What Is a Coupon?

A coupon or coupon payment is the annual interest rate paid on a bond, expressed as a percentage of the face value and paid from issue date until maturity. Coupons are usually referred to in terms of the coupon rate (the sum of coupons paid in a year divided by the face value of the bond in question).

It is also referred to as the "coupon rate," "coupon percent rate" and "nominal yield."

1:18

Coupon

Understanding Coupons

For example, a $1,000 bond with a coupon of 7% pays $70 a year. Typically these interest payments will be semiannual, meaning the investor will receive $35 twice a year.

Because bonds can be traded before they mature, causing their market value to fluctuate, the current yield (often referred to simply as the yield) will usually diverge from the bond's coupon or nominal yield. For example, at issue, the $1,000 bond described above yields 7%; that is, its current and nominal yields are both 7%. If the bond later trades for $900, the current yield rises to 7.8% ($70 ÷ $900). The coupon rate, however, does not change, since it is a function of the annual payments and the face value, both of which are constant.

Coupon rate or nominal yield = annual payments ÷ face value of the bond

Current yield = annual payments ÷ market value of the bond

The current yield is used to calculate other metrics, such as the yield to maturity and the yield to worst.

Key Takeaways

  • A coupon payment refers to the annual interest paid on a bond between its issue date and the date of maturity.
  • The coupon rate is determined by adding the sum of all coupons paid per year, then dividing that total by the face value of the bond.

Coupon Bonds

The term "coupon" originally refers to actual detachable coupons affixed to bond certificates. Bonds with coupons, known as coupon bonds or bearer bonds, are not registered, meaning that possession of them constitutes ownership. To collect an interest payment, the investor has to present the physical coupon.

Bearer bonds were once common. While they still exist, they have fallen out of favor for two reasons. First, an investor whose bond is lost, stolen or damaged has functionally no recourse or hope of regaining his investment. Second, the anonymity of bearer bonds has proven attractive to money launderers. A 1982 U.S. law significantly curtailed the use of bearer bonds, and all Treasury-issued bearer bonds are now past maturity.

Today, the vast majority of investors and issuers alike prefer to keep electronic records on bond ownership. Even so, the term "coupon" has survived to describe a bond's nominal yield.