Ever since the Government launched Singapore Savings Bonds in 2015, it has gone from being a super-conservative investment with low returns, to an actually decent investment vehicle with surprisingly good returns given its virtual lack of risk.
So Singaporeans who previously turned up their noses at Singapore Savings Bonds are now starting to take notice.
In fact, it was oversubscribed in early 2018. To try to meet that demand, MAS has recently decided to increase the monthly Singapore Savings Bond “supply” from $150 million to $200 million.
Let’s backtrack a little. What are Singapore Savings Bonds?
Obviously, Singapore Savings Bonds are a type of “bond”. When you buy a bond, you’re really lending money to whoever issued it. The issuer can be a private company, but in the case of SSB, it’s the Singapore government.
(In other words, if you buy a SSB, you revoke your right to complain about the greedy Gahmen always taking Singaporeans’ hard-earned cash.)
So, why is everyone clamoring to lend the government money?
Because Singapore Savings Bonds gives you good returns with virtually zero risk. SSBs are arguably safer than putting your money in a savings account, because banks can close down, but the sun never sets on the Lee empire.
In return for your generosity in loaning them your hard-earned money, the Government will pay you interest every 6 months, like clockwork.
Finally, SSBs also let you choose how long you want to invest, without any lock-in period. The longer you keep the money in the bond (up to a maximum of 10 years) the higher your returns, but if you choose to liquidate it early there’s no penalty at all.
Singapore Savings Bond interest rates in 2019
Let’s cut to the chase – you probably want to know what sort of returns you’re looking at if you buy an SSB. This is easy to get hold of. Just check the official website for published SSB interest rates.
Note that there are two sets of numbers – interest rate and average return per year. This is because the interest rate steps up every year. You get 1.68% in Year 1, 2.14% in Year 2, and so on. If you withdraw after Year 2, your actual returns from the entire investment averages out to (1.68% + 2.14%, divided by 2) 1.91% per year.
We’ll look at the latter as that’s the one that actually matters in the grand scheme of things. Here are the interest rates for the January 2019 bond, and an illustration of the amount of interest you can get on a $10,000 investment:
|Tenure||Average interest per year||Total interest on $10,000 principal|
The exact numbers change monthly (because new bonds are issued every month). However, the rates have been pretty good in recent times, particularly for short tenures.
Here’s an illustration. In October 2015, the average interest for 1 year was only 0.96% (compared to 2.01% now). For 2 years, you’d only get 1.02% per year (vs 2.07% now). For 3 years, you’d get 1.32% per year (vs 2.13% now). See what I mean?
Back then, you had to commit to a long-term relationship with SSB, because the short-term interest rates just weren’t good enough to beat similar products like fixed deposits.
But today, the revised interest rates schedule means substantial short-term yields. It’s pretty damn tough to find any other zero-risk savings or investment product that can match that of Singapore Savings Bonds.
Are Singapore Savings Bonds worth buying?
The thing is, Singapore Savings Bonds are a lot more like fixed deposits or savings accounts than a “real” investment vehicle like property or cryptocurrency speculation. You’re hardly going to become an overnight millionaire from SSBs.
That said, it’s definitely an option to consider if you want a low-risk investment. Whether you’re looking to balance out your portfolio of higher-risk investments, or just want to stash your money somewhere safe for a few years, SSBs are a viable option for you.
Picture this: You’ve saved up $20,000 and you’re looking for somewhere to park it for a couple of years. It’s part of your wedding/moving house/new car fund, so you definitely don’t want that cash anywhere volatile.
Apart from a Singapore Savings Bond, you can also place it in a fixed deposit account and get a promotional rate like 1.9% p.a. for a 12 month tenure. Or you can dump it in a high interest savings account like the Citibank MaxiGain which offers “step-up” interest rates up to 2% p.a.
Here’s what your returns will look like after a year:
|Type of investment||Interest rate per year||Total interest|
|Singapore Savings Bond||2.01%||$201|
|High interest savings account||2%||$200|
|Fixed deposit account||1.9%||$190|
Singapore Savings Bonds also make sense if you have less than $10,000 in your fund, which puts you out of the running for most of these higher-interest accounts. In fact, you can buy SSB with as little as $500, making it a nice baby step into the world of investing.
Of course, there are also limitations to SSBs. No one’s saying you should dump your lifelong savings in there. SSB returns are considered low, compared to investments like REITs and ETFs – even compared to CPF interest rates (4% on your Special Account!).
