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Pros and Cons of Investing in Treasury Bonds


Treasury bonds are often considered the bedrock of conservative investment portfolios. These are U.S. government bonds that offer a unique combination of safety and steady income. But while they are lauded for their security and reliability, potential drawbacks such as interest rate risk, low returns and inflation risk must be carefully considered. If you’re interested in investing in Treasury bonds or have other questions about your portfolio, consider speaking with a financial advisor.

What Is a Treasury Bond?

A Treasury bond is a long-term, fixed-income security issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Its primary function is to facilitate the government’s borrowing needs, enabling it to fund various public expenditures. When you purchase a Treasury bond, you are essentially lending money to the government. In return, the government promises to pay you back with interest over a period of 20 to 30 years.

Interest payments on Treasury bonds are made semi-annually, and the rate is fixed at the time of issuance. This fixed rate, known as the coupon rate, ensures that investors receive a consistent income, regardless of fluctuations in the market interest rates.

For example, a Treasury bond with a $1,000 face value and a 5% coupon rate will pay $50 in interest each year until maturity. The coupon payments are typically made semi-annually, meaning the investor would receive $25 every six months. Upon maturity, the investor is repaid the bond’s face value, the initial investment amount.

The price of Treasury bonds in the secondary market, however, can fluctuate based on changes in interest rates and other economic factors, offering opportunities for traders to capitalize on price movements. If the market interest rates rise, new bonds may be issued with a higher coupon rate, say 6%, making our original bond less attractive. Consequently, the price of our bond in the secondary market might decrease to, say $950, to compensate for the lower coupon rate compared to new issues.

Pros of Investing in Treasury Bonds

An investor weighs the benefits of investing in Treasury bonds.

Treasury bonds have been a fundamental part of investment strategies since their extensive use by the U.S. government during World War II to finance military expenditures. While their historical context is notable, today’s investors are more interested in the current advantages they offer. These include:

Safety and security: Treasury bonds, backed by the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government, offer a high level of safety. The historical default rate for U.S. Treasury bonds is effectively zero, which speaks to their reliability. This makes them particularly appealing to conservative investors and those nearing retirement who prioritize capital preservation, although it’s important to remember that no investment is entirely risk-free

Dependable income: Treasury bonds provide fixed interest payments, known as coupon payments, twice a year. This predictable income is invaluable for financial planning, allowing investors to forecast their income and plan for future expenses. For retirees, who often rely on investment income to cover living expenses, Treasury bonds are a popular choice due to their stable and predictable payments.

Tax benefits: The interest income from Treasury bonds is subject to federal income tax but exempt from state and local income taxes. This can be particularly beneficial for investors in high-income tax states, as it allows them to avoid additional taxation on their interest income.

Liquidity: Treasury bonds are highly liquid, allowing investors to buy or sell them easily without significantly impacting the price. The U.S. Treasury market is the largest and most liquid government securities market globally, with substantial daily trading volumes. This liquidity means that investors can access their funds quickly if needed, though it’s worth noting that selling before maturity could result in capital gains or losses depending on the interest rate environment.

Hedge against market volatility: Treasury bonds are considered safe haven assets, often retaining or increasing in value during market turbulence. However, it’s essential to ensure that the language used does not imply that past performance will predict future results. Treasury bonds can serve as an effective hedge against market volatility, providing stability and security that can offset losses in other portfolio areas.

Cons of Investing in Treasury Bonds

The safety of Treasury bonds does not insulate investors from other types of financial risks. Therefore, investors should also consider potential drawbacks:

Interest rate risk: As interest rates ascend, the value of existing bonds with lower interest rates tends to diminish, potentially leading to capital losses if the bonds are sold prior to maturity. This risk underscores the importance of understanding the inverse relationship between bond prices and interest rates, akin to a seesaw, where an increase in one results in a decrease in the other. Those who sell their bonds before maturity during a period of rising interest rates may receive less than the bond’s face value, incurring a loss.

Inflation risk: Inflation erodes the purchasing power of the fixed interest payments from bonds over time. The concept of “real return,” which is the nominal return adjusted for inflation, is critical in understanding the impact of inflation on investments. For example, if the nominal yield on a Treasury bond is 3% and inflation is 2%, the real return is a mere 1%.

Opportunity cost: Opportunity cost is a way to think about the potential benefits an investor misses out on when they choose one asset or strategy over another. Investing in Treasury bonds might mean relinquishing the potential higher returns from stock market investments. The potential for missing out on higher returns is particularly pronounced when other asset classes, such as stocks or real estate, are performing robustly. Diversification can help mitigate this risk, but it also means holding assets that may have lower returns than the best-performing asset class.

Other Types of Treasuries

Screen lists the coupon rate and durations of various government securities.

Investors often seek out Treasury securities for their relative safety and stability, but their financial goals and investment strategies can vary widely. While Treasury bonds are a go-to for long-term investment, it’s important to understand the full spectrum of options available through the U.S. Treasury. These include Treasury bills, Treasury notes, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and I-bonds, each catering to different investment horizons and risk profiles.

Treasury Bills

Treasury bills, or T-bills, are a straightforward, short-term investment option, maturing in one year or less. Investors purchase them at a cost below their face value, and when the bond reaches maturity, the U.S. government repays the full face value. The difference between the purchase price and the maturity value is the investor’s profit. T-Bills are highly regarded for their security, backed by the government’s promise, making them a solid choice for those seeking a reliable, short-term investment solution with minimal risk.

Treasury Notes

For those with a longer investment horizon, Treasury notes serve as a bridge between short-term T-bills and long-term Treasury bonds. Treasury notes, or T-notes, have terms that run from two to 10 years, and they can complement a diversified portfolio by providing a steady income stream through semi-annual interest payments. While T-notes are generally seen as a safe investment, they are not immune to market fluctuations and interest rate risks, which can affect their value.

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)

In an economic environment where inflation is a concern, TIPS can be a strategic addition to an investment portfolio. These securities are directly tied to the Consumer Price Index, which means they adjust to maintain purchasing power in the face of rising prices. Interest is paid semi-annually on the adjusted principal, so if inflation rises, both the principal value of the TIPS and the interest payments increase. For long-term investors worried about inflation diminishing the value of their savings, TIPS may offer a sense of security. The adjustment mechanism of TIPS is a unique feature that ensures the principal value increases with inflation, which also causes interest payments to rise.


These securities are similar to TIPS as they also protect against inflation. But they do it a little differently. The interest rate for an I-Bond is made up of a fixed rate that is set when it gets issued and a variable rate that adjusts semi-annually based on changes in inflation. This provides a combined return that helps to preserve the purchasing power of the investment.

Bottom Line

Treasury bonds are viewed as a secure and stable investment option, offering a predictable income stream and serving as a hedge against market volatility, which can be particularly appealing to conservative investors and those with long-term financial goals. However, they are not without their drawbacks, such as interest rate and inflation risks, and generally offer lower returns when compared with other investments, highlighting the importance of opportunity cost.

Tips for Investing in Bonds

  • While Treasuries are one type of fixed-income security, there are other types of bonds that may fit your needs as an investor. For example, municipal bonds generate tax-free interest. Corporate bonds, on the other hand, often pay more interest than government bonds, but carry more risk. Familiarize yourself with the various types of bonds and how they work so you can select securities that align with your goals and risk tolerance.
  • If you need help investing in bonds and managing risk with more conservative investments, consider working with a financial advisor. 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.

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