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Allocating investments between stocks vs. bonds is one of the most important asset allocation decisions you'll ever make. Here's what you need to know.

Understanding the differences between stocks vs bonds is critical to asset allocation. The allocation between stocks and bonds is one of the most significant indicators of the risks and rewards of an investment portfolio. A stock fund buys shares of publicly traded companies, each share representing a small, fractional ownership interest in the company that issued the shares. A bond fund buys bonds issued by the federal government, state and local governments, corporations and other entities. For a stock fund, think of owning part of a public company. For bond funds, think of lending money in exchange for a predetermined interest rate.

Related: Best Fractional Share Investing Brokerages

Stocks vs. Bonds – The Risk Factor

History tells us two things about stocks vs bonds: (1) Stocks are riskier than bonds, and (2) financial returns of stocks are higher than the returns on bonds. To better understand the risks and rewards of stocks and bonds, think of owning a home. The homeowner owns the equity (stock) in the house, and the bank owns the note (bond) from the money it loaned the homeowner to buy the house. Let’s look at the differences between the homeowner and the bank:


Homeowner (stock)
Bank (Bond)
Gets (or loses) any change in value of home Gets interest payments only
Assumes risk the house will go down in value Interest payments not affected by value of house
Assumes risk the house will be damaged Interest payments not affect by damage or even destruction of home
If home is sold, must pay the bank first If home is sold, gets paid first

The last point is important, and is one reason why stocks are riskier than bonds. The bondholders always get paid first, and the stockholders get whatever is left. Now let’s look at some numbers. Here are the annualized returns of U.S. stocks and government bonds during the 20th century as reported in William Bernstein’s, The Four Pillars of Investing:

Stocks vs. Bonds – The Returns

stocks vs bondsNow, one could see this chart and decide never to buy a bond fund. After all, why invest in something that returns less than stocks? We examine this question in more detail in the article on allocating assets between stock and bonds, but let me leave you with a chart taken from The Boglehead’s Guide to Investing, which shows various returns from the recent period 2000-2002:


Total Gain or Loss
Ending Value of $1,000
100% Total Stock Mkt.
80% stocks/20% bonds
60% stocks/40% bonds
40% stocks/60% bonds
20% stocks/80% bonds
100% Total Bond Mkt.

Stocks and Bonds – Where To Buy Them

Purchasing stocks can be done easily through either a broker or a robo advisor. For brokers we’re currently recommending TD Ameritrade – which offers both services, and an easy way of switching back and forth between the self-directed and managed options. To read our full review of TD Ameritrade, click here – or visit their website directly.

If you’re sure you want to go with a robo advisor, M1 Finance is offering a great package. No management fees, a low minimum starting balance, and the ability to pick individual stocks or ETFs. To read our full review of M1 Finance, click here – or visit their website directly.

To buy bonds, visit TreasuryDirect. This government website is kind of ugly but it’s the simplest way of buying government bonds directly from the issuer, Uncle Sam.

Tomorrow–Day 2: Large Cap v. Mid Cap v. Small Cap Funds

So as you build your own asset allocation plan, remember that how much you invest in stocks vs bonds is one of the most important investing decisions you will make.

Related: How to Invest in Bonds

Author Bio

Total Articles: 1080
Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Article comments

moses says:

hello im moses by name im here to know the differences and similarities between stock exchange market and local market i would be glad if i got the correct answer

moses says:

im moses by name and iwould like to know the differences and similarities between stock exchange market and local market.

DR says:

Moses, if I understand your question correctly, there are significant differences between stocks traded on the exchanges/NASDAQ versus Over-the-counter (OTC) stocks. OTC can refer to shares listed on what are called the Pink Sheets, the OTC Bulletin Board, or the gray market.

Good luck, DR

deji says:

pls what is the different between stock exchange and a market[i.e a market for selling consumable goods

Cliff says:

I would like to see you post something on the UTMA for a child. I have 2 for my children now adults. Need more information on transferring the UTMA money into a Roth IRA when the child/adult starts working but still in low tax bracket.

casey says:

In the podcast, you talked about the many different kinds of bonds, from basic treasuries to TIPS to corporate investment grade to high-yield junk… and that they are very different animals and it matters which you choose. I never see any good recommendations for what mix of those kinds of bonds are recommended for an 80/20 or 90/10 long-term growth portfolio, rebalancing a few times a year. I’d love to see risk and return for those two portfolios given different compositions of the bond portion.