Individual Muni Bonds vs. Bond Funds: How to Reduce Risks
Investing in a single municipal bond can be risky due to the lack of diversification. Opting for bond funds can minimize the risk of default, which is the most significant advantage of investing in such funds. Fortunately, there are several municipal bond funds available that allow diversification without losing out on the tax benefits of municipal bonds. Generally, bond funds are a better long-term investment option compared to individual municipal bonds.
During bear markets, when stocks face declines, including bonds can impart much-needed stability to investment portfolios. While investing in individual municipal bonds may seem attractive, it poses a risk due to the absence of diversification. Despite the historically low default rates associated with municipal bonds, it's important to acknowledge that even the highest-rated municipal bond carries the potential for default.
The default risk is inherently higher for long-term bonds, emphasizing the need for diversification. To mitigate this risk, one viable strategy is to disperse your capital across a range of individual municipal bonds. However, this approach demands extensive research and a substantial capital investment. Alternatively, another option worth considering is complementing your municipal bond investments with bond funds. This approach not only disperses your risk but also ensures a consistent stream of income.
Mitigating Default Risk in Municipal Bond Investments
Assessing Creditworthiness and Choosing Safer Bonds
The primary concern associated with municipal bonds is the risk of default. However, you can reduce this risk by evaluating the creditworthiness of the municipal bond. It's important to note that a high yield on a municipal bond indicates a correspondingly higher level of risk. Additionally, a valuable tip to consider is that general obligation bonds offer greater safety than revenue bonds.
General obligation bonds rely on tax revenues to meet their obligations, and the flexibility to raise taxes provides a buffer. In contrast, revenue bonds are contingent on the performance of specific entities such as toll roads, airports, hospitals, and other projects. Opting for general obligation bonds instead of revenue bonds is recommended for a more conservative approach with lower risk.
Leveraging Bond Funds for Reduced Default Risk
Investing in bond funds presents a notable advantage in terms of minimizing default risk. These funds function similarly to stock funds but diversify across various bond categories, encompassing short-term, medium-term, and long-term bonds, government bonds, and corporate bonds. Alternatively, you can consider investing in bond fund exchange-traded funds (ETFs). With many municipal bond funds available, you can diversify your investments while retaining the tax benefits associated with municipal bonds. The key advantage of bond mutual funds lies in their ability to spread out default risk across a broader spectrum, significantly lowering the overall risk level.
Short-Term vs. Long-Term Municipal Bond Strategies
Short-term municipal bonds typically offer a secure investment option. In the short term, an investor can rely on the credit rating of a specific municipal bond to gauge its risk. When an investment-grade municipal bond has a maturity of less than five years, it is highly likely to repay the principal. Moreover, in the short run, investors have fewer immediate financial demands, making it feasible to invest in short-term municipal bonds, collect interest, receive the principal, and overlook price fluctuations.
However, when considering a longer investment horizon, bond funds often outperform individual municipal bonds. Over several decades, even economically stable municipalities can face challenging times and credit rating setbacks. Predicting the performance of individual municipal bonds over an extended period becomes increasingly uncertain. Furthermore, as the duration lengthens, bond prices become more susceptible to volatility and credit quality concerns. Holding a municipal bond for 20 or 30 years is also less practical. In the long term, bond funds play a crucial role in mitigating default risk and enhancing liquidity, factors that become more critical over extended investment periods.
If you limit your investments to just a few municipal bonds, you increase your risk without getting the corresponding rewards. Municipal bonds have a history of being low-risk, providing consistent interest payments, and offering tax advantages, making them an appealing investment choice.
For even more security, consider opting for general obligation bonds instead of revenue bonds. It's essential to note that both types of individual municipal bonds can face challenges related to liquidity. To address these concerns and ensure a diversified portfolio while reducing the risk of defaults, think about adding bond ETFs or bond mutual funds to your investments. These options not only increase diversification but also offer better liquidity, with their advantages becoming even more evident for long-term investors. Furthermore, keep in mind that municipal bond funds often come with the same tax benefits as individual municipal bonds, reinforcing their attractiveness as an investment option.