Smart Bond Investing—Bond Funds
Bonds Versus Bond Funds
Individual bonds and bond funds are two very different animals (see Comparing Bonds and Bond Funds) Understanding how bond funds and individual bonds differ will help you assess which is the best investment option for you. Here are four factors you should consider:
- Return of Principal. Unless there is a default, when an individual bond matures or is called, your principal is returned. That is not true with bond funds. Bond funds have no obligation to return your principal. Except for UITs, they have no maturity date. With a bond fund, the value of your investment fluctuates from day to day. While this is also true of individual bonds trading in the secondary market, if the price of a bond declines below par, you always have the option of holding the bond until it matures and collecting the principal.
- Income. With most fixed-rate individual bonds, you know exactly how much interest you'll receive. With bond funds, the interest you receive can fluctuate with changes to the underlying bond portfolio. Another consideration is that many bond funds pay interest monthly opposed to semiannually, as is the case with most individual bonds.
- Diversification. With a single purchase, a bond fund provides you with instant diversification at a very low cost. To put together a diversified portfolio of individual bonds, you'll need to purchase several bonds, and that might cost you $50,000 or more. Most mutual funds only require a minimum investment of a few thousand dollars.
- Liquidity. Virtually all bond funds can be sold easily at anytime at the current fund value (NAV). The liquidity of individual bonds, on the other hand, can vary considerably depending on the bond. In addition to taking longer to sell, illiquid bonds may also be more expensive to sell.