Treasury Notes

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on August 09, 2023

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What Are Treasury Notes?

Treasury notes, or T-notes, are an integral part of the United States financial system. They are government securities with fixed interest rates and maturities that range from two to ten years.

The principal amount or face value of these securities is paid upon maturity, while the interest is paid semi-annually. Treasury notes serve multiple purposes in the economy.

They're a means by which the government funds its operations, such as defense spending, social programs, and public infrastructure projects. On the investor side, they offer a low-risk investment vehicle and a source of steady income.

The issuance of Treasury notes can be traced back to the Revolutionary War when the government needed to raise funds.

Since then, Treasury notes have become one of the government's primary means of financing its operations, especially during times of war and economic distress.

Key Features of Treasury Notes

Maturity Period

T-notes have varying maturity periods that typically span two, three, five, seven, or ten years. The choice of maturity period will depend on the investor's financial goals and risk tolerance.

Coupon Payment

The coupon payment, or interest, on T-notes is paid semi-annually. The rate is determined at the auction where the T-notes are initially sold. The payment received by the investor is a percentage of the face value of the T-note.

Par Value

The par value of a T-note, also known as the face value or principal, is the amount the government agrees to repay the holder when the note reaches maturity. Most T-notes are issued with a par value of $1,000.

Key Features of Treasury Notes

Where to Buy Treasury Notes

Direct Purchase

Investors can buy T-notes directly from the U.S. Department of the Treasury through TreasuryDirect, an online platform that allows individuals to buy and manage their treasury securities.

Secondary Market

T-notes can also be bought on the secondary market, where previously issued securities are bought and sold. Financial institutions, such as banks and brokerages, typically operate in this market.


Brokerage firms also provide avenues for buying T-notes. They can provide advice on which maturity term would be best for your specific investment goals.

Treasury Notes and Interest Rates

Relationship Explanation

The fundamental principle is that bond prices and interest rates move in opposite directions.

This inverse relationship exists because as interest rates rise, newly issued bonds come to market with higher yields, making existing bonds with lower yields less attractive.

Specifically, for T-notes, when interest rates increase, the price of existing T-notes on the secondary market decreases.

This decrease in price increases the yield for new investors who purchase these notes at a lower price, aligning it closer to the new, higher interest rates.

Effect of Changing Interest Rates

Changing interest rates can significantly affect the value and return of T-notes. As previously discussed, when interest rates rise, the prices of existing T-notes fall. Conversely, if interest rates fall, the prices of existing T-notes rise.

This is because existing T-notes, with their higher fixed interest rates, become more attractive relative to new T-notes issued with lower interest rates.

Investors who plan to hold their T-notes until maturity won't be affected by these price fluctuations, as they will receive the full face value of their notes at maturity.

However, those who need to sell their T-notes before maturity could face a loss if interest rates have risen since they bought the notes.

Yield to Maturity

Yield to Maturity (YTM) is a key concept related to interest rates in the context of T-notes. YTM is the total return an investor will receive if they hold a T-note until it matures.

It considers both the interest payments received semi-annually and any capital gain or loss if the T-note was purchased for a price different from its face value.

For instance, if an investor purchases a T-note at a discount (a price lower than its face value), their YTM will be higher than the T-note's coupon rate because they will receive the full face value at maturity.

If a T-note is purchased at a premium (a price higher than face value), the YTM will be lower than the coupon rate because the investor will receive less at maturity than they initially paid for the note.

Benefits of Treasury Notes

Low Risk

Treasury notes are issued by the U.S. government, which is regarded as a highly reliable debtor. Hence, T-notes are considered one of the safest investments in the world.

The risk of default on the payment of principal or interest is virtually nonexistent, which makes T-notes an ideal option for risk-averse investors or those seeking to balance higher-risk components in their portfolio.

Regular Income Stream

T-notes pay interest to the bondholder every six months until maturity, generating a steady and predictable income stream. This feature is particularly beneficial for those investors who require regular income, such as retirees.

High Liquidity

Treasury notes are highly liquid assets. This means they can be readily bought or sold in the secondary market without causing significant price changes.

This level of liquidity ensures that if an investor needs to convert their T-notes into cash quickly, they can do so without a significant loss.


Because T-notes have a low correlation with equities and other volatile assets, they can help to balance risk and reduce the overall volatility of a portfolio.

When the equity market is in a downturn, the T-notes in the portfolio may hold their value or even appreciate, offsetting losses in the stock component of the portfolio.

Inflation Protection

Longer-term T-notes can serve as a hedge against inflation. The reason is that they tend to offer higher fixed interest rates compared to short-term Treasury securities.

As a result, if inflation rises, the returns from long-term T-notes could potentially offset the decreased purchasing power that inflation often brings.

Drawbacks of Treasury Notes

Lower Yield

Given the low-risk nature of T-notes, they generally offer lower yields compared to riskier investments such as corporate bonds or equities.

This means that while your investment in T-notes is safe, it might not grow as substantially as it could with other types of investments.

