How To Buy Bonds: A Guide for First-Time Investors

ByJulija A.
June 02, 2022

When it comes to investing, bonds are often overlooked in favor of stocks. But for first-time investors, bonds can be a great way to get started.

In this article, we'll explain what bonds are and look at the different types of bonds that are available. We'll also give you tips on how to buy bonds, as well as the pros and cons of investing in them.

What Are Bonds?

Bonds are essentially loans that are made to governments or corporations. When you buy a bond, you’re lending money to the issuer in exchange for a set interest rate. Bonds typically have three characteristics: face value, maturity date, and coupon rate. 

The face value is the amount of money that you’ll get back when the bond matures. The maturity date is the date on which the loan will be repaid in full. And the coupon rate is the interest rate that you’ll receive on your investment for buying bonds.

The borrower typically uses the money from the bond issue to finance a variety of projects or initiatives. For example, a government may use the money to build a new highway or school.

Different Types of Bonds For Sale

There are three main types of bonds: government, municipal, and corporate bonds. 

Government bonds are issued by the federal government and are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. Municipal bonds are issued by state and local governments and are most commonly used to finance infrastructure projects. Corporate bonds are issued by companies in order to raise capital for their operations.

Investors can also purchase bonds in the form of mutual funds. Bond mutual funds are a type of investment that allows you to invest in a diversified portfolio of bonds. A mutual fund can be a great option for first-time investors, as it reduces the risk associated with investing in individual bonds. 

Plus, unlike government or municipal bonds, this basket of bonds is managed by a professional fund manager, who could be managing the fund either actively or passively. 

Where To Buy Bonds

There are a few different places where you can buy bonds. The most common option is to go through a broker. You can also buy individual bonds directly from the government or from some corporations.

With the expansion of online brokerages, you can now also buy bonds and stocks from an online broker. This is a much more convenient way for many people to buy bonds. Oftentimes, investors can purchase bonds for a discount using an online brokerage. 

You can purchase most US Treasury bonds through Treasury Direct. If you’re looking to cut out the middleman and save on potential fees, Treasury Direct might be the best option. 

There’s also the option of investing through an exchange-traded fund (ETF). An ETF buys bonds from different companies and can provide investors with exposure to a wide range of industries and markets. 

How To Buy Bonds

There are a few different ways to buy bonds. Most people go through a broker, but others prefer to buy bonds directly from the government or corporations. 

All individual bonds can be purchased either new or from a secondary market, but they must be purchased as a whole. Typically, bonds are issued in $1,000 increments, so you need to have at least that amount in your brokerage account to buy bonds. 

If you’re purchasing new, you're buying bonds on the primary market, which is similar to participating in a company's IPO to purchase stocks. When purchasing individual bonds on the primary market, you’re buying them at the so-called "offering price."

How To Buy Corporate Bonds as New Issues

When a company wants to raise money by issuing bonds, it will do so through a process called a "bond offering." This is when the company makes a formal announcement that it is selling bonds and provides details about the terms of the bond offering.

The company will usually hire an investment bank to help with the bond offering. The investment bank will then reach out to potential investors to gauge their interest in the bonds. Investors who want to buy corporate bonds can then do so through a brokerage firm, bank, bond trader, or broker. 

Investors who are interested in bonds will submit bids to the investment bank. The investment bank will then work with the company to determine the final terms of the bond offering, including the interest rate and the price of the bonds. 

How To Buy Government Bonds as New Issues

Like corporations, governments also rely on the bond offering process. 

If you’re an investor looking into buying government bonds on the primary market, you can do so through auctions. These are held several times per year, and you can participate by placing a bid. 

Your bid can be a non-competitive one, with which you accept the terms of the bond set by the auction. With a competitive bid, you can indicate your preferred yield, or go into detail by indicating your preferred discount rate or margin.

Bonds on the Secondary Market

Investors may sell their bonds before their maturity date on what is known as the secondary market. You can purchase secondary market bonds via brokerages, specialty bond brokers, or public exchanges.

Purchasing bonds on the secondary market is riskier than purchasing them on the primary market. This is because you don't know who previously owned the bond and what their motivations are for selling it. In addition, you don't have as much information about the bond, such as its credit history, or even its real price.

