What Is a Secured Bond?

A secured bond is a type of investment in debt that is secured by a specific asset owned by the issuer. The asset serves as collateral for the loan. If the issuer defaults on the bond, the title to the asset is transferred to the bondholders.

Secured bonds may also be secured with a revenue stream that comes from the project that the bond issue was used to finance.

Understanding the Secured Bond

Secured bonds are seen as less risky than unsecured bonds because investors in them are at least partially compensated for their investment in the event of default by the issuer.

Types of secured bonds include mortgage bonds and equipment trust certificates. They may be collateralized by assets such as property, equipment, or an income stream.

Key Takeaways

  • A secured bond gives the investor first rights to certain collateral in case the issuer defaults on the payments.
  • Utilities and municipalities often issue secured bonds.
  • They offer slightly less interest in return for their greater safety.

For example, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are backed by the titles to the borrowers’ homes and by the income stream from mortgage payments. If the issuer does not make timely interest and principal payments, investors have rights to the underlying assets as repayment.

The risk of loss occurs if the collateral falls in value or is unsaleable by the time it is in the possession of the bond investors, or if legal challenges delay liquidation of the assets.

Secured Bonds Issued by Municipalities

Municipalities typically issue secured bonds that are backed by the revenue that is anticipated from a specific project. They may also issue unsecured bonds, known as general obligation bonds, that are backed by the city or town's taxing power.

Secured bonds are not risk-free. There is the risk that the collateral will fall in value or be unsaleable when it is transferred to the investors.

In some cases, investors’ claims to collateral are challenged in the courts. There are costs and delays inherent in responding to legal challenges. In this and other cases, investors may lose some of their principal investment.

First Mortgage Bonds

Companies that have significant real estate and holdings or other assets may issue mortgage bonds using those assets as collateral.

Many utility companies are able to secure loans at a lower cost by using their substantial land, power plants, and equipment as collateral. Because the bonds carry less risk, they offer lower interest rates than unsecured bonds. Their bondholders have the first claim to the underlying property in case the company does not make principal and interest payments as scheduled.

A first mortgage bond contains a first mortgage on at least one of the issuer’s properties. That gives the bondholder the first claim on the underlying assets in case of default.

If the issuer has enough cash, rather than selling the underlying assets it may use the cash to pay off the first mortgage bondholders before others.

Equipment Trust Certificates

An equipment trust certificate is backed by an asset that is easily transported or sold. The title to the equipment is held by a trust.

Trust certificates as generally issued to provide the cash to purchase equipment or finance operations. The company makes its scheduled payments to the trust, which pays the principal and interest income to investors. When the debt is repaid, the asset’s ownership transfers from the trust back to the company.