What Is the Term Principal in Finance?

Principal typically refers to the initial sum of money borrowed in a loan or invested in an asset. It can also refer to the face value of a bond, the principal participant in a transaction, or the owner of a private company.

• The term "principal" has multiple financial and business-related meanings.

• Principal, in the context of borrowing, is the initial amount of a loan or bond (the amount that must be repay).

• In the context of investing, principal refers to the initial amount committed to the acquisition of assets (independent of any earnings or interest)

• In business, principals are those who have a majority stake in a company and/or play has a very significant role in its management.

• In contracts and contractual ventures, principals are the parties with the most rights, responsibilities, and obligations regarding the transaction.


Principal Loan

Understanding Principal

In the context of borrowing, principal refers to both the initial loan amount and the amount still owed on a loan. The principal amount of a $60,000 mortgage, for example, is $60,000. If you pay off $45,000, the outstanding principal balance is now $15,000.

Principal determines the amount of interest charged on a loan. When you make monthly payments on a loan, the majority of your payment is applied to interest charges before the remainder is applied to the loan's principal. The only way to reduce the amount of interest accruing each month on a loan is to reduce the principal balance.

A zero-coupon mortgage is a type of loan in which the borrower's regular payments cover only the loan's interest, as opposed to both interest and principal. As a result, the borrower makes no progress toward reducing the principal balance of the loan or building equity in the mortgaged property.

Special Considerations

The nominal value of the principal of a loan, bond, or other financial instrument is unaffected by inflation. Inflation does, however, erode the real value of the principal.

Suppose that the United States government issues $10 million in 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds. The face value, or principal, of each Treasury is $10,000. If the average annual inflation rate over the next decade is 4%, then the real value of these bonds at maturity is only $6,755,641.69.

Yes, the principal balance remains $10,000, and bondholders receive that amount. However, the value of $10,000 (that is, what it can buy) has decreased to $6,755.64 in effect. In other words, only 67% of the original purchasing power of the principal remains.

Bondholders can still recover their initial investment if the value of the bond's interest income is greater than its lost principal value. They can monitor the return, or yield, they are receiving on a bond.

There is the nominal yield of the bond, which is the interest paid divided by the bond's principal, and the current yield, which is the annual interest generated by the bond divided by its current market price.

Types of Principal

In addition to loan principal, there are four other important types of principal.


Principal also refers to the initial investment amount made in an asset, distinct from any earnings or interest accrued. For example, suppose you deposit $6,000 in a savings account that pays interest. Your account balance will have grown to $7,800 after ten years. The initial deposit of $6,000 represents your principal, while the remaining $1,800 represents earnings.


In the context of debt instruments, principal is the amount of money borrowed by the issuer of a bond, which will be repaid in full to the bondholder at maturity. The principal amount of a bond is also known as its "par value" or "face value".

The principal of the bond does not include any coupons, recurring interest payments, or accrued interest. For instance, a 10-year bond may be issued with a face value of $10,000 and semiannual coupon payments of $50. The principal is $10,000, regardless of the coupon payments of $1,000 over the life of the bond.

Except when the bond is first issued, the principal of a bond is not always equal to its market price. Depending on the state of the bond market, it is possible to purchase a bond for more or less than its face value.

Private Companies

Principal refers to the owner of a private company, partnership, or other type of business. Not necessarily equivalent to a CEO. A principal may be an officer, a shareholder, a member of the board, or even a key sales employee; essentially, it is the primary investor or the person who owns the largest portion of the business.

Additionally, a business may have multiple principals with the same equity stake. To assess the business's creditworthiness and growth potential, anyone considering investing in a private venture will want to know the venture's principals.

Responsible Parties

Principal also refers to the party with the authority to transact on behalf of an organization or account and who assumes the associated risk. Principals may be individuals, corporations, partnerships, government agencies, or non-profit organizations. Principals may appoint agents to act on their behalf if they so choose.

A principal may be involved in anything from a corporate acquisition to a mortgage transaction. Typically, the term is defined in the transaction's legal documentation. In these documents, the principal is everyone who signed the agreement and therefore has rights, responsibilities, and obligations in relation to the transaction.

The individual who hires a financial advisor is the principal, while the advisor is the agent. The agent adheres to the principal's instructions and may act on their behalf within predetermined parameters. While the advisor is frequently obligated by fiduciary duty to act in the principal's best interests, the principal remains liable for the agent's actions or inactions. If the agent makes a poor investment, the money is still lost by the principal.

How Do You Find the Principal Amount?

When there is simple interest, the formula for calculating the principal amount is P = I / (RT), which is the interest amount divided by the interest rate multiplied by the amount of time.

How Does Compound Interest Increase Your Capital?

The principal balance of an investment can earn interest, but compounding is when that interest is added to the principal balance. In effect, you are earning interest on your interest, which increases your return.

What factors determine the principal interest rate?

The amount of interest you will pay on a loan's principal balance is heavily influenced by your credit score and credit history. Other variables include loan type and duration. The property's location, loan amount, and down payment will also be crucial factors for a home loan.


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