.
The potential downside of investing in fixed income securities is lower potential returns, which may turn many investors off of them. However, depending on your investment strategy, they may play a huge role in your portfolio, too.
Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).
Are fixed income securities debt or equity?
Fixed income securities are typically debt securities, which includes assets like bonds. Though they can sometimes be equities, like preferred stocks.
What are the risks of investing in fixed income securities?
The primary risks of investing in fixed income securities are increased chances for lower returns compared to other asset types, and risks associated with interest rate changes.
What is the difference between a bond and fixed income securities?
A bond is a type of fixed income security, so there isn’t really a difference – one is an umbrella term over the other.
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