What Is a Floating-Rate Note — FRN

A floating-rate note is a debt instrument with a variable interest rate. The interest rate for a floating rate note is tied to a benchmark rate such as a U.S. Treasury note rate, the Fed funds rate, or the prime rate. Floating rate notes or floaters can be issued by financial institutions, governments, and corporations in maturities of two-to-five years.

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Floating-Rate Note

Floating-Rate Notes Explained

Floating-rate notes (FRNs) make up a significant component of the U.S. investment-grade bond market. Compared with fixed-rate debt instruments, floaters allow investors to benefit from a rise in interest rates since the rate on the floater adjusts periodically to current market rates. Floaters are usually benchmarked against short-term rates like the fed funds rate, which is the rate the Federal Reserve Bank sets for short-term borrowing between banks.

Floating-Rate Yields

Typically the rate or yield paid to an investor on a bond or U.S. Treasury rises with the length of maturity. The rising yield curve compensates investors for holding longer-term securities. In other words, the yield on a bond with a 10-year maturity should pay, under normal market conditions, a higher yield than a bond with a 2-month maturity. As a result, floating-rate notes usually pay a lower yield to investors than their fixed-rate counterparts because floaters are benchmarked to short-term rates.

Floating-Rate Payments

Since floaters have variable rates, they tend to have unpredictable coupon payments. A coupon payment is the interest payment for a bond. Sometimes a floater may have a cap and a floor, which allows an investor to know the maximum and minimum interest rates paid by the note.

An FRN's interest rate can change as often or as frequently as the issuer chooses, from once a day to once a year. The reset period tells the investor how often the rate adjusts. The issuer may pay interest monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or annually.

Callable or Non-callable

FRNs may be issued with or without a callable option, which means the issuer has the right to return the investor's principal amount and stop making interest payments. The callable feature is known upfront and allows the issuer to pay off the bond before maturity.

Key Takeaways

  • A floating-rate note is a debt instrument with a variable interest rate.
  • The interest rate for a floating rate note is tied to a benchmark rate such as a U.S. Treasury note rate, the Fed funds rate, or the prime rate.
  • Compared with fixed-rate debt instruments, floaters allow investors to benefit from a rise in interest rates since the rate on the floater adjusts periodically to current market rates.

Real World Example of a Floating Rate Note

The U.S. Treasury Department began issuing floating-rate notes in 2014. The notes have the following characteristics and requirements:

  • Minimum purchase amount of $100
  • Term or maturity of two years
  • At maturity, the investor is paid the face value of the note
  • Pays a variable rate benchmarked to the 13-week Treasury bill
  • Pays interest or coupon payments quarterly
  • FRN can be held until maturity or sold before maturity
  • Issued electronically
  • Interest income is subject to Federal income tax