And each person can only put a maximum of $100,000 (from Feb 2019, this cap is revised to $200,000) in SSBs, so after that ceiling you have to find some other vehicle for your money.
How to buy Singapore Savings Bonds
Before you buy, there are a few important things you need to know about Singapore Savings Bonds…
|Factor||What you need to know|
|Eligibility||Anyone aged 18 and above can buy SSBs|
|Minimum amount||$500. SSBs are sold in multiples of $500|
|Maximum amount||$100,000 per individual, can be across multiple SSBs. Cap increased to $200,000 from Feb 2019.|
|Transaction fee||$2 per transaction, each time you buy or sell a bond|
|Interest payments||Every 6 months. Note that you won’t earn interest on your interest (no compound interest), because interest is paid out.|
|Risk factor||As low as it gets – the government has an “AAA” credit rating. Principal is guaranteed.|
|Ownership||SSBs cannot be bought or sold like shares. You cannot transfer ownership of SSBs to another person.|
|Taxation||SSBs are exempt from tax|
Now that’s out of the way, here’s a simple 3-step guide to buying your first Singapore Savings Bond.
Step 1: Get a DBS/OCBC/UOB bank account + CDP Securities account
Most Singaporeans already have a bank account with one of these 3 local banks. If you do, go ahead and open an individual CDP account by following the steps on the website. You’ll have to print out an application form and mail it with supporting documents.
Step 2: Apply for Singapore Savings Bond
A new bond is released at the start of every month; see here for this month’s Singapore Savings Bond. There’s usually an application period of about 3 weeks.
You can apply for your SSB through iBanking or ATMs during the period. Have your CDP account number handy for that. You’ll need to specify the amount you want to invest, but no need to commit to a tenure.
The amount you want to invest + $2 processing fee will be deducted from your bank account when you apply.
Step 3: Secure your Singapore Savings Bond
After the application period closes, you have to wait till the end of the month to find out if you have secured the bond. If that month is oversubscribed and you can’t get the amount you want, the excess will be refunded within the next day.
Bonds are officially issued by the 1st business day of the following month. You’ll be officially notified by CDP by post. After which, you can start receiving interest payments every 6 months.
How to sell (redeem) Singapore Savings Bonds
You can sell (technically, “redeem”) your SSB any month before your full 10 years are up, with no penalty. Here’s what happens at each stage:
|When you redeem||What to do||What you’ll receive|
|Early redemption (when there’s a scheduled interest payment)||Submit redemption request + pay $2 transaction fee||Principal amount + full interest|
|Early redemption (in between scheduled interest payments)||Submit redemption request + pay $2 transaction fee||Principal amount + pro-rated interest|
|Full term (after 10 years)||Nothing. No need to pay $2 transaction fee||Principal amount + final interest payment|
For early redemptions, submit your request through DBS, OCBC or UOB ATMs or iBanking. You can redeem the bond partially, in multiples of $500, and you can redeem more than one bond each time. Note that there is a $2 transaction fee for every redemption request.
There’s a “one month notice” when you redeem your SSB. The amount you’re owed will be auto-credited into your bank account only the next month, so don’t wait till the very last minute to redeem your SSB!
A final note on Singapore government bonds (or SGS bonds)
In case you were wondering what you can do after you hit the cap on Singapore Savings Bonds, there are actually a few other types of Government-related investment vehicles that offer that same “AAA” credit rating. Like SSBs, the concept is that you lend money to the Government.
However, the technicalities are more complex than SSB and thus they require more investing knowledge – the MoneySense page on SGS is a good place to start. They also have higher barriers to entry as the minimum investment is $1,000.
Singapore Government Securities (SGS) Bonds are bonds with scheduled (every 6 months) interest payouts. If you think that sounds like Singapore Savings Bonds, you’d be right, because SSBs are a type of SGS bonds. The tenure can be as high as 30 years. During this period, the price of the bond fluctuates, so you can choose to sell it to make a capital gain (on top of your regular scheduled interest payouts).
Treasury Bills (T-Bills) work differently from bonds. For one thing, they’re much shorter-term and last less than a year. There are no interest payouts either. Instead, it’s kind of like your typical “buy low, sell high” situation. You buy a T-Bill at a discount, and then sell it off at full price when it matures. The return on your investment is the price difference between the two.
Have you ever invested in Singapore Savings Bonds? Share your tips and experiences in the comments!
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