Ep 55: How Bonds Work: What Retirees Need To Know

On This Episode

Too many folks misunderstand bonds, how they work, and what role they play in a proper financial plan. We’ll address some of those bond related issues on today’s show.

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PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. The topics and information discussed during this podcast are not intended to provide tax or legal advice. Investments involve risk, and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial advisor and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed on this podcast. Past performance is not indicative of future performance. Insurance products and services are offered and sold through individually licensed and appointed insurance agents.

Here is a transcript of today’s episode:


Marc Killian: Welcome into another edition of the podcast, Retirement Planning – Redefined with John and Nick from PFG Private Wealth. And it’s time to talk about bonds and really what you need to know and how they actually work. And there’s a lot of conversation around that, obviously in ’22, certainly to the fact that nothing seems like a good idea as far as things go. And when the market is weird, often we run to bonds for the safety aspect, but there’s some things going on there too. So, let’s talk about how they actually work, what role they might play in a proper financial structure and how maybe this here lately, it’s been a bit of a different show in that regard. So guys, welcome in. Nick, what’s going on buddy? How are you?


Nick McDevitt: Pretty good, pretty good. Staying busy.


Marc Killian: Yeah, that’s good. Very good. John, and you? How are you doing?


John Teixiera: Doing all right.


Marc Killian: Yeah?


John Teixiera: Hanging in there.


Marc Killian: How’s the bond market? A little rough.


John Teixiera: Little rough if you’ve owned some already. Could be good if you’re buying some new ones.


Marc Killian: Yeah, right. And that’s the difference, right?


John Teixiera: It depends where you’re at.


Marc Killian: Depends where you’re at. So yeah, we’re going to talk about that a little bit. First thing I want people to understand is that the bond market is actually way bigger than the stock market. A lot of people don’t know that. That’s just an interesting little tidbit, but it is a lot bigger.


John Teixiera: Yeah. Yeah, a lot of people aren’t aware of that, but-


Marc Killian: There’s a whole lot more stuff in there. Right?


John Teixiera: Yeah.


Marc Killian: But let’s go into the misunderstandings, right? So first off, just why don’t you guys give us the basic gist of how a bond works, for folks who just might not know?


John Teixiera: Yeah. So, to break it down to its simplest form, a bond is basically loaning your money to a public institution or private entity. So, you’re basically saying, “Hey, I’m going to give you my money.” And for that, the company typically provides some type of interest rate for that period of time where they have your money. And as far as obligations go from that company or public institution, there’s a promise to pay you back. And that promise is only as good as the paying ability of that company. So, I think that’s bonds in a nutshell, if you try to break it down to its simplest form.


Marc Killian: Yeah, you’re loaning the company money, right? You’re lending them money versus as a stockholder you’re buying a piece.


John Teixiera: Correct.


Marc Killian: Yeah. Okay. Nick, what’s the difference between a bond and a bond fund? So, like an individual bond and a bond fund? Because most of us wind up with bond funds and we’re maybe not totally sure what it is we have, we just say, “Oh, I have some bonds.” But what they really have is a bond fund.


Nick McDevitt: Yeah. The reality is the difference as far as how it affects a typical investor is the important part to understand. So, with bond prices and interest rates having an inverse relationship, so again, if interest rates go up, bond prices go down, then the issue that somebody that has invested in a bond fund has is it’s a pool of bonds. And so, you’re relying upon the manager of that bond fund to manage the buying and selling of those bonds while trying to protect the value of your account and gaining interest. So, sometimes the easiest way to guide people through this, and obviously we’ve been having this conversation quite a bit lately with people, especially with how we’ve invested in fixed income in the last few years, is that if you own an individual bond, you have the ability to hold it until maturity. And when you hold it until maturity, you then receive the par value back. And this might be a little bit too much detail, but we’ll try to give people a good understanding of this. So, oftentimes people get confused with the difference between the initial issue of a bond and then when it trades in the secondary market. So, when a company initially issues the bond, that’s when they are receiving the loan basically, or the money from whoever purchases that bond initially. So, when they sell the bond, the bond sells for $1,000, there’s a promise to pay that the company issues with the bond as well as, “Hey, in the meantime we’re going to pay you an interest or a coupon.” So, let’s just say it’s 3%. So, company A, we’ll call them Apple, Apple issues a bond in 2020 for five years and they’re going to pay 2% over those five years. And as long as whoever holds that bond at the end of that five years, no matter what they paid for it, they’re going to get $1,000 back. That’s the promise.


Marc Killian: Okay.


Nick McDevitt: So, we’ll say John bought that bond initially, but two years into it he decides, “Hey, I no longer want this bond, I’m going to go ahead and sell it.” So, because of the market situation and what’s going on in the market, that bond in the secondary market, because interest rates have gone up, even though he paid 1,000, he can only sell it for 900, because that 2% coupon rate isn’t competitive.


Marc Killian: Right. Yeah.


