9 Top Free Sites for Income Investors

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Five years ago, Kiplinger's turned to longtime investment writer and in-house income guru Jeff Kosnett to launch a newsletter designed to steer income-starved readers to the best investments for dependable, spendable income. Today, Kiplinger's Investing for Income continues to attract a growing army of satisfied readers.

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Key data: Discounts and premiums to net asset value

Best for: Sorting and screening 629 closed-end funds

The keys to understanding any closed-end fund are data about current and historic discounts and premiums to net asset value, distribution rates, whether and how much the fund borrows (leverage), and total return on net asset value. This site offers all of that and more, plus the tools to sort and screen more than 30 varieties of funds in too many ways to count.

Kosnett Comment: CEFA's tables show each fund's distribution yield next to its income yield. The two won't match, but they should be fairly close. If the income figure is low but the distribution is high, the fund is selling assets or issuing new shares to maintain the illusion of a fat yield. It could be headed for a distribution cut.

SEE ALSO: Great Tech Stocks Paying Big Dividends

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Key data: The numbers on all aspects of income investments

Best for: Total returns and average duration of bonds

This fund company's site is loaded with free stuff. The best is the monthly monitor (accessible in the site's Institutional Investors section ): 40-plus pages of charts and tables about all aspects of stocks, bonds, bank-loan funds, commodities, industry sectors and more. All this -- including total returns and average duration of more than 20 kinds of bonds -- is nicely laid out on single pages.

Kosnett Comment: The page called "fixed income spread analysis" uses simple bar charts to show the current and past yield advantage of various categories, such as junk bonds or preferred stocks, over Treasuries. When the spread is unusually narrow, there's more risk. When it's wide, it's usually a good time to invest.

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Key data: 382,000 statistical series from 82 sources

Best for: Financial data, graphs and charts from the government and everywhere else

If you want to see a trend in, say, inflation, growth, interest rates or stock-market returns for just about any period, you'll find it here. This takes the place of any almanac, encyclopedia or reference book -- and it's updated daily. FRED is the acronym for Federal Reserve Economic Data and is the brainchild of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Kosnett Comment: You may go weeks or months without using this, and then you'll refer to it several times in one sitting. It's comforting to know that someone has gone to the effort of assembling all this info in one place.

SEE ALSO: 7 Promising Dividend Stocks Yielding 5% or More

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Key data: Real-time market data on bond trading action and prices

Best for: Owners (or potential owners) of individual corporate and municipal bonds and anyone else who wants to see how bonds are priced and what they are yielding at any given time

Kosnett Comment:The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the bond dealers' trade association, runs the site and has a news feed as well. Some of the commentaries, though, are dated.

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Key data: Relative yields of municipals and Treasuries

Best for: Analysis of taxable and tax-free bond markets

The managers of Baird Core Plus Bond fund and other excellent no-load income funds publish a combination of basics with just enough financial-market-speak to keep the pros happy with their Capital Markets Perspective . The insights live at Baird's corporate site (address above) not the Baird Funds' consumer site. Offerings include both tax-free bond and taxable-bond commentaries. A recent subject is the tight supply of new bonds, which keeps prices high and yields low. There is also a colorful market commentary called, ahem, The Bull and Baird Blog .

Kosnett Comment: Baird's municipal bond letter illustrates such basics as the ratio of tax-free bond yields to Treasury yields and the equivalent yield you need to earn on a taxable investment to net the same after-tax income.

SEE ALSO: Best Nasdaq Stocks for Dividends

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Key data: Outlooks and forecasts from the fixed-income behemoth (with $1.43 trillion under management) formerly known as the Pacific Investment Management Company

Best for: Investors who like to see commentaries and explanatory articles that put the market's gyrations in perspective. For example, an article called "Emerging Markets Trying to Turn the Corner" makes the case for some, but not all, investments in those countries. The Pimco blog about the issues of the day is well-presented and with graphics.

Kosnett Comment: The departure of Bill Gross from Pimco changed this site from his soapbox to more of a team effort.

REGISTER FOR MARCH 10 WEBINAR: Jeff Kosnett Shares Tips to Double, Triple Your Cash Yield

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Key data: Muni bond trading details

Best for: Screening the tax-free bond universe for top yields

Electronic Municipal Market Access, from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, shows every municipal bond trade, plus key background information about thousands of issuers. If you own tax-exempts, you can see a price graph for each bond based on months of trades, just as you can chart a stock or a fund. You can also screen the tax-free bond universe in detail. For example, when you search for all AA-rated Arizona water and sewer bonds due between 2024 and 2029, up pop the yields and other particulars.

Kosnett Comment: EMMA is easier to navigate if you know your bond's CUSIP number.

SEE ALSO: Stocks Paying Dividends for 100 Years or More

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Key data: Historical returns and other performance information for real estate trusts going back to their invention in the 1960s.

Best for: Avid real estate investment trust fans and anyone who wants to see new offerings and news tidbits about the industry and its members. The site is run by the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT).

Kosnett Comment: It would be good if NAREIT would link to a resource that provides up to the minute data on the individual REITs' net asset values and prices to book value. You need a brokerage link to that kind of research.

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Key data: Monthly updates by sector, such as the High Yield and Mortgage Market updates. Find it all under Insights from TCW, a global asset management firm.

Best for: Bond fund investors, especially if you dabble in risky or unusual areas like junk bonds, mortgages and bank loans. There are also excellent forecasts and commentaries from the portfolio managers and analysts.

Kosnett Comment: This is some of the best perspective on individual bond-market segments and what's driving them up or down.

REGISTER FOR MARCH 10 WEBINAR: Jeff Kosnett Shares Tips to Double, Triple Your Cash Yield

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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