Tax-Exempt Securities: A Comprehensive Guide

Tax-Exempt Securities: A Comprehensive Guide

3 Min.

Tax-exempt securities, often in the form of municipal bonds, offer income that is free from federal, state, and local taxes. They are particularly beneficial for investors in higher tax brackets, as the tax-equivalent yield can be higher than the current yield. Learn how they work, the calculations involved, and the requirements for organizations to issue them.


A tax-exempt security is an investment vehicle that generates income exempt from federal, state, and local taxes. These securities are typically municipal bonds, representing the obligations of a state, territory, or municipality. In some cases, U.S. Savings Bond interest may also be exempt from federal income taxes.

How a Tax-Exempt Security Works

Income from tax-exempt securities, including dividends and interest, is not subject to federal taxation. Depending on the investor's location, these securities may be entirely tax-free. Residents of the issuing state often receive both state and federal tax exemptions for general obligation bonds. While municipal bonds are the most common form of tax-exempt securities, mutual funds investing in municipal bonds, U.S. Savings Bonds, or other tax-exempt securities can also enjoy tax-exempt status. It's essential to note that federal government bonds, such as U.S. Savings Bonds and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), are taxed at the federal level but are exempt from state and local taxes.


Imagine a local government issuing a municipal bond to fund a recreational park. An investor, John Smith, residing in the issuing state, purchases a $5,000 par value bond with a 2-year maturity and a 3% annual coupon rate. Over two years, John receives $150 in interest income each year. This income remains untaxed by both federal and state governments. When the bond matures, John receives his original principal from the local government.

Tax-exempt bonds, with their low-interest rates, encourage state and local governments and non-profit organizations to embark on new projects. These bonds offer a cost-effective means of financing. However, investors should weigh the lower yields against the tax savings.

Calculating the Tax-Equivalent Yield

The tax-equivalent yield is a crucial concept when considering tax-exempt securities. It represents the taxable interest rate required to match the after-tax interest rate. This yield depends on the investor's marginal tax rate and can be calculated using the formula:

Tax-equivalent yield = Tax-exempt yield / (1 – Marginal tax rate)

For example, let's say John Smith falls into the 35% tax bracket, and his municipal bond has a 3% yield. To find the tax-equivalent yield:

= 0.03 / (1 – 0.35)

= 0.03 / 0.65

= 0.046, or 4.6%

If John Smith's tax bracket is 22%, the tax-equivalent yield would be:

= 0.03 / 0.78

= 0.038, or 3.8%

As seen in these examples, the higher the tax rate, the higher the tax-equivalent yield, making tax-exempt securities particularly advantageous for those in higher tax brackets.

Organizations and Tax-Exempt Securities

In most cases, organizations must be registered under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) before they can issue tax-exempt securities.


Tax-exempt securities, primarily municipal bonds, provide a tax-efficient investment option for individuals seeking to reduce their tax liability. Understanding the tax-equivalent yield is crucial for investors to assess the true benefit of these securities, especially to their tax bracket. Tax-exempt securities play a vital role in enabling state and local governments, as well as non-profit organizations, to fund various projects while keeping borrowing costs low. To issue tax-exempt securities, organizations must typically meet the requirements outlined in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Internal Revenue Code (IRC)
Tax-Exempt Securities
Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)