General Obligation Bonds

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on September 01, 2023

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What Are General Obligation Bonds?

General obligation bonds play a crucial role in public finance, providing municipalities and other government entities with the means to fund essential projects and infrastructure.

General obligation bonds are debt securities issued by local and state governments to finance public projects. They are backed by the full faith and credit of the issuing government, meaning that the government pledges to use its taxing power to repay bondholders.

General obligation bonds provide essential funding for infrastructure projects such as schools, roads, and public utilities.

By issuing these bonds, governments can spread the cost of large projects over time, making them more manageable and accessible.

Understanding the basic concept of general obligation bonds and how they differ from revenue bonds is essential for potential investors.

A general obligation bond is a type of municipal bond backed by the full faith and credit of the issuing government.

This means that the issuer pledges its taxing power and general revenue to repay the bond, rather than relying on revenue from a specific project or source.

Unlike general obligation bonds, revenue bonds are backed by the income generated by a specific project, such as a toll road or airport.

If the project fails to generate sufficient revenue, bondholders may not receive their interest payments or principal.

Types of General Obligation Bonds

There are three main types of general obligation bonds, each with its unique features and characteristics.

Limited Tax General Obligation Bonds

Limited tax general obligation bonds are backed by a specific, limited tax revenue source. The issuer pledges to use a designated tax, such as property tax, to repay the bondholders, but the amount of tax that can be levied is capped.

Unlimited Tax General Obligation Bonds

Unlimited tax general obligation bonds, on the other hand, do not have a cap on the taxes that can be levied to repay the bond. The issuer has the authority to increase taxes as needed to ensure timely repayment of the bond.

Double-Barreled General Obligation Bonds

Double-barreled general obligation bonds combine features of both general obligation and revenue bonds. They are primarily backed by a specific revenue source but also carry the full faith and credit of the issuer, providing an extra layer of security for bondholders.

Benefits of General Obligation Bonds

General obligation bonds offer several benefits, including financing public infrastructure, lower interest rates, high credit ratings, and tax advantages.

Financing Public Infrastructure

General obligation bonds allow governments to fund essential public infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals, and transportation systems.

This financing method helps distribute the cost of these projects over time, making them more financially feasible.

Lower Interest Rates

Due to their backing by the full faith and credit of the issuer, general obligation bonds typically carry lower interest rates than revenue bonds. This makes them more attractive to investors seeking lower-risk investments.

High Credit Ratings

General obligation bonds often have high credit ratings because they are backed by the issuer's taxing authority. This makes them appealing to investors seeking stable, low-risk investments with a reliable income stream.

Tax Advantages

Interest income from general obligation bonds is often exempt from federal income tax and, in some cases, state and local taxes. This tax-exempt status makes them particularly attractive to investors in high tax brackets.

Risks Associated with General Obligation Bonds

Despite their benefits, general obligation bonds carry certain risks, including credit risk, interest rate risk, inflation risk, call risk, and liquidity risk.

Credit Risk

Although general obligation bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the issuer, there is still a risk that the issuer may default on its obligation to pay interest and principal.

Factors such as economic downturns, declining tax revenues, and poor fiscal management can impact the issuer's ability to meet its obligations.

Interest Rate Risk

Interest rate risk refers to the potential for bond prices to decrease as interest rates rise. When interest rates increase, newly issued bonds offer higher yields, making existing bonds with lower yields less attractive to investors.

Inflation Risk

Inflation risk arises when the rate of inflation outpaces the bond's yield, reducing the purchasing power of the bond's interest income. General obligation bonds with long maturities are particularly susceptible to inflation risk, as their fixed interest payments may become less valuable over time.

Call Risk

Some general obligation bonds contain call provisions that allow the issuer to redeem the bonds before their maturity date.

This typically occurs when interest rates have fallen, and the issuer can refinance the debt at a lower cost. Call risk can result in investors receiving their principal back earlier than anticipated, potentially at an inopportune time.

Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk refers to the risk that an investor may not be able to sell their general obligation bond quickly or at a reasonable price.

While the municipal bond market is generally considered to be liquid, certain bonds or market conditions can make it more challenging to find a buyer at a desirable price.

Benefits and Risks Associated With General Obligation Bonds


General obligation bonds play a vital role in public finance, providing governments with the means to fund critical infrastructure projects. They offer numerous benefits, such as lower interest rates, high credit ratings, and tax advantages.

However, investors must also be aware of the associated risks, including credit risk, interest rate risk, inflation risk, call risk, and liquidity risk.

By understanding the benefits and risks, investors can make informed decisions about including general obligation bonds in their investment portfolios.

General Obligation Bonds FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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