What Are Debentures And Bonds? Differences & Key Features

What are debentures and bonds?

Debentures and bonds may sound like complicated financial terms, but they’re really not. Imagine you want to borrow money for your big business idea. Debentures and bonds are two ways you can do that. All right! But what are debentures and bonds?

What are debentures and bonds?

Well, Debentures are like IOUs that a company gives you when you lend them money. They promise to pay you back with interest. On the other hand, bonds are similar, but they’re often traded on the stock market like mini-loans from lots of people. 

The main difference? 

Debentures are usually private agreements, while bonds are public and can be bought and sold. That’s not all, there are ample differences between them.

In this guide, we’ll explore these financial tools, and their unique features, and help you understand which might be right for you. 

Let’s dive in!

(A) What are Debentures and Bonds?

Debentures and bonds are like loans that you can give to big companies or the government.

Imagine a company that wants to expand but needs more money than it has. They can ask people for loans. When you lend them money, they give you a debenture or a bond in return.

Now, here’s the difference- Debentures are like personal IOUs from the company. They promise to pay you back with interest. It’s like lending money to a friend and getting a written promise to pay you back later. Bonds, on the other hand, are like many people chipping in together to give a big loan. These are often bought and sold on the stock market. It’s like joining a group of friends to lend money to the company.

For example, if you buy a $1,000 bond from a company, they might promise to pay you $1,050 in a year. It’s a way for companies to raise money, and for you to make some extra cash. So, debentures and bonds are just ways to invest or lend money and get something back in return.

By now, you must have got a brief idea of what debentures and bonds are! Now, to understand the fundamental differences between them, go through the next section.

(B) Bonds vs Debentures: Difference between Bonds and Debentures

First of all, let’s look at the fundamental differences between bonds and debentures-

DefinitionDebt securities issued by corporations
or governments to raise capital.
Unsecured debt instruments issued
by corporations or governments to
raise capital.
SecuritySecured or UnsecuredAlways unsecured
PriorityHigher priority in bankruptcyLower priority in bankruptcy
RiskLower risk if secured, e.g., govt. bondsGenerally higher risk 
Payment StructureAccrual based- monthly, half-yearly, or yearly basis.
The payment is independent of the company’s
Perodic-based payment depends on the
company’s performance.
ConvertibilityConvertible/Non-convertibleTypically non-convertible
TermsLonger terms (5-30 years)Often shorter terms
MarketMore liquid, a wider varietyLess liquid, narrower range of issuers.
ExamplesU.S. Treasury Bonds,
Corporate Bonds, etc.
Corporate Debentures,
Government Debentures
Bonds vs Debentures

Let’s dive into the details-

(B.1) Definition

Bonds are debt securities issued by corporations or governments as a means to raise capital. Debentures, on the other hand, represent unsecured debt instruments issued by corporations or governments for the same purpose.

(B.2) Security

Bonds can be either secured or unsecured, depending on the issuer’s choice. Secured bonds are backed by specific collateral, providing an extra layer of security for investors. In contrast, debentures are consistently unsecured, lacking specific assets or collateral support.

(B.3) Priority in Bankruptcy

In the unfortunate event of bankruptcy or default, bondholders enjoy a higher priority claim on the issuer’s assets compared to stockholders. Secured bondholders hold the highest priority, ensuring they are among the first to receive payments. Conversely, debenture holders have a lower priority claim and are typically paid after secured bondholders in case of financial distress.

(B.4) Risk Profile

The risk associated with these investments differs significantly. Bonds, especially secured ones, generally carry lower risk due to the collateral backing. In contrast, debentures are inherently riskier, relying solely on the issuer’s creditworthiness and lacking the asset support found in bonds.

(B.5) Interest Payment Structure

Both bonds and debentures offer fixed and periodic interest payments, typically made semiannually or annually. This predictable income stream is a common feature of both investment options.

(B.6) Convertibility

Bonds provide more versatility in terms of convertibility. They can be either convertible or non-convertible. Convertible bonds grant bondholders the option to convert their holdings into the issuer’s common stock, potentially benefiting from stock price appreciation. In contrast, debentures are typically non-convertible and cannot be transformed into equity shares.

(B.7) Terms & Maturities

The terms and maturities of bonds and debentures differ. Bonds often come with longer terms, ranging from 5 to 30 years or more, making them suitable for investors with extended investment horizons. In contrast, debentures, while flexible in their offerings, generally feature shorter maturities compared to bonds, including options for short-term and long-term debt.

(B.8) Market Characteristics

Market dynamics vary between bonds and debentures. Bond markets tend to be more liquid, offering a wide variety of choices, including government bonds, municipal bonds, and corporate bonds. In contrast, debenture markets may be less liquid, and the range of issuers is often narrower, primarily comprising corporations and governments.

