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How a bond ladder strategy might fit into your investing plan

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JLco - Julia Amaral/Getty Images/iStockphoto

When inflation and interest rates are high, investors tend to lean more heavily on bonds. Bonds are debt securities issued by governments, municipalities and corporations to raise capital. When you buy a bond, you're essentially lending money to the issuer. In return, they'll pay you interest periodically and return the face value of the bond at a specific maturity date.

Bonds are relatively stable investments, but you still have risks to consider before investing in these fixed-income securities. A bond ladder strategy could help you manage risk while taking advantage of higher yields and working toward your financial goals.

What is a bond ladder strategy & how does it work?

A bond ladder strategy is an investment approach that involves purchasing bonds with staggered maturity dates, meaning they mature at different intervals over time. The term "ladder" reflects the way the bonds are structured—they're layered atop each other resembling the rungs of a ladder.

The typical lifecycle of a bond ladder follows these steps:

1. You purchase bonds with staggered maturities

You buy a series of bonds with different maturity dates. For example, if you're creating a five-year ladder, you might buy five different bonds with maturities of one year, two years, three years, four years and five years. You'd receive interest payments for each of these along the way.

2. The bonds mature

As each bond matures, you receive back the principal amount of the bond.

3. You have the option to reinvest

At maturity, you can reinvest the proceeds into new bonds. This helps maintain the ladder's structure and creates a continuous stream of maturing bonds.

A bond ladder example

Say you want to create a five-year laddered portfolio of bonds with a starting investment of $10,000. You plan to invest in bonds with maturities of one year, two years, three years, four years and five years. You buy one bond for each maturity term.

Year 1 bond (1-year maturity)

  • Investment: $2,000
  • Coupon (or interest) rate: 3% (Annual)
  • Annual interest payment: $60
  • Maturity value: $2,000

Year 2 bond (2-year maturity)

  • Investment: $2,000
  • Coupon rate: 3.5% (Annual)
  • Annual interest payment: $70
  • Maturity value: $2,000

Year 3 bond (3-year maturity)

  • Investment: $2,000
  • Coupon rate: 4% (Annual)
  • Annual interest payment: $80
  • Maturity value: $2,000

Year 4 bond (4-year maturity)

  • Investment: $2,000
  • Coupon rate: 4.5% (Annual)
  • Annual interest payment: $90
  • Maturity value: $2,000

Year 5 bond (5-year maturity)

  • Investment: $2,000
  • Coupon rate: 5% (Annual)
  • Annual interest payment: $100
  • Maturity value: $2,000

At the end of each term, the bonds mature, and you receive back the principal amount of each bond. The interest payments you receive from each bond provide a steady income stream.

As the years go by, you can choose to reinvest the maturing bonds into new bonds with longer maturities to maintain the ladder structure. This approach allows you to continuously manage interest rate risk and maintain a consistent income stream.


Fixed-income investing

Bonds are just one type of fixed-income investment. Investors seeking predictable returns should also consider how other types of investments may help them meet their goals.

Read more

5 benefits of a bond ladder strategy

1. Steady income stream

A bond ladder strategy can help provide a consistent and predictable income stream as bonds mature and you receive interest payments. This approach is considered conservative, making it suitable for risk-averse investors who prioritize capital preservation and reliability.

2. Risk management

Investing in bonds with staggered maturities helps spread out the impact of interest rate changes. If rates rise, only a portion of your portfolio is affected, and you can reinvest maturing bonds at higher yields.

3. Liquidity and access

The staggered maturities provide liquidity and flexibility. You can access funds from maturing bonds without needing to sell bonds in potentially unfavorable market conditions.

4. Customization

You can tailor the ladder's structure to your individual needs, such as matching the ladder's duration with specific financial goals.

5. Reduced reinvestment risk

Reinvesting smaller amounts at regular intervals lessens the challenge of reinvesting a large lump sum all at once, especially during periods of market volatility.

5 risks of a bond ladder strategy

1. Opportunity cost

If interest rates rise significantly, you might miss out on higher yields in the market until your bonds mature.

2. Inflation risk

Fixed-income investments, including bonds, can be vulnerable to inflation risk, as rising inflation erodes purchasing power over time.

3. Limited growth

Unlike stocks, bonds typically don't provide substantial capital appreciation. The focus of a bond ladder is on generating income and preserving capital.

4. Credit risk

You may want to assess the credit quality of the bonds in the ladder. Lower-quality bonds can carry higher credit risk, or risk of default by the bond issuer, which can impact the safety of income payments.

5. Complexity

While the concept of a bond ladder is simple, managing the strategy, reinvesting funds and monitoring maturing bonds can become complex, especially for larger portfolios.

Who should consider the bond ladder strategy?

A bond ladder strategy can be suitable for many investors, but it's particularly well-suited for those with specific financial goals, risk preferences and investment time horizons. Such investors might include:

  • Retirees. Retirees often seek stable and predictable income to cover living expenses. A bond ladder can provide a reliable stream of income from maturing bonds, helping retirees manage their cash flow needs.
  • Investors with a conservative risk tolerance. Investors who prioritize preserving capital and have a lower risk tolerance may find a bond ladder strategy appealing. It offers a more predictable investment approach compared to potentially more volatile investments like stocks.

  •  Investors with a long time-horizon. People with long-term financial goals, such as saving for education expenses or major purchases, can use a bond ladder so funds are there when you need them.
  •  Investors looking for diversification and stability. Investors looking to diversify their portfolios and add stability to their overall asset allocations can use a bond ladder to balance their risk exposure.

Deciding whether to use a bond ladder strategy

While a bond laddering strategy offers benefits, such as consistent income and risk management, it also has potential limitations, such as inflation risk, trading costs, and complexity. If you're considering this strategy, evaluate your financial goals, risk tolerance and market conditions.

Additionally, you may want to consult with a financial advisor. They can help you determine whether the strategy aligns with your broader investment strategy and needs.

Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. The product prospectus, portfolios' prospectuses and summary prospectuses contain more complete information on investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses along with other information, which investors should read carefully and consider before investing. Available at

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.

Hypothetical examples are for illustrative purposes. May not be representative of actual results.