Treasury Bills (T Bills)

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on February 22, 2024

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What Are Treasury Bills (T-Bills)?

US Treasury Bills, commonly known as T Bills, are certificates of debt issued by the United States government that have a maturity date of one year or less.

Because the lifespan of a T Bill is so short, they do not incur regular interest payments.

Instead, the government sells Treasury Bills at a discount from their face value and pays the full face amount upon maturity.

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The difference between the discounted sale price and the face value the Bill acts as the interest paid to investors for owning a Treasury Bill.

For example, if a 26-week, $1000 Treasury Bill is discounted to $980, then the owner of the Bill will stand to make a $20 profit. $20 is 2.04% of $980, but 4.08% when prorated annually.

T Bills normally are sold in denominations of $1000 all the way up to 5 million dollars.

In contrast with other U.S. Treasury Notes and Bonds, Common T Bill maturities are 4, 8, 13, 26, and 52 weeks.

The longer the maturity date, the higher return the investment will have.

Importance of Treasury Bills

For the government, they are a means to meet short-term financing needs without resorting to printing more currency, which can lead to inflation. For investors, they offer a safe and secure investment option.

T-Bills also play a significant role in the financial markets, providing a benchmark for interest rates and helping the central bank manage the money supply.

Characteristics of Treasury Bills

Short-Term Maturity

One of the defining characteristics of T-Bills is their short-term maturity. Typically, these instruments mature in one year or less, making them suitable for investors looking for short-term investment opportunities.

Issued at a Discount

Instead of receiving periodic interest payments, investors receive the face value at maturity, and the difference between the purchase price and the face value serves as the return on investment.

Fixed Interest Rate

The return on a T-Bill is determined by the difference between the purchase price and the face value, effectively acting as a fixed interest rate.

Despite not offering periodic interest payments, the gain realized at maturity is equivalent to having earned interest.

Low Risk

T-Bills are generally considered low-risk investments because they are backed by the full faith and credit of the government.

This assurance makes them appealing to risk-averse investors seeking to preserve their capital while earning a modest return.

Characteristics of Treasury Bills

Issuance of Treasury Bills

Role of the Government

The government plays a crucial role in the issuance of T-Bills. Specifically, the Treasury Department or the central bank is responsible for issuing these instruments to help finance the government's short-term funding needs.

Auction Process

T-Bills are typically issued through an auction process. Investors submit bids for the amount they're willing to buy and the price they're willing to pay. The bills are then allocated starting with the highest bids until all the bills are sold.

Primary Dealers

Primary dealers, which are large financial institutions, play a key role in the auction process.

They are required to participate in each auction and make competitive bids, ensuring the successful sale of each issuance.

Issuance of Treasury Bills

Uses of Treasury Bills

Source of Short-Term Financing

One of the primary uses of T-Bills is to provide short-term financing for the government. The proceeds from the sale of T-Bills can be used to fund government operations or pay down existing debt.

Investment Tool

T-Bills also serve as an investment tool for both individuals and institutions. Because of their low risk profile and guaranteed return, they are a popular choice for investors looking to preserve capital and earn a modest return.

Liquidity Management

Banks often use T-Bills for liquidity management. By holding T-Bills, banks can quickly and easily convert these assets into cash, helping them meet their short-term liquidity needs.

Uses of Treasury Bills

Advantages of Investment in Treasury Bills

Low Risk

The primary advantage of investing in T-Bills is their low risk. Because they are backed by the full faith and credit of the government, the risk of default is virtually non-existent.

Guaranteed Return on Investment

T-Bills offer a guaranteed return on investment. While the return may be modest compared to riskier assets, it is certain – the investor will receive the face value of the T-Bill at maturity.

High Liquidity

T-Bills are highly liquid. They can easily be sold in the secondary market, providing investors with quick access to cash if needed.

The widespread acceptance and recognition of T-Bills as a secure and reliable investment instrument contribute to their high liquidity

Risks Associated With Treasury Bills

Interest Rate Risk

Despite their low-risk nature, T-Bills are not entirely without risk. One such risk is interest rate risk. If interest rates rise, the value of a T-Bill can fall, as investors can get a higher return from newly issued T-Bills.

Inflation Risk

Inflation risk is another potential downside of investing in T-Bills. If inflation rises, the purchasing power of the return from a T-Bill can be eroded. This can particularly impact long-term investors.

Reinvestment Risk

Reinvestment risk is the risk that when a T-Bill matures, the proceeds may have to be reinvested in a less favorable investment environment. For instance, interest rates may have fallen, providing a lower return on the reinvested funds.

Advantages and Risks Associated with Treasury Bills

Treasury Bills (T-Bill) Rates

Because Treasury Bills are backed by the full faith and credit of the US government, T-Bills are considered to be one of the safest investment vehicles available.

Because of the guarantee of profit, T Bills usually offer lower yields than equivalently priced investments, such as traditional bonds.


Treasury Bills (T-Bills) are short-term debt instruments issued by the US government with a maturity date of one year or less. They are sold at a discount from their face value and provide a fixed interest rate.

T-Bills are characterized by their low risk, making them a safe investment option for risk-averse individuals and institutions. They serve as a source of short-term financing for the government and offer liquidity management for banks.

The advantages of investing in T-Bills include their low risk, guaranteed return on investment, and high liquidity. However, T-Bills are not without risks, including interest rate risk, inflation risk, and reinvestment risk.

Despite lower yields compared to other investments, T-Bills are highly regarded due to their backing by the US government, ensuring their safety and reliability.

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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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