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3 bond investment strategies to diversify your portfolio

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In a diversified financial portfolio, bonds are the slow and steady investments you can count on. After you buy a bond, all you have to do is sit back and wait for your interest payments. But that doesn't mean you don't need a game plan. Embracing a bond investment strategy can help that investment travel even further.

Let's consider the different ways to arrange bonds in your portfolio and how to choose a fixed-income strategy that best suits your financial goals.

Why do you need a bond investment strategy?

A bond investment strategy is a stable way to generate passive income. When you invest in bonds, you're basically lending money to the issuer in exchange for periodic interest payments. When that bond reaches its maturity date, you'll get the face value you invested back.

You could invest in a bond or two and call it a day, but that might be leaving opportunity on the table. To truly capitalize on bonds as a passive source of income, you'll want to time their maturity dates strategically so the interest payments and face value can support your short- or long-term goals.

The timing is even more critical for investors who depend on steady cash flow for living expenses. With the right bond investment strategy, you can achieve your specific financial goals while managing risk and maximizing returns.

What to know about bonds before setting your strategy

To best tailor your bond investment strategy, you'll want to have a baseline understanding of how bonds work and which characteristics can be worked to your advantage. You and your financial advisor can consider these factors alongside your time horizon, risk tolerance and objectives as you plot out your approach:


  • Bonds can be issued by governments, corporations, municipalities and other entities.
  • Government bonds are considered low-risk, while corporate bonds carry higher default risk but may offer higher yields.

Maturity date

  • The maturity date is when you receive back the bond's face value.
  • Short-term bonds (1–3 years) offer lower risk and are less sensitive to interest rate changes.
  • Long-term bonds (10+ years) tend to have higher yields but greater interest rate risk.

Coupon rate

  • The coupon rate is the bond's annual interest rate, typically expressed as a percentage of the bond's face value.
  • Higher coupon rates provide higher income but may come with higher initial bond prices and lower potential for price appreciation.

Yield to maturity (YTM)

  • YTM represents the total return you can expect if the bond is held until maturity, accounting for both coupon payments and any price change.
  • It's a key indicator of a bond's overall return potential.

Credit quality

  • Credit rating agencies assess a bond's creditworthiness based on the issuer's ability to repay debt.
  • Investment-grade bonds (AAA to BBB) are considered safer, while lower-rated bonds (below BBB) are higher risk but may offer higher yields.

Interest rate sensitivity

  • Duration measures a bond's sensitivity to changes in interest rates. Longer-duration bonds are more sensitive to rate changes.
  • You should consider interest rate expectations and your risk tolerance when choosing bonds with different durations.

Callable or noncallable

  • Callable bonds can be redeemed by the issuer before maturity, potentially leaving investors with reinvestment risk if interest rates decline.
  • If you want to hold a bond until maturity, you may prefer a noncallable bond.

Tax considerations

  • Tax-exempt municipal bonds offer income that's typically exempt from federal and sometimes state taxes.
  • Taxable bonds are subject to regular income tax unless they're held in a tax-advantaged account, such as an IRA.
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Interested in adding stability to your investment strategy?

A fixed-income strategy can be right for investors seeking low-risk, stable sources of income - and bonds are just one approach. 

Learn more

What is the best bond investment strategy?

You can consider three core ways to invest your bonds: the ladder strategy, the barbell strategy and the bullet strategy. Each strategy has its own approach to managing risk, generating income and achieving specific financial goals.

Ladder strategy: Gaining predictable income over time

laddered strategy involves building a portfolio of bonds with staggered maturity dates. As bonds mature, you can reinvest the proceeds in new bonds with longer maturities. The ladder strategy is particularly suitable for income-oriented investors who want to manage interest rate risk while maintaining a steady income stream. It also can work well for investors with specific future cash needs, such as funding retirement expenses.

For example, an investor with $100,000 could split the investment into five different bonds with five differing maturities at one year apart, investing $20,000 into each. This way, the investor would have a bond maturing each year for five years. The ladder provides consistent income and offers flexibility to reinvest in higher-yield bonds if interest rates increase.

Barbell strategy: Balancing safety and yield

This strategy combines short-term and long-term bonds in a portfolio, creating a "barbell" shape.

The investor allocates a portion of their portfolio to short-term bonds, which typically have maturities of one to three years. These bonds provide stability, liquidity and lower interest rate risk. They also generate regular income that can be reinvested or used for short-term financial needs.

Another portion of the portfolio is allocated to long-term bonds, which typically have maturities of 10 years or more. Long-term bonds could offer higher yields compared to short-term bonds due to their longer duration. However, they also come with greater interest rate risk, as their prices can be more sensitive to changes in interest rates.

Bullet strategy: Planning for a specific financial goal

In a bullet strategy, bonds with similar maturity dates are grouped, creating "bullets" of maturity. This strategy is useful when you have specific future cash-flow needs, as you can plan for bond maturities to align accordingly.

For example, an investor might choose bonds that mature in 10 years if they plan to use the funds for a specific purpose at that time, whether it's funding retirement, college tuition or another milestone.

While the bonds in the portfolio mature at the same time, they still generate regular interest income until maturity. This income can be used for expenses or reinvested.

Why it's important to stick to your strategy

Maintaining a bond investing strategy is crucial for several reasons, as consistency in your approach can yield more successful long-term outcomes. Some key reasons to stay the course include:

  • Staying aligned to your goals. Your chosen bond investing approach is typically based on your specific financial goals, risk tolerance and investment horizon. Consistently following your strategy helps ensure that your investment decisions remain aligned with these objectives.
  • Making rational decisions. The financial markets can be volatile and unpredictable. A consistent strategy helps you avoid making impulsive moves based on short-term market fluctuations or emotional reactions, which can lead to unfavorable outcomes.
  • Keeping a long-term perspective. Bond investing is typically a long-term endeavor. Sticking with your chosen strategy allows you to ride out market fluctuations and benefit from compounding returns over time.

Choosing the right bond investment strategy for you

Each bond investing strategy has its advantages and considerations. While a consistent approach is important, it's also crucial to periodically assess your strategy's effectiveness—your goals, your risk tolerance and market conditions may change over time.

A review with a local Thrivent financial advisor can provide valuable insights and help you make the adjustments needed to ensure your strategy remains solid.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.

While diversification can help reduce market risk, it does not eliminate it. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.

Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.