An excellent strategy to protect your assets from rising or falling interest rates is to build a bond ladder—a portfolio of bonds with different maturities.
Bond maturities are similar to rungs on a ladder, and each one you climb gets you closer to your goal. Your ladder can consist of bonds maturing in thirty days or thirty years, and yours should fit your situation and time frame. You can also build multiple ladders designed to achieve several goals.
How can you create a bond ladder? Let’s look at an example. Start with five bonds with maturities ranging from one to five years with corresponding rates of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 percent. The average yield for this hypothetical ladder is three percent, with an average maturity of three years. At the end of year one, your first bond matures, and you’ll receive a portion of your principal. With the proceeds, you purchase a five-year bond paying five percent. The remaining bonds have now moved up by one year, and your bond ladder currently consists of bonds with original maturities of two, three, four, five, and five years, paying 2, 3, 4, 5, and 5 percent. Your average yield is now 3.8 percent, and the average maturity stays the same because you still own a portfolio of bonds maturing each year for five years.
At the end of the second year, bond two matures. With the proceeds from bond two, you buy a five-year bond paying five percent. The remaining bonds are one year closer to maturing, and your ladder consists of bonds with original maturities of three, four, five, five, and five years and paying 3, 4, 5, 5, and 5 percent, with an average rate of 4.4 percent. You can repeat this process indefinitely.
A bond ladder always has bonds maturing to provide liquidity, while longer-term bonds generate above-average income. The income from the original ladder was 3 percent; by the last example, it jumped to 4.4 percent—an increase of 46 percent. At the same time, your average maturity remained constant at three years. If interest rates rise, your maturing bonds allow you to buy new ones at higher rates. If rates fall, you generate higher income with your longer-dated bonds. Also, if rates fall, the value of your bond portfolio can rise in value to produce capital gains.
The bond ladder is flexible, allowing you to use any fixed-income investment to construct your portfolio: CDs, tax-free municipal bonds, corporate bonds, or US Treasuries. You can mix and match the fixed-income choices. For example, you can structure a ladder with US Treasuries, corporate bonds, and tax-free municipal bonds. The treasuries can be short-term—from one to two years—corporate bonds from two to ten, and municipal bonds from ten to thirty years.
Investors often have a high percentage of cash in their accounts, waiting for interest rates to rise or the stock market to crash. If you hold a significant cash position, you can use short-term US Treasuries to create your money-market fund with better results. In addition to higher rates, your investments are guaranteed, regardless of how much money you invest.
Several years ago, I helped a client construct a short-term bond ladder with US T-Bills. He inherited several million dollars and wanted to buy CDs from local banks for safety and liquidity. I informed him he’d have to contact fifteen banks to qualify for the full FDIC insurance coverage, and as a result, we built a short-term US T-Bill ladder guaranteed by the US government. It was one-stop shopping for his inherited assets with superior income, liquidity, and guarantees.
In summary, a bond ladder built for you and your family can help you achieve your financial goals without worrying about the direction of interest rates.
The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity. ~ Ayn Rand
March 2, 2023
Bill Parrott, CFP®, is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level. PWM’s custodian is TD Ameritrade, and our annual fee starts at .5% of your assets and drops depending on your asset level.
Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ from those posted in this blog. PWM is not a tax advisor, nor do we give tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for items that are specific to your situation. Options involve risk and aren’t suitable for every investor. Prices and yields are for today only and are subject to change without notice.