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Short-Term Investments: Definition, Types, Risks

Short-Term Investments: Definition, Types, Risks

Short-term investments are financial tools designed to generate returns over a relatively short period that can range from a day to a maximum of 5 years. These instruments are valued for their liquidity, diversification, and capacity to yield moderate profits while assuming low levels of risk, which appeals to cautious investors.

In this guide, we will explain what short-term investments entail, look at the goals they pursue, and what they look like in operation, as well as consider their advantages, disadvantages, and provide some examples of these widely used investment vehicles.

Short-Term Investments Defined

Short-term investments are defined as financial assets that can easily be converted into cash within a period of 3 months to 1 year, as a rule. Some of these investments may even persist for up to 5 years and still be classified as short-term investments.

These investments are also known as negotiable securities or temporary investments. Common examples include certificates of deposit, Treasury bills, short-term bonds, and money market funds, among others.

Short-term investments play a significant role in modern finance for several reasons. They empower individual investors and corporations to generate returns from surplus funds prior to employing those funds for other purposes, thus maximizing capital profitability.

Similarly, they serve as a temporary repository of value that can be swiftly converted into cash for unforeseen liquidity needs. In other words, they serve as a readily accessible financial cushion with a low-risk tolerance, often presenting lesser risk compared to long-term investments.

Ultimately, we could assert that short-term investments are important because they help to complement a diversified investment portfolio while providing liquidity and stability when combined with riskier, long-term investments.

Short-Term Investments: Goals

The primary objectives compelling companies and investors to engage in short-term investments are as follows:

  • Obtaining funds for immediate requirements with flexibility is a common objective, particularly among individual investors. For instance, an individual might invest a portion of their savings in a 6-month certificate of deposit, subsequently utilizing those funds as a down payment for a car. Short-term investments facilitate extra returns while maintaining liquidity to promptly access capital in case of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Another objective is to bolster a company’s working capital before reinvesting in long-term assets. Companies often experience seasonal fluctuations in cash flows. By investing temporary surplus cash in instruments such as commercial paper or Treasury bonds, they can maximize capital returns that are not yet needed for expanding their operations.
  • There is also a pursuit of seizing temporary opportunities in financial markets, such as predictable fluctuations in interest rates or asset prices. For instance, during a transitory surge in corporate bond yields, an investor can purchase short-term bonds to capitalize on that brief situation.
  • Finally, investors with low-risk tolerance seek to attain moderate yet secure short-term returns. Instruments like certificates of deposit or Treasury bills offer predictable and stable returns, which are suitable for more conservative investors.

How Short-Term Investments Work

The investor selects instruments aligned with their investment objectives and risk tolerance. When the short-term investment matures, the investor recovers their initial capital plus the interest earned during that period. They can then choose to withdraw those funds or reinvest them in a new short-term instrument, allowing for the capitalization of earned gains.

Let’s have a deeper look at the examples of short-term investments mentioned above:

  • Certificates of Deposit (CDs). Time deposits are offered by banks, providing higher interest rates compared to savings accounts in exchange for locking in invested funds for a designated period, ranging from a few months to a maximum of 5 years. The appeal lies in FDIC insurance, thus carrying minimal risk.
  • Money Market Accounts. Similar to CDs, these are FDIC-insured and require a minimum investment. However, they offer higher returns than traditional savings accounts.
  • Treasury Securities. Bonds issued by the U.S. government, including bills, notes, floating rate notes, and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS). These investments mature between 91 days and 1 year and are regarded as risk-free.
  • Bond Funds. Mutual funds or ETFs provided by investment firms, directly invested in bonds. They can serve as suitable short-term investment options, although one must consider associated fees. Generally, they are suitable for investments spanning 1 to 3 years.
  • Municipal Bonds. Issued by local governments, these are often exempt from federal taxes in the U.S., enabling them to offer attractive interest rates for short-term investments.
  • Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Lending. Facilitates connections between investors and loan applicants through online platforms. This investment avenue allows for earning profits by lending capital for brief periods and can carry slightly higher risk due to platform volatility and limited regulation.
  • Roth Individual Retirement Account (Roth IRA). This retirement account option permits tax-free growth and investment flexibility, making it suitable for both short and long-term investments.

Short-Term Investments vs Long-Term Investments

The key difference between short-term investors and long-term investments is that former ones mature within a span of 1 day to 5 years. In contrast, long-term investments have maturities extending over several years, typically exceeding 5 years.

Regarding returns, short-term investments offer moderate yet more stable and predictable profits compared to long-term investments. While long-term investments offer higher gains, they come with heightened risks due to volatility.

Therefore, short-term investments prioritize capital safety and immediate liquidity, while long-term investments aim to maximize returns at the cost of assuming greater risk along with lower levels of liquidity.

Advantages and Risks and Short-Term Investments

Short-term investments possess a number of advantages. Firstly, their high liquidity facilitates the rapid conversion of investments into cash during unforeseen circumstances. Secondly, short-term investments pose low credit or default risk thanks to their high-quality credit instruments. Further, they guarantee predictable and stable returns with lower volatility than longer-term assets and enable capitalization of temporary investment opportunities. Finally, short-term investments have yielded superior returns compared to traditional savings accounts.

Meanwhile, the pros that come along with the benefits offered by short-term investments include limited returns in comparison to long-term investments. Further, they demand consistent analysis and periodic reinvestment of funds. Above all, fluctuations in the value of short-term investments directly impact a company’s financial outcomes.


Short-term investments can be an ideal fit for risk-averse investors or those requiring rapid liquidity. Furthermore, they offer moderate and steady returns with the flexibility to quickly convert to cash during unexpected events.

However, it’s crucial to understand both their advantages and disadvantages, undertaking a thorough analysis of each financial instrument before deciding if this type of investment aligns with the goal of maximizing capital within a stipulated timeframe.

Short-Term Investments: Definition, Types, Risks

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