Dec. 31, 2012... Mark it on your calendar.
On that day, the "Bush era" tax cuts are set to expire.
If Congress decides not to renew the cuts, then starting in
2013, the dividends you receive from your income investments will
be taxed at yourmarginal tax rate , rather than the reduced 15%
rate income investors have enjoyed for the past nine years.
While there's no telling how this situation will pan-out in
Congress, if the prospect of higher-taxes keeps you up at night,
then you do have some options.
There is still oneasset class that offers steady dividends,
above-average yields and better yet... the distributions you
receive from these investments are 100%tax free .
I'm talking, of course, about municipal bonds.
Municipalsbonds or "munis" are a unique asset class.
Liketreasuries , munis are issued by the government. But instead of
coming from the federal government, these bonds are issued by local
municipalities like cities, counties and public utility
Historically, the U.S. government feared that taxingmunicipal
bond distributions would hurt a state's ability to raise money. As
a result, muni investors don't have to paytaxes on the interest
payments they receive.
Generally speaking, these bonds come in two forms. There are
generalobligation bonds -- bonds that are backed by the taxing
authority of the municipality. And there are revenue bonds -- bonds
are backed by fees such as tolls or utility rates.
These dependable income streams are the primary reason municipal
bonds have historically had much lower default rates than corporate
Prior to 2009, the default rate for non-investment grade
municipal bonds was 2.7%... versus a default rate of 19.1% for
similarly rated corporate bonds.
That trend has broken down during the past couple of years.
Because of the depressed property values and larger pension bills
brought on by the greatrecession , some municipalities have
struggled to pay their debts recently.
In 2010 and 2011, municipal bond defaults rose to 5.5%, higher
than their historical average of 2.7%. As a result, buying a single
municipal bond looks risky right now...
But municipal bonds still have their advantages. And if tax-free
income sounds like something you're interested in, then abond fund
PowerShares Insured National Municipal Bond Portfolio
could be worth your while.
By holding a portfolio of municipal bonds, a fund can minimize
the effect of any singlebond that may go into default. As a result,
anexchange-traded fund (
) like PZA gives you all the advantages of owning individual muni
bonds, but without a lot of the risks.
And if the addeddiversification wasn't enough to make PZA
attractive, then there's another reason to like this fund right
To get a more favorablecredit rating , municipal bond issuers
can buy insurance. These insurance policies pay interest to
bondholders in the event theissuer defaults.
Most of the companies that issued municipal bond insurance were
the same companies that issuedmortgage insurance during the housing
bubble. After the bubble burst, many of these insurers went
bankrupt or left the business.
With so many companies exiting the insurance space, it's hard to
find insured muni bonds right now... which is why I like PZA. PZA
tracks anindex of insured municipal bonds. All of its rated bonds
have an investment-grade rating of "A" or above.
Right now, PZA pays a monthlydividend of $0.09 per share. At
today's share price of $25.58, PZA is currentlyoffering a
4.2%dividend yield . And if the "Bush-era" tax-cuts aren't renewed
at the end of this year, then theyield will actually be a lot
higher since the interest payments are tax-free.
Municipal bonds are one of the few asset classes thatoffer
tax-exempt income. And unless Congress gets its act together that
will become an even bigger benefit come Dec. 31.
Action to Take -->
Municipal bonds will likely see higher historical default rates in
the foreseeable future. But a fund such as PZA -- one that holds a
large number of insured municipal bonds -- can help minimize your
risks and your taxes.
-- Amy Calistri
P.S. -- If you haven't done so, you can learn more about my
income investing advisory, The Daily Paycheck. In the past year,
I've collected more than $13,000 in dividends. Learn more about how
you can do the same thing by visiting this link.
Amy Calistri does not personally hold positions in any
securities mentioned in this article. StreetAuthority LLC does not
hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.