What is a 'Revenue Bond'

A revenue bond is a municipal bond supported by the revenue from a specific project, such as a toll bridge, highway or local stadium. Revenue bonds are municipal bonds that finance income-producing projects and are secured by a specified revenue source. Typically, revenue bonds can be issued by any government agency or fund that is managed in the manner of a business, such as entities having both operating revenues and expenses.

BREAKING DOWN 'Revenue Bond'

Revenue bonds, which are also called municipal revenue bonds, differ from general obligation bonds (GO bonds) that can be repaid through a variety of tax sources. While a revenue bond is backed by a specific revenue stream, holders of GO bonds are relying on the full faith and credit of the issuing municipality. Typically, since holders of revenue bonds can only rely on the specific project's income, it has a higher risk than GO bonds and pays a higher rate of interest.

Structure of Revenue Bonds

Generally, revenue bonds mature in 20 to 30 years and are issued in $5,000 units. Some revenue bonds have staggered maturity dates and do not mature at the same time. These are known as serial bonds.

For example, if a revenue bond is issued to build a new toll road, the tolls that are collected from motorists who drive on the road would be used to pay off the bond, after the building expenses have been paid. A primary reason for using revenue bonds is that they allow the municipality to avoid reaching legislated debt limits. An agency that is run solely on tax dollars, such as a public school, cannot issue revenue bonds, since these entities would be unable to pay off the bond using revenues from the specific project.

Real Life Examples

St. Louis, Missouri, engages in tax-exempt revenue bond financing. Typical projects funded this way are multi-family housing, in which a minimum of 20% of the units are set aside for households meeting income guidelines; publicly owned facilities; pollution control facilities; and various fixed assets such as land/buildings. The maturity of most of the issues is 20 to 30 years, and interest earned is generally tax-exempt from federal and most state income taxes. This also allows the issuer to pay a lower interest rate.

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) decided to offer Green Bonds in February 2016. The MTA is using the $500 million of proceeds to pay for planned infrastructure renewal projects, including upgrades on its railroads. The bonds, issued under MTA's Transportation Revenue Bond, are backed by the agency's operating revenue and subsidies received from New York State.

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