Since the pricing of the bond on the secondary market is less than transparent, you should do your research before purchasing it. You’ll often find two of the same bond priced differently by two different brokerages. The brokerage may also charge commissions, contracts, or transaction fees, so it pays to do your research before buying individual bonds on the secondary market.

How to Buy into a Bond Mutual Fund

If you don't want to purchase individual bonds, you can also invest in bond mutual funds. These are funds that invest in a basket of bonds, offering investors a way to diversify their bond portfolio.

When investing in a bond mutual fund, there are several factors you should consider.

  • The credit quality of the bonds in the fund: This will determine how risky the fund is.

The credit quality of a bond is determined by its credit rating. The credit rating of bonds for sale is determined by credit rating agencies, such as S&P and Moody's. These agencies use a scale to rate bonds, with the highest rating being AAA for investment-grade bonds and the lowest being D for junk bonds or bonds that are likely to default.

  • The maturity date of the bonds in the fund: This will help you work out how rising or falling interest rates will affect bonds.
  • The expense ratio of the fund: This will help you calculate how much of your bond investment will go towards fees.
  • The minimum investment: This will show you how much money you need to invest in the fund.

Consider these factors when you decide to purchase bonds, as you can then more easily decide which bond mutual fund is right for you.

Tips for First-Time Investors

If you're a first-time investor, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Of course, there are some guidelines that apply to all types of investments, like never investing more than you can afford to lose. However, there are also some bond-specific tips you should know about. 

First of all, it's important to understand the difference between primary and secondary markets. The primary market is where bonds are first sold by the issuer. The secondary market is where investors trade bonds that have already been issued.

When you buy a bond on the primary market, you're buying it directly from the issuer, which means that you're usually getting the best possible interest rate for the bonds for sale. However, it's important to note that not all bonds are available on the primary market. For example, many government bonds are only available on the secondary market.

The second piece of advice is to do your research for each bond, especially if you're purchasing them on the secondary market. In that case, you're not purchasing them at face value; you’ll also have to pay additional fees and markups that brokerages need to charge to make a living.

The last tip is to look at when your bonds mature and factor this in before you start purchasing bonds. Some experts rely on the "bond ladder" method to create a regular income stream. To follow this principle, you need to purchase bonds that mature at different dates.

That way, you always have some money coming in, even if you need to wait a few years for the full value of your investment. It also diversifies your investment into different value bonds so that you can increase your portfolio’s risk tolerance and minimize the impact of interest rates.

Pros and Cons of Buying Bonds

Investing in bonds can be a great way to diversify your portfolio and generate regular annual or semi-annual income. However, there are also some risks you should be aware of.

Before you invest in bonds, it's important to understand the pros and cons when looking at which bonds to buy.

Pros of investing in bonds

  • Most bonds can provide a predictable income stream.
  • They can be less volatile than stocks.
  • They offer the potential for capital appreciation.

Cons of investing in bonds

  • Interest rates could rise, which would cause bond prices to fall.
  • Bonds are subject to credit risk, which is the risk that the issuer will not be able to make interest payments.
  • Bond prices can be volatile in the short term.

All in All

When it comes to investing, bonds can be a great option for first-time investors. They offer a more stable return than stocks, and they're less likely to experience short-term price fluctuations. On top of that, buying bonds can provide a regular income stream.

However, it's important to be aware of the risks associated with investing in this type of security. These include interest rate risk, credit risk, and price volatility. Before making any decisions, be sure to get professional advice from a financial advisor.

FAQ

What is the best way to buy bonds?

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There are a few different ways to buy bonds. The most common way is to go through a broker, but you can also buy bonds directly from the government or from some corporations. Each of these methods has its pros and cons, so it’s important to be informed about the fees, interest, and other aspects involved with buying bonds.

Are bonds a good investment?

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There is no easy answer when it comes to whether or not bonds are a good investment. On one hand, they offer stability and a predictable income stream. On the other hand, interest rates could rise, causing bond prices to fall. Additionally, there is always the risk of credit default.

Can I buy bonds through my bank?

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Yes, you can often buy bonds through your bank; it’s one of the common places people turn to when figuring out how to buy bonds. However, it's important to note that not all banks offer this service, or indeed offer a variety of bonds. Be sure to check with your bank to see if there are bond purchasing services on offer.

About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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