A prospective client recently shared with me that she called a financial advisor at one of the large brokerage houses where she has an IRA account. She told him she was concerned about a downturn and that she did not want to lose any money in IRA. His recommendation? “You should reposition some of your money to bonds.” What really struck her is that he said as if it was an absolute “no-brainer” that left no room for further discussion! 

If you watch TV or read financial articles in the mainstream media, you know just how often the importance of equity investing is touted. Recently, I saw a frequently run commercial from a major mutual fund and ETF provider. In the ad, they promoted that “asset allocation as a key to successful wealth accumulation.”

They said a proper asset allocation was 60% in equities and 40% in bonds, adjusted slightly for age, risk profile, and current market dynamics and expectations.

Another rule of thumb you may have heard about is that suggested stock exposure should be the number 100 minus your age. Using this generalization, a 70-year-old prospect should have 30% of their money in the market.

This is the “financial wisdom,” people are exposed to every day. This “wisdom” is doled out as if it were the gospel truth itself. Is it any wonder that so many investors believe bonds are the safe alternative to equities?

After all, bonds have been enjoying a 25-year bull market, what with the historic drop in interest rates. As interest rates have fallen over the past several decades, investors have enjoyed the opportunity for gains in principal. Bond prices improved as rates fell. So, it’s easy to understand how someone might assume bonds have little risk.

Are interest rates likely to go up in the next five to 10 years, or stay the same, or go down?

Well, they can’t go down much further! We’re already close to zero percent. And with our need for increased social services (due to our aging demographic) and our increased national debt (it’s at record highs), doesn’t it seem logical that rates are more likely to go up than to stay level or fall?

Many investors fail to realize that bond prices and interest rates are inversely correlated. That is, as interest rates go up, bond principal values go down. And the opposite is true, too. When interest rates go down, bond principal values go up. 

If we don’t understand the basic relationship between overall interest rates and bond principal values, aren’t we likely to unknowingly expose ourselves to more risk?

On the next page is a chart you may find useful. This information about the relationship between interest rates and bond principal values creates a clear picture about how repositioning assets away from bonds to a truly safe money strategy makes so much more sense than the non-sense touted in the media!

The chart shows that the longer the bond duration, the larger the impact on principal.

As the chart shows, a 1% increase in interest rates can result in a loss of 7.8% (or more) of the principal of a 10-year bond. A 2% increase in rates translates into a loss of about 15% (or more) of the principal of a 10-year bond. The longer the yield to maturity, the greater the risk.


Typical Percentage Change in Bond Principal Values as Interest Rates Change 

Years to
of the

As Interest Rates Change by 1%, Bonds Typically Move in the Opposite Direction By …

As Interest Rates Change by 2%, Bonds Typically Move in the Opposite Direction By …

















 In addition to the changes in values noted above, fluctuations in bond values are affected by three other factors:

  1. The lower the coupon yield of the bond, the larger the impact.
  2. The lower the quality of the bond, the larger the impact.
  3. Zero coupon bonds generally carry the largest risk of all bonds.

Individually held bonds are not affected by interest rate movements if they are held to maturity but individually held bonds may have a risk of their own.

They may be subject to being called. If a bond is called, it’s typically because interest rates are down, and the issuer of the bond (the borrower) can borrow money at a lower interest rate. When an issuer calls a bond, they are buying back the bond. If you then try to reinvest the money (while you’re in this lower interest rate environment), you likely will not be able to earn as good a rate as you had on the bond that was called. This is known as reinvestment risk.

So, what are the alternative?

Here are three Safe Money Alternatives for Guaranteed Growth Without Unnecessary Risk

  1. Recurring premium whole life insurance. As you pay your premiums, your underlying cash values increase. Over time, the compounding of these increases (especially when dividends are paid) can significantly add to your wealth.
  • You also benefit from ease of access to your funds if you need the money, and at extremely competitive interest rates. As you approach or enter retirement, you can withdraw money on a tax-free basis.
  • It’s great knowing that when you access money in your whole life policy, every penny can be yours – without the need to share it with the IRS (under current tax laws), as you’ll do with tax-deferred products.
  • When you pass away, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit of everything that’s left in the policy. 
  1. Annuities. Fixed yearly rate annuities, guaranteed multi-year rate annuities, and index annuities are all good safe money alternatives.
  • When you follow the rules, the insurance company guarantees you will not lose money in any of these three types of annuities. Annuities have strong guarantees, based on the claims-paying ability of the insurance company. Many annuities offer the opportunity to earn significant interest, and some annuities also give you valuable living benefits, such as helping pay for nursing home benefits and chronic care expenses.
  • Some annuities may be accessed tax-free (like a Roth IRA). Others grow tax-free, but withdrawals are taxed (like a 401(k)). The tax treatment of an annuity depends on whether it is a qualified or a non-qualified annuity.
  1. Single premium life insurance. This may be an excellent vehicle to consider. You make a one-time payment and, depending on your age and health, your death benefit may typically run at least two times your premium; So, if you put in $50,000, your death benefit could be $100,000 or more.
  • Should you pass away, your beneficiaries would receive the $100,000 – typically twice (or more) the amount of the premium you paid.
  • With a properly structured policy, your cash value in the policy can equal the one-time premium you made, within just a few years.
  • These policies may carry important long-term care and chronic illness benefits which may make them even more valuable, depending on your age and circumstances. 

It’s important for all of us to challenge the “conventional wisdom” of Wall Street! Bonds and bond funds may subject you to more risk than you want and conventional advisors may lead you believe they are “safe.” Understanding how much risk you are carrying; you’ll be in a better position to manage that risk in ways that may better suit your objectives.

Using true safe money alternatives, including life insurance, annuities, and single pay life insurance, to round out your portfolio and lower the financial risk you’re exposed to; may just be the most sensible thing many investors can do at this moment in time.


John Ensley
Follow Me
Latest posts by John Ensley (see all)