Friday, September 25, 2015

Evaluating Your Investments: Income- Focused Investments

Someone once asked my why I invested in a particular thing. My answer? "To make money, of course". That answer was the truth but the point of the question was that there is no perfect investment; they all have strengths and weaknesses and when evaluating a new investment or deciding how to allocate your money among investments you have, you have to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each type of investment.  This article will focus on investments that people buy for income--for money paid to them now, whether that money is to be used now or reinvested for future use.

Types of Accounts

First we need to quickly look at the basic types of investment accounts.  Most types of investments can be held in any of these types of accounts.  Which you pick depends on your current and future needs.

Normal Accounts

These are opened by default; the others must be chosen.  Income from normal accounts is taxed yearly.  While the custodian of the account may have rules governing withdrawals, the government does  not. The advantage of these accounts is that you can get your money when you want it.  The disadvantage is that you can get your money when you want it--and that you have to pay taxes yearly.

Used with permission of

Roth IRA

Once money is placed in a Roth IRA you will never pay taxes again on it again or on the money it earns.  However, contributions are not tax-deductible when made.   What's more, you can withdraw your contributions (but not your earnings) at any time without penalty.  Some people use Roth IRAs to save for medium-term goals; they withdraw principal when needed but the earnings stay to grow, and grow tax-free.  Another feature of the Roth IRA is that you never have to withdraw money from it; the account, and its tax-free status, can be passed on to your heirs.

IRA or 401K

You do not pay taxes on money you put into these accounts.  However, unless you are over 59.5  years, you pay penalties if you withdraw money.  Also, you have to pay income taxes on any money withdrawn from your IRA or 401K.  Finally, the law requires people over 70 to take minimum distributions from their IRA or 401K, based on age/life expectancy.  

Types of Investments

This article focuses on investments people hold for the income they generate.  

Bank Accounts

Description:  Very simple. Take your money to the bank and deposit it. They agree to pay you very little interest but your account is insured by the government and except for certificates of deposit, you can access your money at any time without penalty.  
Liquidity:  Bank accounts can be accessed at any time.  
Stability:  The value of bank accounts is predictable and they are insured by the government so you know they will not lose value.
Growth Potential: After taxes, bank account earnings do not keep up with inflation, much less exceed it. 
Taxes:  Interest on bank accounts is taxed as regular income.
Conclusion:  Bank accounts are for money you may need to access on short notice, or which you have a specific plan to sell in the next year or two.

From Wikimedia Commons


Description:  Bonds are debt instruments issued by corporations or governmental entities.  When you buy a bond, you are lending money to that entity.  In return the entity agrees to pay you interest, usually yearly. and to return the principal at the end of the term of the bond.  Generally speaking the more financially stable the issuer is, the lower the interest rate.  Generally speaking, the longer the term of the bond, the higher the interest rate.  
Liquidity:  Bonds can generally be sold relatively quickly (unless the entity that issued them is having financial trouble), but you may not receive full value for them. 
Stability:  It depends on the bond.  Generally speaking, as long as the issuer is able to make the payments, the bond will be worth at least what you paid for it, if you hold it to maturity.  If interest rates drop during the life of the bond, you could sell the bond for more than you paid for it; if interest rates increase during the life of the bond, the price of the bond, if you try to sell it, will decrease.  
Growth Potential: A bond's interest rate is set at the time it is issued.  If the issuer is financially viable, the interest will be paid.  The only growth is the income, plus any increase in value, if you choose to sell, if interest rates on newly issued bonds are less than the interest rate on your bond.
Taxes:  Some bonds issued by government authorities offer tax-free income.  Corporate bond interest is taxed as regular income.
Conclusion:  Bonds are a good source of income, and if high-grade bonds are chosen, chances are very good that they will not lose value if held to maturity.

File:"$50.00 War Bond Poster" - NARA - 514244.jpg
From Wikimedia

Bond Funds

Description:  Bond funds are mutual funds that invest in bonds.  A mutual fund means that a financial manager pools your money with the money of millions of other people and invests it in a way consistent with the stated goals and means of the fund, with the hope of making money. 
Liquidity:  Bond funds  can generally be sold the same day you request. 
Stability:  While the share price of bond funds does not vary as much as the share price of stock funds, there is some price variability.  When interest rates rise, the per-share price of your bond fund will fall; when interest rates fall, the per-share price of your bond fund will increase.  As with bonds themselves, funds that buy short-term bonds tend to pay less than those that buy long-term bonds, but the share price of short-term bond funds does not tend to go up and down as much as the share price of funds that hold longer-term bonds.  
Taxes:  Some bonds funds hold  bonds issued by government authorities and they offer at least some tax-free income.  Interest from funds that hold corporate bonds is taxed as regular income.
Conclusion:  Bonds Funds are a good source of income, for those who can tolerate a little volatility.  