Nick McDevitt: So, let’s say he sold it to me and I bought it for 900. So, I got a discount like, “Hey, I’m only getting 2% so I’m not going to pay less, so I’m going to get a discount.” And now my goal is I’m going to hold that bond until the end of that total five year period and I’m going to collect that 2%, but I’m also going to get the extra $100 on top, which makes my return, my overall return, my total return higher. So, the difference is that when people, as an individual, when they own those bonds individually, they have more control over holding that into maturity and essentially getting their par value back while collecting their interests in the meantime versus when it’s in a bond fund, that performance is strictly going to take place dependent upon how it gets managed. And we know obviously it’s confusing and it’s always a tricky spot of trying to help people understand and giving what might be too much information. But with this, I think a lot of times it’s the more you know, the better it is to try to understand it.


Marc Killian: Yeah. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about some normal things that we’re used to thinking about or hearing and how it messes us up a little bit. And John mentioned earlier, he is like, “Yeah, if you’re getting into a bond right now, higher interest rates, they look a little bit more appealing than someone who bought maybe a year ago, as the rates were down lower.” And to your point, you said the inverse reaction. I was always taught, an easy way to remember it is when rates are high, bonds die. So, little rhyme, helps you remember it. So, when rates are high, bonds die, because the value. Right? So, they have that inverse reaction. That’s just a good way to think about it. So, John, a lot of people consider them to be the safer, conservative part. I want to jump to the standard 60/40 for just lack of a better term. Right? We’ve grown up with this thing of when the market’s rough go to bonds, right? As you get older, go to bonds, because it’s a safer option and we feel as though it’s that safe, conservative part of the portfolio. Do you agree with that approach normally? And what’s your take on it this year when it’s also having a lot of trouble?


John Teixiera: Yeah, normally I’d say that you’re correct. Yeah, normally that is how it works. This year it’s a little different obviously with the Federal Reserve really trying to hedge against inflation. So, they have been aggressively raising the rates. So, that’s where you’re starting to see these bond values drop drastically. And I don’t know the exact number, but I think year-to-date we’re almost negative 10 to 15% in the [inaudible 00:07:35] bond index.


Marc Killian: Yeah. It was close to 15, last I checked.


John Teixiera: Yeah. That’s actually what’s happening in people’s portfolios where if the market was down, they have at least a bond portion that’s level or maybe down a little bit or up a little bit. But right now it’s like, hey, you’re getting two sides of it where they’re both getting hammered. This is where it’s important, and Nick mentioned, how can you mitigate that risk? And you can do it, it’s just a matter of structuring the portfolio and getting the right type of investments to understand, “Hey, in this type of environment, this is where I want to be.” So, it really comes down to, again, this is your investment plan. Like, “Hey, what’s your investment plan to mitigate this type of environment and how do you take some of this risk out of your portfolio?”


Marc Killian: Yeah. Nick, back to you, and the question I asked you a minute ago, people say, “Well, individual bonds themselves may not still be a bad option right now in this current bond environment, but it’s the bond funds that tend to be taking a bit more of an issue.” And to your point, you mentioned, actually maybe it was John who mentioned them being a pooled investment, but either way, right? And that bond fund manager, whereas an individual bond may still be an okay option. So, that’s really where you need to talk with your advisor or have an advisor to find out if you’re thinking about bonds, what’s the right avenue to go? Am I on track there or is that incorrect?


Nick McDevitt: Yeah. To a certain extent, for sure. And another thing that happens, one of the things that we’ve integrated into clients’ portfolios, and we did it a few years back, was bond ladders. So, exchange traded funds that hold bond ladders that mature at a set maturity date, so that way we can still use a pool of investment that’s a little bit more efficient to buy and sell, and we know when the maturity data is going to be, so we can act accordingly and adjust accordingly. So, there’s always this give and take, but using instruments like that, using individual bonds, are absolutely ways to take a little bit more control in the space and have less of a negative impact on the overall value of your portfolio.


John Teixiera: Yeah. And to jump in with what Nick’s saying there-


Nick McDevitt: Sure.


John Teixiera: … I think it comes down to ownership. When you have a bond fund, you don’t actually own those bonds, the fund does, you own a piece of the fund, but when you’re talking about individual bonds or this basket of bonds, that’s where you technically have ownership of that. So, you can control when it’s bought or sold.


Marc Killian: Okay. Yeah, that’s great information. Thanks so much for sharing that. So, guys, anything else that I might have missed on the bond, what we need to know area? Either one of you, feel free to jump in with something.


