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Differences of Bond Duration vs. Maturity


If you’re looking to invest in bonds, it can be helpful to understand bond duration vs. maturity. Maturity is the time remaining until the bond’s principal is repaid. A bond with a 10-year maturity will return the principal to the investor in 10 years. Meanwhile, duration measures a bond’s sensitivity to interest rate changes, and reflects the weighted average time it takes to receive all cash flows from the bond. While maturity essentially tells you when you get your money back, duration is used to determine how much risk is involved with interest rate changes.

Have specific questions about bond duration vs. maturity, including which bonds are right for your investment portfolio? Consider reaching out to a financial advisor.

What Is a Bond’s Maturity?

When it comes to the differences between bond duration vs. maturity, maturity is the more straightforward of the two.

Maturity refers to the date a bond’s principal amount is due to be repaid to the bondholder. Bonds can have varying lengths of maturity, which significantly impacts their behavior, risk and returns.

Based on their maturity, there are three primary types of bonds:

  • Short-term bonds, which typically mature within one to three years.
  • Intermediate-term bonds, which mature in three to 10 years.
  • Long-term bonds, which have maturities exceeding 10 years.

Generally speaking, the longer the maturity, the more susceptible a bond is to interest rate risk, so longer-term bonds usually have higher yields to compensate for that risk.

It’s also helpful to understand that bonds and interest rates have an inverse relationship. When interest rates rise, bonds with lower rates become less attractive, leading to a decrease in their market prices. When interest rates fall, bonds with higher rates become more desirable, causing their prices to increase.

Investors can make decisions based on the time remaining until a bond matures, assessing the associated risks and potential returns. Here are a few key considerations investors can take into account when looking to buy bonds:

  • Liquidity. Short-term bonds are generally more liquid than long-term bonds, and are preferred by investors seeking quick access to cash.
  • Risk management. A mix of short-term, intermediate-term, and long-term bonds can help balance potential returns and risks, providing a diversified investment strategy.
  • Market conditions. During periods of economic uncertainty, investors might turn to short-term bonds due to their lower risk. Meanwhile, in stable economic times, long-term bonds could be attractive for their higher yields.

What Is a Bond’s Duration?

Advisor explaining the concept of bond duration vs. maturity to a client.

Duration takes into account not just the principal, but also future interest payments, making it a more comprehensive measure of a bond’s interest rate risk.

Remember the inverse relationship between interest rates and bond prices explained above – duration quantifies this relationship, providing investors with a metric they can use to gauge potential price changes in response to interest rate movements.

For example, let’s consider two bonds – Bond A, which has a duration of 2 years, and Bond B, which has a duration of 10 years. If interest rates rise by 1%, Bond A’s price might decrease by 2%, while Bond B’s price might drop by 10%. The longer length of duration for Bond B could make it more susceptible to interest rate changes.

Investors can use their understanding of duration to manage interest rate risk and construct investment portfolios that align with their goals. Here are a few ways duration is utilized:

  • Risk management: By understanding the duration of bonds, an investor can predict how changes in interest rates might impact their portfolio’s value, and thus make more informed decisions to mitigate potential losses.
  • Portfolio matching: This strategy aligns the duration of a portfolio with the investor’s investment horizon, minimizing the impact of interest rate fluctuations on the portfolio’s value at the time of cash withdrawal and ensuring the investor achieves their financial goals.
  • Hedging: Hedging reduces a portfolio’s sensitivity to interest rate changes, protecting its value. For example, if an investor expects interest rates to rise, they might shorten the duration of their portfolio by selling long-duration bonds and buying short-duration ones.
  • Yield enhancement: By analyzing duration, investors can identify bonds that offer higher yields for a given level of interest rate risk and optimize their portfolios for better returns without taking on excessive risk.

When to Use Bond Duration vs. Maturity

Choosing between bond duration vs. maturity depends on an investor’s specific goals and risk tolerance. Duration is particularly useful for those who are focused on the potential price volatility of their bonds due to interest rate changes. On the other hand, maturity is a critical factor for investors concerned with the bond’s lifespan and the timing of their cash flows.

An investor seeking stability might choose a corporate bond with a three-year maturity and a duration of 2.5 years. Its shorter duration implies less sensitivity to interest rate changes, while the maturity date might align with their short-term financial goals.

An investor willing to take on significant interest rate risk in exchange for potentially higher returns might opt for a 30-year Treasury bond with a duration of 20 years. The long maturity ensures a steady income stream, but the high duration means its price will be highly sensitive to interest rate changes.

Bottom Line

A woman researching bond duration vs. maturity and choosing an appropriate bond for her portfolio.

Understanding both bond duration vs. maturity, as well as when to use each, can help investors assess a bond’s suitability for their portfolios, make more informed investment decisions, and manage their portfolios more effectively.

Tips for Managing a Bond Portfolio

  • Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Devising a specific asset allocation is an integral part of planning your investment portfolio. This involves dividing your money across different investment types so that the success of your portfolio is not overly dependent on one area of the market. SmartAsset’s asset allocation calculator can help simplify this investing principle.

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