Money Market Funds

Description:  Money market funds invest in very short-term financial instruments, some as short as overnight.
Liquidity:  They can be sold the same day you request.
Stability:  Money market funds seek to maintain a stable share price, and most sell for $1.00 per share.  
Growth Potential:  These will likely lose money after inflation.
Taxes:  You can buy either tax-free funds or taxable funds.  Taxable funds, in general, pay more interest, but those in high tax brackets may do better with tax-free funds.
Conclusion:  Since these are insured, you have to decide whether the additional interest over a bank account is worth it.  A lot of people use money market accounts with their broker as a place to hold money in between investments.

Peer Lending

Description:  Peer to Peer Lending means making unsecured personal loans to individuals who want to borrow money.  Rather than lending a lot of money to one person, the two major platforms, Lending Club and Prosper, allow you to pool your money with other lenders so that you fund parts of loans to many people.  As a lender, you are paid monthly by the borrower until the loan is paid.  
Liquidity:  Lending Club notes can be sold at any time, except when payments are pending.  Propser notes can be sold only if current.  Whether you get face value (or above or below it) depends on how much you want to sell it.  Generally speaking high-interest notes with a good payment record can be sold for more than face value; low interest notes or notes with poor payment histories generally sell for less than face value.  It is a supply and demand system--you can ask whatever price you want; the question is at what price you will find a buyer and the more/sooner you want to sell, the lower your asking price.  While emptying your account may take a couple of weeks, remember that each note pays principal and interest monthly, and that they can be paid off by the borrower at any time.  Last month, the payments I received totalled about 5% of my account.  While I reinvested them, I could have chosen to withdraw them if I needed the money.
Stability:  Lending Club says that if you hold at least 100 notes and no note is more than 1% of your account, then according to their historical statistics, you have less than a 1% chance of losing money.  See charts here.  Nevertheless, defaults are to be expected and your return will not be stable over time.  However, according to Lending Club statistics, for an account of over 100 notes, you will have a hard time, over the long term, earning less than 5% or more than 9%.  
Growth Potential: While it is possible to sell well-performing notes above par value, you then lose  your source of income.  The only real growth with this investment is via compound interest, and that's not insignificant when interest rates are close to 8%.  
Taxes:  Unless held in an IRA, interest on Peer-to Peer notes is taxed yearly as regular interest income.  
Conclusion:  Peer to Peer notes are a good source of current income.  While they are not guaranteed (and a certain number of defaults are to be expected) banks have been making money on unsecured personal loans for years.  Lending Club recommends that you have no more than 10% of your investable assets in Peer to Peer notes.  

Used with permission

Dividend-Paying Stocks (or stock funds)

Description:  A share of stock is a share in the ownership of the corporation.  As a co-owner, the value of your share of the company increases as the value of the company increases.  Also, the company may pay out some of its income as dividends.  Given the low interest rates today, many investors find companies that pay dividends over 2%  to be attractive sources of income.  Some such companies are Target, Mead Johnson Nutrition, AT&T, and Darden Restaurants.  
Liquidity:  Shares of stock can be sold at any time; however, if the market is down compared to when you purchased the stock, you will lose money selling.  Of course if the market is up, you'll make money.
Stability:  Stock prices are not stable.  However, if your purpose in purchasing these shares is income, as long as the shares are dropping due to the overall state of the market rather than a problem with the particular stock, then most income stocks are stable investments--stable companies that pay good dividends usually continue to be stable companies that pay good dividends.  
Growth Potential:  Generally good.  Over time, no investment class has performed as well as the stock market. With dividend stocks, you not only get the income from the dividends but also appreciation of the stock price. 
Taxes:  Dividends are taxed as regular income.  Capital gains (money earned by selling stock for more than you paid for it) are usually taxed at a lower rate.  

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

Description:  REITs pool investor's money and invest in real estate.  The laws under which they are organized require them to pay out 90% of their income as dividends. 
Liquidity:  Shares of  can be sold at any time; but like many other investments, the price you get may not be the price you paid.
Stability:  REITs invest in real estate; therefore they are as stable as the real estate in which they invest.  They are also not closely correlated with the stock market so it can lend stability to your overall portfolio.  
Growth Potential:  If the price of real estate increases, the share prices may go up, giving you growth.
Taxes:  Dividends are taxed as regular income.  Capital gains (money earned by selling stock for more than you paid for it) are usually taxed at a lower rate.  


The general rule in investing is that the higher the risk, the higher the reward.  The lower the risk, the lower the reward.  Bank accounts and government bonds have low rewards, but you know the money will be there when you need it.  On the other end of the spectrum are dividend stocks and REITs.  As with all investing, playing it too safe may mean not getting the growth you need, but no safety net means you could be really hurt if things do not go your way.

How do you invest for income?
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt and The Frugal Cottage*


  1. Peer to peer lending is really interesting to me and something I'd like to get more into as my income increases. I like how you have the ability to help out real people with it, rather than just giant corporations.

    1. Yes, that is an advantage to PtoP. Another investment that lets you help the little guy is Kickfurther

  2. Investing seems to be so confusing. I have no idea what is going on when it comes to the financial world so I do appreciate your advice. The post was pretty informative too. There are so many options out there I guess I need a professional to cut through all the chaos.

    Lachelle Muse @ Ernstam