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Yield to Maturity vs. Coupon Rate: What's the Difference?

Yield to Maturity vs. Coupon Rate: An Overview

When investors consider buying bonds they need to look at two vital pieces of information: the yield to maturity (YTM) and the coupon rate.

Investment-quality bonds are low-risk investments that generally offer a rate of return slightly higher than a standard savings account. They are fixed-income investments that many investors use for a steady stream of income in retirement. Investors of any age may add some bonds to a portfolio to lower its overall risk profile.

  • The yield to maturity (YTM) is the percentage rate of return for a bond assuming that the investor holds the asset until its maturity date. It is the sum of all of its remaining coupon payments. A bond's yield to maturity rises or falls depending on its market value and how many payments remain to be made.
  • The coupon rate is the annual amount of interest that the owner of the bond will receive. To complicate things the coupon rate may also be referred to as the yield from the bond.

Generally, a bond investor is more likely to base a decision on an instrument's coupon rate. A bond trader is more likely to consider its yield to maturity.

Key Takeaways

  • The yield to maturity is the estimated annual rate of return for a bond assuming that the investor holds the asset until its maturity date and reinvests the payments at the same rate.
  • The coupon rate is the annual income an investor can expect to receive while holding a particular bond.
  • At the time it is purchased, a bond's yield to maturity and its coupon rate are the same.
  • As economic conditions change, investors may demand the bond more or less. As the price of the bond changes, the yield to maturity of the bond will inversely change.
  • Though bonds may be issued with variable rates tied to LIBOR, most bonds are issued with a fixed rate, causing the coupon rate and yield to often be different.

Comparing Yield To Maturity And The Coupon Rate

Yield to Maturity (YTM)

The yield to maturity (YTM) is an estimated rate of return. It assumes that the buyer of the bond will hold it until its maturity date, and will reinvest each interest payment at the same interest rate. Thus, yield to maturity includes the coupon rate within its calculation.

YTM is also known as the redemption yield.

YTM and Market Value

A bond's yield can be expressed as the effective rate of return based on the actual market value of the bond. At face value, when the bond is first issued, the coupon rate and the yield are usually exactly the same.

However, changes in interest rates will cause the market value of the bond to change as buyers and sellers find the yield offered more or less attractive under new interest rate conditions. In this way, yield and bond price are inversely proportional and move in opposite directions. As a result the yield to maturity of the bond will fluctuate, while the coupon rate for a previously existing bond will remain the same.

Coupon Rate

The coupon rate or yield is the amount that investors can expect to receive in income as they hold the bond. Coupon rates are fixed when the government or company issues the bond, although bonds can be issued with variable rates. These variable rate securities are often pegged to LIBOR or another publicly distributed yield.

The coupon rate is the yearly amount of interest that will be paid based on the face or par value of the security. Some bonds may be recorded to pay interest more than once per year. There are also specific dates tied to whom dividends are issued to (i.e. holders on the date of record).

How to Calculate the Coupon Rate

Suppose you purchase an IBM Corp. bond with a $1,000 face value that is issued with semiannual payments of $10 each. To calculate the bond's coupon rate, divide the total annual interest payments by the face value. In this case, the total annual interest payment equals $10 x 2 = $20. The annual coupon rate for IBM bond is thus $20 / $1,000 or 2%.

Fixed-Rate and Market Value

While the coupon rate of a bond is fixed, the par or face value may change. No matter what price the bond trades for, the interest payments will always be $20 per year. For example, if interest rates go up, driving the price of IBM's bond down to $980, the 2% coupon on the bond will remain unchanged.

When a bond sells for more than its face value, it sells at a premium. When it sells for less than its face value, it sells at a discount.

Special Considerations

To an individual bond investor, the coupon payment is the source of profit.

To the bond trader, there is the potential gain or loss generated by variations in the bond's market price. The yield to maturity calculation incorporates the potential gains or losses generated by those market price changes.

If an investor purchases a bond at par or face value, the yield to maturity is equal to its coupon rate. If the investor purchases the bond at a discount, its yield to maturity will be higher than its coupon rate. A bond purchased at a premium will have a yield to maturity that is lower than its coupon rate.

YTM represents the average return of the bond over its remaining lifetime. Calculations apply a single discount rate to future payments, creating a present value that will be about equivalent to the bond's price.

In this way, the time until maturity, the bond's coupon rate, current price, and the difference between price and face value all are considered.

What Is the Difference Between Coupon Rate and Yield?

The coupon rate is the stated periodic interest payment due to the bondholder at specified times. The bond's yield is the anticipated overall rate of return. If the bond's price changes and is no longer offered at par value, the coupon rate and the yield will no longer be the same as the coupon rate is fixed and yield is a derivative calculation based on the price of the bond.

What Happens If the Yield to Maturity Is Greater Than the Coupon Rate?

A bond's yield will often stray from the original yield at the time of issue. When a bond's yield differs from the coupon rate, this means the bond is either trading at a premium or a discount to incorporate changes in market condition since the issuance of the bond. Though the coupon rate remains fixed, the bond's yield will fluctuate over time as a result of changing bond prices.

What Is the Relationship Between Bond Price and Yield?

A bond's price moves inversely to its yield to maturity rate. As interest rates rise, investors will demand greater returns. Therefore, the price of bonds will fall, naturally resulting in a rise in the yield to maturity rate. Alternatively, as interest rates fall, the bonds become more attractive due to their fixed rates, their prices increase due to demand, and their yield falls.

Correction—May 28, 2022: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the coupon rate (often fixed) would change as interest rates changed.

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  1. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. "Bond Yield and Return."

  2. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Interest Rate Risk — When Interest Rates Go up, Prices of Fixed-rate Bonds Fall," Page 1.