|February 25, 2015
A Legal Way To Beat The Tax Man -- And Earn A 5.4% Yield
By Jimmy Butts
Have you ever been stuck in traffic, anxiously waiting for the next exit to take so you can find another way to your destination?
Ever since I could drive, I've always been impatient waiting in traffic. I'll drive miles out of my way; take every back road I know, just to avoid it...
But one day as a young driver in high school, I found myself stuck in traffic and noticed a peculiar sign. It said something about the construction that was going on -- the very thing that was hampering my commute. It said it was being funded by XYZ bond.
This was before I had ever started my career in finance, so bonds were an unfamiliar thing. But when I began my investment career, I soon realized that I could actually invest in the very bonds that were funding my headache of a commute. I was ecstatic.
After all, If you can't beat 'em, might as well make money off them...
You see, these types of bonds have a name -- general obligation bonds -- a type of municipal, or muni, bond. These bonds are used for everything from helping fund road construction to building schools, bridges, water infrastructure and other public buildings.
As I became more familiar with municipal bonds, I quickly became a fan. In fact, in my experience, muni-bonds are one of the safest ways for investors to earn income in today's market -- while also beating the tax man. (More on that in a moment.)
Now before I go any further, I need to address something. You may have seen headlines over the past few years about cities like Detroit or Stockton, California having to file for bankruptcy. And you might think that since the finances of some local and state governments have been tight since the Great Recession, the prospect of investing in muni-bonds may not be for you.
Don't let that scare you.
After all, if things get tight with finances, then the local government can simply raise taxes to help cover payments. It's only in rare cases like Detroit, where the politicians had used their last cards (even the ones tucked up their own corrupt sleeves) and bankruptcy became the only option.
The reality is that all investment-grade municipal bonds (those ranging in grade from "A" to "AAA") have a default rate of only 0.017% over the past 40 years, according to Forbes magazine.
That makes muni-bonds one of the safest income investments around.
And to further mitigate risk, one of the best ways to own muni-bonds is through an investment known as a closed-end fund.
This is important.
Unlike its more well-known sibling, the mutual fund, a closed-end fund only sells a fixed number of shares, and those shares trade openly on an exchange. And there are several well-run closed-end funds that own portfolios of muni-bonds. So in the event a city defaults on its bond payments (or worse, has to file for bankruptcy), it has a minimal impact on the overall portfolio.
What's more, sometimes the shares of closed-end funds trade for more or for less than the underlying assets in the fund, also known as the fund's net asset value (NAV). When you can buy a closed-end fund selling at a discount to its NAV, this is the easiest and clearest way to become a value investor.
For example, if a closed-end fund is selling for $8 a share, but the fund has a NAV of $10, you're essentially buying $10 of assets for a 20% discount.
This is like giving someone eight dollars and them giving you $10 back.
When you can find a closed-end fund that invests in municipal bonds and is selling at a discount, it's nearly a no-brainer investment.
Now don't get me wrong, just like stocks, bonds, mutual funds or ETFs, not all closed-end muni bond funds are created equal. Taking a look at how the fund historically trades in relation to its NAV is important. So is looking at how and where the fund is invested, as well as the fund's expenses, leverage and management.
Not only do these securities offer safe, secure yields to investors, they also offer tax advantages that other bonds -- namely corporate bonds -- don't.
You see, in order to ensure demand for the bonds that will fund a municipality's projects, Uncle Sam is willing to not tax you on this investment. So are many state and local governments that have income taxes.
Take, for example, the muni fund that my colleague Amy Calistri of The Daily Paycheck recommended to her subscribers in December 2009 -- the Invesco Value Muni Income Fund (NYSE: IIM). This fund currently offers investors a nice 5.4% yield, but on a tax equivalent basis it's much better depending on your tax bracket. The table below shows the tax equivalent yield that a fully taxable investment (like a corporate bond) must yield in order to equal our muni bond yield:
So if you invest in IIM today, and you fall in, say, the 35% tax bracket, you'd have to find a stock, bond or ETF offering an 8.3% yield to get the same amount of income as IIM's tax-free 5.4%. And in today's low-interest rate world, thanks to the easy money policies of the Federal Reserve, I'd challenge any investor to find an investment yielding 8.3% that's as safe as IIM.
What's more, IIM is currently trading at a 5.2% discount to its NAV -- below its five-year average of 3.4%. This fund's portfolio consists of bonds issued to build hospitals, toll roads, roads and bridges in states throughout Texas, California, Illinois, Florida and New York.
Earn Thousands Of Dollars In Dividends Every Month
Muni bond funds offer yield-hungry investors a great opportunity to invest in a safe fixed-income investment. But remember that if you're buying muni-bonds through a closed-end fund, then buy the fund at a discount to its NAV. Helpful websites like Morningstar or cefconnect.com provide this information for you.
Just because this low-interest rate environment has pushed the yields down on many stocks and bonds, it doesn't mean investors should go "yield chasing." This is a great way to lose a lot of money. There are still plenty of investments, like muni bonds, that offer safe, reliable dividends. And if you're looking for some guidance on where to find some of the best paying dividend securities out there, I highly recommend checking out Amy's premium newsletter The Daily Paycheck
Amy and her readers have been collecting hundreds, even thousands of dollars in dividends each month.
In fact, since launching The Daily Paycheck
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