Government bonds are issued by national governments to help finance public spending. Although tax revenue forms the backbone of government budgets, all governments issue bonds either to make up for budget deficits, maintain a safety buffer or repay maturing earlier debt. Governments usually issue bonds in the country's own currency. To attract foreign buyers concerned about currency risk, countries sometimes issue bonds in popular global currencies such as the US dollar or the euro.
Government bonds in the US are called Treasurys, of which there are four major types:
Treasury bills, or T-bills, mature in one year or less; the shortest available maturity is four weeks.
T-notes are available in maturities of 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10 years, and have a coupon payment every six months.
T-bonds mature in 30 years and also come with semi-annual coupon payments.
Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are bonds whose principal is periodically adjusted for inflation.
US Treasurys are backed by the "full faith and credit" of the US government. This, and a strong repayment record, make Treasurys among the safest investments anywhere.
Government bonds in different countries have different names and available maturities. For example, UK government bonds are called gilts, and the local equivalent of TIPS are called index-linked gilts. German government bonds are collectively called Bunds, ranging from six-month Bubills through five-year Bobls to 10- or 30-year Bunds, among others.
What else do you need to know about bonds?
Want to learn more before deciding what’s your optimal bond allocation? You might want to check out these other articles to deepen your knowledge.
- What is a bond? (our main article in the bond section)
- What is a bond yield?
- How do bonds work?
- What happens when a bond comes due?