What Is a Zero-Coupon Swap?

What Is a Zero-Coupon Swap?

By Charles Joseph | Editor, Financial Affairs
Reviewed by Corey Michael | Senior Financial Analyst

Have you ever thought about making a trade where you give something now and get more back later? That’s the basic idea behind a zero-coupon swap.

It’s a type of financial agreement used to manage risk or earn a return, in which one party provides an upfront payment or asset, and the other promises to return a larger amount in the future.

Let’s Start with the Basics

First, it helps to know some basic things about finance. There’s a kind of investment called a bond, which is like a loan. When you buy a bond, you’re lending money to the issuer (which can be a company or a government), and in return, you’ll receive regular interest payments and eventually get your initial investment back.

First, we’ll discuss zero-coupon bonds, then we’ll discuss zero-coupon swaps.

A zero-coupon bond, however, is a little different. When you buy a zero-coupon bond, you don’t receive any interest payments. Instead, you buy it for less than its face value (say, you buy it for $800 when it’s actually worth $1000), and when the bond matures, you get the full face value back. The profit you make is the difference between what you paid for the bond and its face value.

Now let’s move on to the concept of a swap.

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A swap in finance is an agreement between two parties to exchange (or ‘swap’) financial instruments or cash flows over a certain period. These swaps can involve different types of assets or cash flows. For instance, a commonly known type is an interest rate swap, where two parties agree to exchange one stream of interest payments for another.

A zero-coupon swap is a type of swap and it’s a bit like a zero-coupon bond but in the form of a swap agreement. In a zero-coupon swap, one party agrees to pay the other party a certain amount of money at a future date, just like a zero-coupon bond. But unlike a bond, which is an investment you make by yourself, a zero-coupon swap involves an agreement with another party.

However, in return for agreeing to make this future payment, the party that will make the payment receives something from the other party at the start of the swap. This could be a different financial asset, or it could be an upfront payment of cash. The payment at the end of the swap is usually larger than the value of what was received at the start, just like how a zero-coupon bond is bought for less than its face value.


A zero-coupon swap is a deal between two parties where one party agrees to pay the other a certain amount of money in the future (like a zero-coupon bond) and, in return, receives something of value at the start of the swap.

These swaps are part of the complex world of financial derivatives, and they are used by companies and investors to manage risk and potentially earn a return on their investment.

Key Takeaways

  • Zero-coupon swaps are a type of financial derivative, which means they derive their value from an underlying asset or financial arrangement.
  • In a zero-coupon swap, one party promises to make a future payment. This is similar to a zero-coupon bond, where the holder gets a return only upon maturity. The other party involved in the swap provides an upfront benefit, which could be a cash payment or another financial asset.
  • These swaps are typically used in strategic risk management, allowing parties to mitigate potential future financial risks.
  • Zero-coupon swaps are also employed as an investment planning tool, giving parties the potential to earn a return on their initial upfront benefit.
  • The value exchanged in the swap is not equal, as the future payment is typically larger than the upfront benefit received. This difference in value is where the potential return or risk mitigation comes from.

Related Questions

1. Who uses Zero-Coupon Swaps?

Financial institutions, corporations, and investment firms often use Zero-Coupon Swaps as a risk management tool and to cater to unique financing needs.

2. How do Zero-Coupon Swaps differ from regular Fixed-for-Floating Swaps?

In Zero-Coupon Swaps, cash settlements are deferred, often translated into a single payout at maturity, whereas regular Fixed-for-Floating Swaps involve more frequent cash exchanges during the life of the swap.

3. Are Zero-Coupon Swaps always focused on interest rates?

Despite their common association with interest rates, Zero-Coupon Swaps can refer to other underlying assets like currencies or commodities. Interest rate-centric swaps, however, tend to be the most widely employed in this category.

4. How is the fixed rate in Zero-Coupon Swaps determined?

The fixed rate in a Zero-Coupon Swap is typically determined through a fixed-rate schedule or by reference to a widely recognized benchmark, like the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR).

5. What is the main risk associated with Zero-Coupon Swaps?

Counterparty risk (i.e., the default risk of either party) is the primary risk associated with Zero-Coupon Swaps. Parties can mitigate this by securing swap transactions through collateral or credit support agreements.