Nick McDevitt: I think from the perspective of overall for investors and just understanding in general the space that we’re in, one thing that we’ve done even recently is we’ve started to add in some shorter term CDs for clients, because that helps them get a decent rate of return because those rates of returns have gone up and it lets them stay a little bit more flexible with where we expect rates to go, which we still expect some increase on them in the next six to 12 months, where they can then stabilize a little bit. But just like anything else, it’s important to have … Different aspects of your investments have different jobs, and bonds and fixed income still play a necessary role. And realistically for people that are retired or are going to be retiring soon, a lot of the pressure on portfolios for the last 10 years has been all on the stock market because you really couldn’t get any returns on the fixed income side. So, now at least, hey, we can get four to 5% a lot easier on fixed income, which will help to generate returns and income for people, which it makes it a little bit easier for us to get a little bit more conservative in portfolios, which has been much more difficult over the last 10 years. So, there’s a little bit of a silver lining in here and as we adapt to a new normal like we always do, there will be positive to it. But when you’re in the midst of it and going through it, like we have this year, it can be difficult.


Marc Killian: Yeah, no, and that’s why I wanted to talk about it because again, we were taught this traditionalism and if you’re doing things on your own, you’re thinking, “Hey, I’ll just jump over to bonds, while the market’s been so rough this year after,” to your point, “the market being fantastic for the last 10, 12 years.” And it may or may not be a good move. Right? So, that’s just why, understand the basics, or maybe a little bit more than the basics, and then make sure that you’re having a conversation with an advisor. Bring somebody into the fold, especially if you don’t know what you’re dealing with, because there’s a lot out there in the bond arena. So, good stuff. Thanks for sharing on that, guys, I appreciate it. Again folks, if you’ve got questions and need help, jump on over to the website, book some time with them, reach out to them, let them know you’ve got some questions around bonds and how it works or what you’re thinking about doing, or strategy, conversation, questions, whatever that might be. And get some time with the guys at pfgprivatewealth.com. That’s pfgprivatewealth.com. A lot of good tools, tips and resources. You can send a message into the podcast. Like I said, you can schedule time to talk with the guys. Lots of good stuff there. So, pfgprivatewealth.com. And we’ll wrap it up with an email question again this week here on the podcast, Hoover wants to jump in on this, totally fine. Wendy had a question. She says, “Guys, our 401(k) plan at work now has a Roth option for available future contributions. Should I take advantage of that?” I’m curious too, guys, because actually my wife, they just offered that to her actually. She just got the paperwork I think about three days ago. So, what’s your thoughts on 401(k) Roth options?


Nick McDevitt: The annoying answer is it depends. The reality is that most likely it does make sense to take advantage of it. Some people cannot make contributions to regular Roth IRA accounts because the income is too high. So, this is their only way to be able to make contributions. Our feeling in general is that the more options you have from income sources in retirement, the better. So, especially if you don’t have any Roth funds built up or if your pre-tax funds are substantially more than your Roth funds, it’s a good idea to integrate that. And so, one thing that people have done to just start it, so as an example, let’s say that somebody’s contributing 10% of their income and maybe their company matches 4%. Okay? So, the match that a company puts in is always pre-tax. So, in reality, if they’re doing 10 and they get a 4% match, 14% of their income is going into pre-tax money. So, maybe you say, “Hey, out of my 10 I’m going to make it 4% Roth to match the match that they’re getting. The other 6% is pre-tax, and now it’s like 10 and four.” That could be a good place to start. And then maybe build it up where some people say, “Hey, each year when I get a raise, I bump up my contribution by a percent or 2% and try to build it up to make it match, until you’re maxing out.” But absolutely, building that up to build up some Roth funds for yourself is a good idea.


Marc Killian: Yeah. The limits, so if you think about a traditional Roth IRA, there’s earnings limits, right? You can only make a certain amount, I think it’s 144,000 for individuals, 214, somewhere in that neighborhood, I think, for married couples. And they change it all the time, but I think that’s ’22. But with a Roth 401(k) at work, there is no income limit. So, if she makes more than that, for example, she could still put money in.


Nick McDevitt: Exactly. Yeah. But you don’t have to deal with that income limitation anymore, which is great.


Marc Killian: And it’s a newer piece too, John, right? Not every company has this option yet, so they’re starting to come on more and more though.


John Teixiera: Yeah. Yeah, it is a newer piece. I’d say the majority of companies we run across now do have them.


Marc Killian: Okay, good.


John Teixiera: But I’d say we do run across some that still don’t offer it, but it’s catching on pretty quick because a lot of people do like that option.


Marc Killian: Yeah, for sure. So, I think definitely to answer the question, just make sure that you’re double checking, check the various different limitations. If you don’t have a professional you can bounce those questions off, certainly, hopefully the guys gave you some thoughts there. But you can always just call, reach out, and get a little bit more in-depth if you have some of those Roth 401(k) questions versus a Roth IRA, and those questions too, as well. But reach out to the guys, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, Apple, Google, Spotify, all that good stuff. It’s Retirement Planning – Redefined with John and Nick, and you can find them online at pfgprivatewealth.com. Guys, thanks for your time. As always, appreciate, have a good close out to the holiday season as that’s upon us, and we’ll see you guys next time here on Retirement Planning – Redefined.