Municipal Bonds Offer Tax Benefits

FINANCIAL FOCUS

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If you're an investor, 2006 was a pretty good year from a tax standpoint. Tax laws have lowered tax brackets and cut the maximum rates on long-term capital gains and stock dividends to 15 percent.

Still, for 2007, you may want to do even more to control your investment taxes. To start, you might want to consider municipal bonds.

By investing in municipal bonds, or "munis,'' you may be able to achieve significant advantages, particularly if you're in one of the upper tax brackets. When you own a muni, your interest payments will be free from federal taxes, and, if the municipality that issues the bond is located in Arizona, your interest payments also may be exempt from state taxes.

In fact, the tax advantage of municipal bonds may be so great that you'd have to earn a considerably higher interest rate on a taxable bond -- such as a corporate bond -- just to get the same after-tax return.

For example, suppose your tax bracket is 25 percent, your state income tax rate is 5 percent and you buy a state tax-free municipal bond that pays 4.5 percent interest. You would have to earn 6.32 percent, or higher, on a corporate bond of similar maturity and quality to match the 4.5 percent yield of your muni. This 6.32 percent figure is the municipal bond's "taxable equivalent yield.'' And your municipal bond would provide you with an even greater taxable equivalent yield if you were in a higher tax bracket.

Munis and the AMT

Municipal bond interest is free from federal taxes, but some munis, particularly airport and housing bonds, might be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). If you think you may have to pay the AMT, you might want to avoid these types of bonds. Conversely, if you know you won't be assessed the AMT even if you bought some AMT-subject munis, you might be especially interested in these bonds, because their yields are typically higher than the yields on regular munis.

Other benefits of munis

Municipal bonds are issued in two main categories: General obligation bonds and revenue bonds. General obligation bonds finance the ongoing activities of state and local governments, while revenue bonds pay for specific projects, such as airports, hospitals and other civic institutions.

So, when you invest in munis, you'll get more than tax advantages. You'll also get the satisfaction of supporting valuable projects or services in our own state or community.

And that's not all. Consider two other benefits you may get from investing in municipal bonds:

  • Diversification. By purchasing municipal bonds, you can help diversify an equity-heavy portfolio. Municipal bond prices generally do not move together with stock prices. And if you hold your municipal bonds until maturity, you can expect to receive back the principal value, along with the interest payments you received along the way.
  • Stability. Municipal bonds are among the most secure investments you can own. The default rate on munis, especially general obligation bonds, is typically quite low.

Nonetheless, before you invest in a municipal bond, make sure it receives one of the highest ratings from the major bond rating agencies.

Which types of municipal bonds should you invest in? Consider purchasing a variety of short-, intermediate- and long-term munis.

This type of portfolio, known as a "bond ladder," can help you in all types of interest-rate environments. When market rates are down, you'll have your long-term bonds locking in higher yields. But when market rates are up, you'll have the proceeds of your short-term bonds available to reinvest.

Before purchasing municipal bonds, consult with your tax and investment professionals. You may find that munis can be a great addition to your investment holdings.

-- Scott Flake is a licensed financial adviser with the firm of Edward Jones. For more information, call (928) 468-1470.

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