Dear Dr. Don,
My husband and I were sold some GM bonds on Aug. 8, 2007. The bonds’ due date is April 15, 2016; they were issued on April 15, 1996.

I would like to find out the bond ratings when we purchased them, as well as their ratings now. I do not know how to find this information out. Our financial adviser told us no one ever loses money on company bonds and that bondholders are first to be paid.
— Janice Jaundiced

Dear Janice,
Your financial adviser should be able to tell you the bonds’ ratings on these dates.

Failing that, you can look up the bond ratings at your local library. The major ratings agencies are Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. They sell their ratings on a subscription basis, so you have to do a little legwork to get the ratings on your own.

Not all bonds are rated by all rating agencies, but your public library may subscribe to a ratings service that rates your bonds. Or, the reference librarian can help you get that information from another library.

A lot of people lose money by investing in corporate bonds, and there are many ways this can happen. Companies may go bankrupt or skip interest payments, or interest rates may go higher, causing bond prices to go lower.

Your financial adviser was likely making the point that bondholders are ahead of stockholders when it comes to getting paid if the company goes bankrupt. However, it’s hyperbole to stretch that truth to the point where you say that no one ever loses money on corporate bonds.