Thus, understanding the distinctions between bonds and debentures is essential for investors seeking to make informed decisions in the debt securities market. These distinctions encompass security, priority in bankruptcy, risk, interest payment structures, convertibility, terms, and market characteristics, each of which plays a crucial role in shaping the investment landscape for these financial instruments.

(C) Bonds: Definition, Types, and Key Features

(C.1) Definition of bonds

Bonds are financial instruments representing loans made by investors to governments or companies, with a promise of repayment of the invested amount (principal) along with periodic interest payments.

Sounds a bit complicated? No worries! Let me explain it in simple terms.

Think of bonds as IOUs (I Owe You) that the government or companies issue to raise money. When you buy a bond, you’re essentially lending your money to them. In return, they promise to pay you back the original amount (the “principal”) plus some extra money (the “interest”) over a specific time.

Imagine you lend $1,000 to a friend, and they promise to pay you back $1,050 in a year. That’s like a simple bond! The $1,000 is the principal, and the extra $50 is the interest.

Governments use bonds to fund projects like building roads, and companies use them to expand their businesses. People like bonds because they’re generally safer than stocks, and they provide a predictable source of income. So, bonds are a way to invest while knowing you’ll get your money back with a little extra as a “thank you” for lending it out.

(C.2) Types of Bonds

The following table provides a list of some common types of bonds for investments-

Types of BondsExplanationExamples (USA)Examples (India)
Treasury Bonds
Issues by the government and have low risk.US Treasury Bonds Govt. of India savings bond
Corporate BondsIssued by corporations and offer higher rates of interest. The risk level varies and is considered riskier than treasury bonds.Apple Inc. Corporate Bonds Tata Motors Corporate Bonds.
Municipal bonds
(Muni Bonds)
Issued by state or local governments. It has several tax advantages.New York City Muni Bonds Greater Mumbai Municipal Bonds.
Savings BondsBacked by the official government of the country. It is especially for individual savers.U.S. Series Savings BondsRBI Floating Rate Savings Bond
Junk BondsHigher yields & and high-risk bonds from less stable companiesTesla  Inc. High Yield BondsSuzlon Energy High Yield Bonds
Mortgage BondsBacked by pools of mortgages; income from paymentsFannie Mae Mortgage-Backed Bonds
Government BondsIssued by foreign governments, Varying risk levelsJGBs (Japanese Government Bonds)US Government Bonds
Zero-Coupon BondsSold at a discount, with no periodic interest paymentsU.S. Treasury STRIPS
(Separate Trading of Registered Interest and Principal of Securities)
State Bank of India Zero-Coupon Bonds
Types of Bonds

Thus, every type of bond has its own risk and return profile. However, you must note that the risk associated with these bonds varies. The Treasury Bonds are among the safest while the Junk Bonds carry higher risk but potentially higher yields. Being an investor, you must carefully consider your risk tolerance and investment goals when choosing bonds.

(C.3) Key Features of Bonds

  • Fixed Income: Bonds provide you with a fixed interest income, which is typically paid to you semiannually.
  • Maturity Date: Each bond you hold has a specific maturity date, at which point you will receive the principal amount back.
  • Face Value: Bonds come with a face value, or par value, which represents the amount you will receive at maturity.
  • Coupon Rate: You will receive regular interest payments, known as coupon payments, from the issuer. These payments are a percentage of the bond’s face value.
  • Issuing Entity: Bonds can be issued by governments, corporations, municipalities, or other entities, and you have the choice to invest in the one that suits your preferences.
  • Credit Ratings: Credit agencies rate bonds to help you assess their creditworthiness. This rating affects the risk and interest rate associated with the bond.
  • Liquidity: Bonds can be bought and sold in the secondary market, providing you with the option to trade them for liquidity.
  • Yield: You can calculate the yield to understand the total return you can expect from a bond, taking into account its price and interest payments.
  • Inflation Protection: Some bonds, such as TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities), are designed to protect you against inflation.
  • Explore Convertible Options: Convertible bonds give you the option to convert them into the issuer’s common stock if you wish, while non-convertible bonds do not offer this feature.
  • Callable/Non-Callable: Some bonds are callable, meaning the issuer can choose to redeem them before maturity, potentially affecting your investment.
    Note: We have thoroughly explained the benefits you will get by investing in bonds. Check out the article “7 Key Benefits of Investing in Bonds” for more details.

