• Owning bonds can reduce fluctuations in your portfolio.
  • Diversification helps protect your overall portfolio against weakness in the stock market.
  • Many retired investors shift a portion of their portfolios to bonds to help meet their income needs.

Why investors own bonds

With interest rates as low as they are, it may be hard to get excited about owning bonds. At times bonds have been solid generators of return. That’s not the primary reason to own bonds, though.

It can be a sound strategy to own a mix of investments. Stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives are on most every short list. Even when bond yields are low, the diversification you get from owning bonds may help you protect your portfolio against weakness in the stock market.

The diversification you get from owning bonds may help you protect your portfolio against weakness in the stock market.

Investing in bonds can be an important element in your investment portfolio, helping to potentially:

  • Reduce fluctuations in the overall value of your portfolio
  • Contribute to meeting your income needs
  • Prepare for future expenses (e.g., college and retirement)

Even if interest rates trend up, bonds can help add stability to your portfolio.

Can bonds enhance your financial portfolio?

Beyond diversification, investing in bonds can help with other goals as well, such as generating income.

Income generation. Traditional interest bearing bonds promise to pay interest regularly. They pay fixed interest payments typically semi-annually, quarterly, or monthly.

A regular schedule of fixed payments can be appealing to income investors. In fact, investors in retirement often move a percentage of their portfolios into bonds to meet annual living expenses.

Growth or total return. Bonds can turn into growth investments when interest rates decline. This happens when interest rates drop below the interest rate the bond is receiving. In such cases, the bond would trade at a premium.

With interest rates already low, most investors would not expect their recent bond purchases to offer growth potential, under normal circumstances, or trade at a premium.

Bond prices rise and fall inversely to rising and falling interest rates. When investing in bonds for growth purposes, you should be able to withstand some price volatility. Or, you can expect to hold your bond investment until maturity.

Tax-exempt bonds

infographic - Investing in bonds may reduce fluctuations, contribute to income, prepare for expenses

High income earners often prefer tax-exempt bonds. Many bonds issued by municipal, county, or state governments (called municipal or "muni" bonds) are tax exempt. Interest payments from these bonds are exempt from federal income tax and, in some cases, state and local income tax. Tax-exempt bonds may fit within your overall investment strategy, depending on your tax bracket and investment objectives.

Taxable bonds

Bond interest payments from these types of bonds are subject to taxation:

  • Corporate bonds
  • Government-sponsored enterprises (agency bonds; please note, some agency bonds are state and local tax-exempt)
  • Mortgage-backed securities, including collateralized mortgage obligation (CMOs) and pass-through securities (Ginnie Maes or GNMAs)
  • Taxable municipal bonds (taxable munis; this type of bond may be exempt from state taxes for the investors who reside in the state the bond is issued in)
  • U.S Treasury bonds (exempt from state and local taxes)
  • Zero-coupon bonds (U.S. Treasury STRIPS are one type of zero-coupon bond and are exempt from state and local taxes)

Moderating interest rate risk with a bond ladder

As bonds mature in a bond ladder, the funds are reinvested into a new bond maturity.

You can use a bond ladder to put a substantial investment to work in the bond market. You would build a bond ladder by buying a portfolio of bonds of different maturities. This would spread out the interest rate risk. As the bonds mature, the funds are reinvested into a new bond maturity.

Note: Investors should keep in mind as interest rates rise, existing bond prices of outstanding fixed-income securities tend to fall. Long-term bonds are generally more exposed to interest rate risk than short-term bonds.

Next steps

  • If you are building sources of retirement income, consider shifting a portion of your assets to bonds.
  • Determine whether diversifying the risk in your stock portfolio by owning bonds seems right for you.
  • Consider a bond ladder to help moderate interest rate risk.
  • Learn what other types of bonds can help diversify and add to income sources.

Note: Some municipal bonds may be subject to federal taxes or the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

*Wells Fargo Advisors does not provide tax advice. You should consult your tax advisor for your specific situation. Investing in fixed-income securities involves certain risks such as market risk if sold prior to maturity and credit risk, especially if investing in high yield bonds, which have lower credit ratings and are subject to greater volatility. All fixed-income investments may be worth less than original cost upon redemption or maturity. Yields and market value will fluctuate so that your investment, if sold prior to maturity, may be worth more or less than its original cost.

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