What Is a Bullet Transaction?

The term bullet transaction refers to a loan that requires the principal balance to be paid in full when it matures rather than dividing it up into installments over its lifetime. Borrowers only need to cover interest payments during the life of a bullet loan, at least until the final principal payment is required. Payment of the principal balance upon maturity is called a bullet payment.

Key Takeaways

  • A bullet transaction refers to a loan that requires the principal balance to be paid in full when it matures rather than dividing it up into installments over its lifetime. 
  • Borrowers only cover interest payments before the final payment is due.
  • Bullet loans can be repaid by refinancing or by earning enough cash to repay the loan. 
  • These loans can be very risky for lenders because there's a greater chance that a borrower may default.

How Bullet Transactions Work

The majority of loan contracts require the repayment of principal and interest over time. So when a homeowner has a mortgage, the lender amortizes the principal balance for the length of the loan—say 30 years—factoring in interest payments based on the loan's interest rate. The borrower is responsible to make regular payments until the balance is paid off in full. But not all loans work the same.

As noted above, bullet transactions require the borrower to cover the full principal balance at the maturity date. It's important to note that a bullet transaction may have two or more tranches, where different tranches have different maturities and/or different interest rates. Until the principal balance is due, they only pay interest. Mortgages that require bullet transactions are also called balloon mortgages. Mortgages and other loans that mature in 15 years are called 15-year bullets. Bullet transactions are priced as a number of basis points (BPS) over a benchmark such as U.S. Treasuries. Investors can buy certificates to invest in bullet transactions.

Bullet transactions may have two or more tranches, each with different maturities and different interest rates.

Bullet loans can be repaid by refinancing or by earning enough cash to repay the loan. These loans are a good option for franchisees who may not immediately have enough money to cover the full cost of owning a franchise. Bullet transactions allow them to develop cash flow through their business and save enough to pay off the debt when it matures. In other cases, companies may use bullet loans to develop working capital to purchase equipment or to finance an acquisition, among other uses. Revolving loans and term loans can be structured as bullet transactions.

Although borrowers are only required to make interest payments before maturity, bullet transactions can be very risky for lenders. That's because there's a greater chance that borrowers may default when the principal comes due. If the borrower does default, the lender may not get back any of the principal.

Special Considerations

A bullet bond is a debt instrument whose entire principal value is paid all at once on the maturity date, as opposed to amortizing the bond over its lifetime. Bullet bonds cannot be redeemed early by an issuer, which means they are noncallable. Because of this, bullet bonds may pay a relatively low rate of interest due to the issuer's high degree of interest rate exposure.

Here's how pricing for a bullet transaction works. First, the total interest payments for each period must be aggregated and discounted to their present value (PV). This is done using the following equation:

PV = Pmt / (1 + (r / 2)) ^ (p)

Where:

  • PV = present value
  • Pmt = total payment for period
  • r = bond yield
  • p = payment period

For example, imagine a bullet bond with a par value of $1,000. The bond yields 5%, its coupon rate is 3%, and the bond pays the coupon twice per year over a period of five years. Given this information, there are nine periods where a $15 coupon payment is made, and one period—the last one—where a $15 coupon payment is made and the $1,000 principal is paid.

Using the formula above, we can determine the payments during the life of the bond as outlined in the table below:

Period Calculation Present Value
1 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (1) $14.63
2 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (2) $14.28
3 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (3) $13.93
4 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (4) $13.59
5 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (5) $13.26
6 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (6) $12.93
7 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (7) $12.62
8 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (8) $12.31
9 $15 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (9) $12.01
10 $1,015 / (1 + (5% / 2)) ^ (10) $792.92

Adding up these 10 present values equals $912.48, which is the price of the bond. Note that the principal balance is not repaid at any point except the very last period—the hallmark of a bullet transaction.