(D) Debentures: Definition, Types, and Key Features

(D.1) Definition of Debentures

Debentures are long-term debt instruments issued by corporations or governments to raise funds. They represent a promise to repay the borrowed money along with interest at a specified future date. Debenture holders are creditors and do not have ownership rights in the company.

Think of debentures as IOUs that a company or government gives out when they need to borrow money. When you buy a debenture, you’re essentially lending your money to the issuer, and in return, they promise to pay you back with some extra money (interest) at a later date. It’s like you’re giving them a loan.

Let’s say Company XYZ wants to expand its business but needs $1,000,000 to do so. Instead of going to the bank, they decide to issue debentures. They offer you a debenture for $1,000 with a 5% interest rate and a maturity date of 5 years. If you buy this debenture, you give Company XYZ $1,000, and in 5 years, they promise to give you back your $1,000 plus an extra $50 (5% interest) as a thank-you for lending them the money.

So, debentures are a way for companies or governments to borrow money from individuals or institutions and pay them back with interest later on. If you are confusing it with bonds, then look at the table of Bonds vs Debentures again.

(D.2) Types of Debentures

The following table describes different types of debentures-

The following table describes different types of debentures-

Types of Debentures  ExplanationExamples
Secured DebenturesBacked by specific assets of the company, providing security to debenture holders. If the company defaults, these assets can be sold to repay the debenture holders.Mortgage Debentures, Pledge Debentures
Unsecured Debentures (Naked Debentures)Not backed by any specific assets. In case of default, debenture holders have a claim on the company’s general assets but don’t have a specific asset to rely on.Simple Debentures
Convertible DebenturesCan be converted into equity shares of the company after a specific period. Provide the option for debenture holders to participate in potential stock market gains.Convertible Preference Debentures
Non-Convertible Debentures (NCD)Cannot be converted into equity shares and remain as debt until maturity. Typically offer higher interest rates due to the absence of conversion privileges.Fixed-Rate NCDs, Floating-Rate NCDs
Redeemable DebenturesHave a specific maturity date, and the company is obligated to repay the principal amount to debenture holders on or before this date.Fixed-Term Debentures, Callable Debentures
Irredeemable Debentures (Perpetual Debentures)It does not have a fixed maturity date, and the company is not obligated to repay the principal amount. Interest is paid indefinitely until the company decides to redeem them.Consols
Types of Debentures

Some other types of debentures

Other Types of Debentures  DetailsExample
Zero-Coupon DebenturesDo not pay regular interest but are issued at a discount to their face value.
The entire face value is paid to debenture holders at maturity.
Treasury Bills
First Mortgages Debentures  Hold the first claim on the company’s assets, ensuring repayment before other debenture holders.
Second Mortgages DebenturesHold a subordinate claim to first mortgage debentures and are repaid after them in case of liquidation.
Fixed-Rate Debentures  Offer a fixed interest rate throughout the tenor of the debenture.6% Fixed-Rate Debentures
Floating Rate DebenturesHave an interest rate that fluctuates based on market conditions or a reference rate.LIBOR-linked Debentures, T-Bill Linked Debentures
Some other types of Debentures

However, you must note that these are general categories, and actual debentures may have variations and unique terms based on the issuing company’s needs and market conditions. 

(D.3) Key Features of Debentures

  • Debt Investment: You invest in debentures, which are a type of debt instrument.
  • Fixed Interest: They offer you a fixed interest rate, ensuring steady returns
  • Maturity Date: Each debenture has a set maturity date when you receive the principal amount.
  • Security Options: Debentures can be secured by assets or unsecured based on the issuer’s creditworthiness.
  • Tradability: You can buy and sell debentures in the market, providing liquidity.
  • Payment Priority: In financial trouble, debenture holders are paid before equity shareholders.
  • Interest Payments: Issuers make periodic interest payments to you, typically semi-annually or annually.
  • Credit Rating: Your risk and interest rates depend on the issuer’s credit rating.
  • Tax Considerations: Be aware of tax implications on the interest income from debentures.
  • Callable Action: Some debentures can be called back by the issuer before maturity.
  • Long-term Capital: Debentures help companies raise long-term capital for growth and projects.

(E) Final Words: Which is better- Debentures or Bonds?

Now, it is the time for final judgment! When deciding between debentures and bonds, you need to consider your risk tolerance and investment goals. 

If you want higher returns and can handle more risk, debentures may be suitable for you. They often offer higher interest rates but lack collateral, making them riskier. 

On the other hand, if safety is your priority and you seek stable, predictable income, bonds are a better fit. Bonds are generally backed by assets or the issuer’s reputation, making them a safer option. 

Remember to consult a financial advisor before making any investment decisions tailored to your unique financial situation!

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Published By: Supti Nandi
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