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Debentures, secured and unsecured notes

High risk, fixed interest investments

Page reading time: 3 minutes

Companies use debentures, secured and unsecured notes to raise money from investors. They offer fixed interest payments but returns often depend on risky investments. You could lose all your money if the company or investment fails.

How debentures, secured and unsecured notes work

Companies set the interest rate on the debentures, secured and unsecured notes in advance. In return, the company promises to:

Companies use debentures because they are a cheap way for them to borrow money. They have lower interest rates and longer repayment dates compared to other types of loans.

What companies do with your money

The company might use your money to finance a range of investment activities. Or it may on-lend your money to another business.

The security offered by the company determines the name of the investment.

The risks of debentures, secured and unsecured notes

Debentures, secured and unsecured notes offer higher interest rates than bank deposits. They also carry higher risks.

No guaranteed returns

There's no guarantee the company will pay you interest. Or return your capital. You could lose all the money you've invested if the company or project fails.

Money locked away

Debentures and notes have set investment periods, for example 1, 3, 6 or 12 months. Some have a set period of 5 years. You cannot ask for your money back before the set period expires, unless they are 'at call'. Some companies may repay your money early on hardship or compassionate grounds. There is usually a penalty for getting your money early.

Unlisted investments can be hard to sell

Debentures, secured and unsecured notes are 'unlisted' investments. This means you can't buy and sell them on a market like the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Instead, you deal directly with the company issuing the debentures and notes.

Because the debentures are unlisted:

What to check before buying debentures and notes

There are a few things you can do to understand the investment and the risks.

Read the prospectus

The prospectus tells you how the company will use your money. For example, will they use it to finance their own investments? Or will they on-lend your money to another business?

The prospectus will also tell you the return being offered to investors. Will it compensate for the risks?

Get financial advice if you need help understanding the prospectus.

Understand the business model

How does the company make its money? What are they going to do with your money? If you can't explain these things to a friend, stick to a safer investment where the risks are clearer.


Before the end of the set period, the company will contact you about extending your investment. If you do nothing, the company will 'rollover' the debenture for the same period as the original investment. You will not be able to access your money until the end of the new period.

The company's business or financial position may have changed since you lasted invested. Check their financial report for the year to assess the value of your investment. See keep track of your investments for tips on checking how your investment is performing.

Check the benchmarks

There are eight benchmarks that apply to debentures and unsecured notes. These help you assess the company's business model and identify risks.

What to do if things go wrong

If something goes wrong with your investment you may be able to recover some of your money.

Contact the company with a formal complaint. See how to complain.

Woman looking up from newspaper.

Mary loses her money in a secured note

Mary was reading the newspaper when she came across an ad for a new secured note. The company in question was offering an interest rate of 8.5% p.a. on a minimum investment of $5,000 for a term of 5 years. The interest rate seemed too good to pass up. Mary decided to invest $50,000 of her retirement savings.

The company planned to use investors' money to on-lend to property developers. Six months after Mary invested, the finance company went bust. The company directors had overestimated the company's assets. There was no return to investors. Mary lost a big chunk of her hard earned retirement savings.