What Does This Market Jargon Mean? 7 Terms You Think You Know But Don’t

I truly believe that money is just a language like anything else, we just don’t have a Rosetta Stone for it and we didn’t learn it growing up. The first step to taking control of your finances is to at least understand the language even if you don’t speak it yet.

Here are 7 words or phrases that have come up lately and what they mean sans jargon:


Recession is a macroeconomic term that has been traditionally defined as 2 consecutive quarters of economic declines using markers of GDP and unemployment. Now it is seen as a few months of economic decline using real GDP, real income, unemployment numbers, industrial production and wholesale retail sales. We won’t know if we are technically in a recession because economic data is a lagging indicator but many economists say we are.

Bear Market.

A Bear Market happens when the market is off 20% from 52-week highs. We are officially in a bear market. A “bull market” is the opposite and when investment prices go up and the market, well, “charges” ahead.


Bonds (or “debt” or “paper”) issued by the U.S. government are called Treasuries. They are issued in different increments so sometimes they are called “bills” (T-Bills have less than a year of duration), “notes” (T-Notes have 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10- year durations) and “bonds” (10-30 year duration).

Corporate Paper.

Corporate Paper are bonds issued by companies. They typically have a higher interest rate because they are considered riskier.

Credit Spread.

Credit Spread is the difference between highly rated corporate debt or paper and US Treasuries with the same maturity. “Widening” is bad. “Narrowing” is good. For example, if a US Treasury is trading at 2% and a Corporate bond is trading at 4%…the spread is 2% or 200 basis points. Currently, the credit spread is the widest it has ever been in 20 years except for the financial crisis.

Basis Points.

Basis Points is a fancy way to talk about percentages. One basis point is 0.01%…10 basis points is 0.10%….100 basis points is 1.00%. Wall Street people also say “bps” (read: “bips”).

Monetary Policy.

Monetary Policy refers to moves made by the Federal Reserve. Monetary policy moves typically mean changes in interest rates and the money supply. Fiscal policy, in contrast, refers to what governments can do, namely changing tax rates and levels of government spending to affect the economy.

If I were in charge of the world, we would learn financial literacy growing up. But, I’m not and we don’t. And, that’s no reason to bury your head in the sand and smile and nod (like I used to do) during basic money conversations. Invest in speaking the language of money and it will follow.

Invest in speaking the language of money and it will follow. Share on X

A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.


A simple 12-step plan to leap over the wealth gap once and for all.