The issuer of a municipal bond receives a cash payment at the time of issuance in exchange for a promise to repay the investors who provide the cash payment (the bond holder) over time. Repayment periods can be as short as a few months (although this is rare) to 20, 30, or 40 years, or even longer.
The issuer typically uses proceeds from a bond sale to pay for capital projects or for other purposes it cannot or does not desire to pay for immediately with funds on hand. Tax regulations governing municipal bonds generally require all money raised by a bond sale to be spent on one-time capital projects within three to five years of issuance. Certain exceptions permit the issuance of bonds to fund other items, including ongoing operations and maintenance expenses, the purchase of single-family and multi-family mortgages, and the funding of student loans, among many other things.
Because of the special tax-exempt status of most municipal bonds, investors usually accept lower interest payments than on other types of borrowing (assuming comparable risk). This makes the issuance of bonds an attractive source of financing to many municipal entities, as the borrowing rate available in the open market is frequently lower than what is available through other borrowing channels.
Municipal bonds are one of several ways states, cities and counties can issue debt. Other mechanisms include certificates of participation and lease-buyback agreements. While these methods of borrowing differ in legal structure, they are similar to the municipal bonds described in this article.
Repayment schedules differ with the type of bond issued. Municipal bonds typically pay interest semi-annually. Shorter term bonds generally pay interest only until maturity; longer term bonds generally are amortized through annual principal payments. Longer and shorter term bonds are often combined together in a single issue that requires the issuer to make approximately level annual payments of interest and principal. Certain bonds, known as zero coupon or capital appreciation bonds, accrue interest until maturity at which time both interest and principal become due.
The type of project or projects that are funded by a bond affects the taxability of income received on the bonds held by bond holders. Interest earnings on bonds that fund projects that are constructed for the public good are generally exempt from federal income tax, while interest earnings on bonds issued to fund projects partly or wholly benefiting only private parties, sometimes referred to as private activity bonds, may be subject to federal income tax.
The laws governing the taxability of municipal bond income are complex; however, bonds are typically certified by a law firm as either tax-exempt (federal and/or state income tax) or taxable before they are offered to the market. Purchasers of municipal bonds should be aware that not all municipal bonds are tax-exempt.
In addition, there are several other types of municipal bonds with different promises of security.
The probability of repayment as promised is often determined by an independent reviewer, or "rating agency". The three main rating agencies for municipal bonds in the United States are Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch. These agencies can be hired by the issuer to assign a bond rating, which is valuable information to potential bond holders that helps sell bonds on the primary market.
This relationship can be demonstrated mathematically, as follows:
For example if rc = 10% and t = 38%, then
A municipal bond that pays 6.2% therefore generates equal interest income after taxes as a corporate bond that pays 10% (assuming all else is equal).
Alternatively, one can calculate the taxable equivalent yield of a municipal bond and compare it to the yield of a corporate bond as follows:
Because longer maturity municipal bonds tend to offer significantly higher after-tax yields than corporate bonds with the same credit rating and maturity, investors in higher tax brackets may be motivated to arbitrage municipal bonds against corporate bonds using a strategy called municipal bond arbitrage.
Some municipal bonds are insured by monoline insurers that take on the credit risk of these bonds for a small fee.
by US local government since 1812
Generous portion of low-grade debt sends fund's yield soaring.(Eaton Vance Management's National Municipal Bond Fund)
Jul 24, 1996; Owning a large number of below-investment-grade securities was the key to the high income generated by the $32.2 million...