By The Numbers

A bill is not a bond is not a note

Jonathan Karp Oct 15, 2013

If nothing else, the debt-ceiling debate has made us more aware of the U.S. government’s debt and how Washington borrows. It sells bonds known as Treasuries.

But not all Treasuries are called bonds. Treasury bonds are a particular kind of bond.

Since the debt ceiling isn’t going away anytime soon, here’s a simple guide to the menu of securities that, for the moment, remain the safest investments on Earth:

  • Treasury Bill: Short-term securities that mature – or come due — in one year or less. Typically, T-bills are issued for 4, 13, 26 and 52 weeks. If the government has immediate funding needs, it can create T-bills that have one- and seven-day terms. Unlike bonds with an assigned interest rate, T-bills are sold at a discount and purchased back by the government at their face value. The difference is the interest earned. For example, a $100 T-bill sold for $98 yields 2 percent interest. 
  • Treasury Note:  Interest-bearing securities with maturities of between one and 10 years. The Treasury currently sells T-notes in 2-, 3-, 5-, 7- and 10-year varieties. Interest on T-notes is paid twice a year. Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on the 10-year T-note.
  • Treasury Bond: Interest-bearing securities with maturities longer than 10 years. In reality, that means 30 years. Interest on T-bonds is paid twice a year.
  • Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities: TIPS provide investors with protection against inflation, in that the principal is adjusted monthly to either rise with inflation or fall with deflation. TIPS come in maturities of 5, 10 and 30 years. Interest is paid twice a year, and at maturity, TIPS holders are paid the original principal or the inflation-adjusted principal – whichever is greater. Therefore, TIPS protect against deflation as well. 

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