For investors who are willing to take on more risk for the potential of higher returns, T-notes might not be the most appealing option.

Interest Rate Risk

When interest rates in the economy rise, the prices of existing T-notes fall. This is because new T-notes would be issued at this higher interest rate, making existing notes with lower rates less attractive.

So, if you have to sell your T-note before maturity during a period of rising interest rates, you could potentially suffer a loss.

Opportunity Cost

While your money is tied up in this relatively low-yield investment, you could potentially miss out on other investment opportunities that offer higher returns. This is especially true in a bull market where equity investments may see significant growth.

Inflation Risk

Although long-term T-notes can serve as a hedge against inflation, short-term T-notes are susceptible to inflation risk. If inflation outpaces the return on the T-notes, it could erode the purchasing power of the returns, leading to a decrease in real wealth.

Tax Liability

The interest income from T-notes is subject to federal income tax, which could lower the net return for the investor. Although they are exempt from state and local taxes, the federal tax obligation is something investors should consider.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Treasury Notes

Tax Considerations for Treasury Notes

Federal Income Tax

One important consideration for investors in T-notes is the impact of federal income tax. The interest earned on T-notes is subject to federal income tax in the year it is received.

Thus, the after-tax return on these investments could be lower, depending on the investor's federal tax bracket.

State and Local Taxes

However, the interest income earned on T-notes is exempt from state and local income taxes. This feature can make T-notes particularly attractive to investors who reside in states with high income tax rates, as it can significantly boost their after-tax returns.

Capital Gains Tax

Capital gains tax is another tax consideration for T-note investors. If an investor sells a T-note before its maturity at a price higher than its purchase price, the profit realized is considered a capital gain and is subject to capital gains tax.

The rate of this tax depends on the investor's income and how long they held the T-note.

Impact of Economic Factors on Treasury Notes

Monetary Policy

Monetary policy, which involves the management of interest rates and money supply by a country's central bank, can greatly impact T-notes.

The Federal Reserve, for instance, uses various tools to influence interest rates, thereby indirectly affecting the yield on newly issued T-notes.

Economic Indicators

Various economic indicators can influence investor demand for T-notes, thereby affecting their prices and yields.

For example, strong GDP growth might make riskier assets more appealing, reducing demand for safe assets like T-notes and leading to lower prices and higher yields.

Conversely, weak GDP growth or a recession might lead to higher demand for T-notes, increasing their prices and reducing their yields.

Financial Crises

During periods of financial crises or market instability, investors tend to shift their assets towards safer investments - a phenomenon often referred to as a "flight to quality." As T-notes are considered one of the safest investments available, they often see increased demand during these periods.

This heightened demand typically leads to higher T-note prices and lower yields. However, once the crisis subsides and investor confidence returns, demand for T-notes may decrease, leading to lower prices and higher yields.

Treasury Notes vs Other Government Securities

Treasury Bills

Treasury bills, or T-bills, are another form of government security. Unlike T-notes, T-bills do not make regular interest payments. Instead, they are sold at a discount to their face value and mature at this face value.

This means that the yield for the investor is the difference between the purchase price and the face value. T-bills have shorter maturities than T-notes, generally less than a year.

Treasury Bonds

Treasury bonds are long-term government securities with maturities ranging from 20 to 30 years. Like T-notes, they pay interest semi-annually.

However, due to their longer maturity period, they are more sensitive to interest rate changes than T-notes. This could result in larger price fluctuations in the secondary market.

Savings Bonds

Savings bonds are government securities that are designed for individual investors. Unlike T-notes, T-bills, and Treasury bonds, they are non-marketable, which means they cannot be sold on the secondary market.

Instead, they are sold directly to investors and must be held for at least one year. Savings bonds accrue interest for up to 30 years and are often used as a long-term savings vehicle.

Final Thoughts

Treasury notes play a crucial role in the United States financial system, serving as a means for the government to fund its operations and providing investors with a low-risk investment option and steady income.

With varying maturity periods and semi-annual coupon payments, T-notes offer flexibility to investors based on their financial goals and risk tolerance.

While T-notes provide numerous benefits, such as low risk, regular income, high liquidity, diversification, and inflation protection, they also come with certain drawbacks, including lower yields, interest rate risk, opportunity cost, inflation risk, and tax liabilities.

Additionally, economic factors, such as monetary policy, economic indicators, and financial crises, can influence the demand, prices, and yields of T-notes.

Comparatively, T-notes differ from other government securities, such as Treasury bills, Treasury bonds, and savings bonds, in terms of maturity, interest payment structure, marketability, and suitability for individual investors.

It is advisable to consult with a financial advisor before investing in Treasury notes. These experts can provide personalized guidance based on your financial situation, goals, and risk tolerance, helping you determine if T-notes align with your investment objectives.

They can also provide insights on market conditions, interest rate trends, and potential strategies to mitigate interest rate risk or optimize your portfolio's risk-return profile.

Treasury Notes 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, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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