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Income Funds: Definition, Types, And Examples

Last updated 03/20/2024 by

Dan Agbo

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Income funds are a type of mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that emphasizes current income, either on a monthly or quarterly basis, as opposed to capital gains or appreciation. Such funds usually hold a variety of government, municipal, and corporate debt obligations, preferred stock, money market instruments, and dividend-paying stocks. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the intricacies of income funds, including their definition, types, and real-world examples.

What is an income fund?

An income fund is a type of mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that places a primary emphasis on delivering current income to investors, typically on a monthly or quarterly basis, rather than focusing on capital gains or appreciation. These funds are specifically structured to generate a steady stream of income for their investors. To achieve this objective, income funds assemble a diversified portfolio that may include a range of financial instruments such as government and municipal bonds, corporate debt obligations, preferred stocks, money market instruments, and dividend-paying stocks.

The basics of income funds

Income funds are dynamic investments with share prices that are not fixed; they often react to changes in prevailing interest rates. When interest rates are on the rise, the share prices of income funds tend to decrease, while they tend to increase when interest rates are falling. In the world of income funds, the bonds included in their portfolios are typically of investment-grade quality. This quality ensures a reduced level of risk and increased stability in the preservation of capital. In addition to bonds, income funds may incorporate other securities of sufficient credit quality, which further adds to the reliability of these investments.

Types of income funds

Income funds come in a variety of types, each with distinct characteristics to meet different investment needs:

Money market funds

Money market funds predominantly invest in low-risk, short-term financial instruments, including certificates of deposit (CDs), commercial paper, and short-term Treasury bills. These funds prioritize safety, aiming to maintain a consistent share price while offering relatively lower yields. While they do not carry the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance like bank products, money market funds have historically offered a high degree of safety.

Bond funds

Bond funds primarily invest in bonds, which can be corporate or government. Government bond funds carry minimal default risk and often act as a safe haven for investors in times of uncertainty. However, they typically offer lower yields compared to corporate bond funds. Corporate bonds come with an additional risk, where the issuer may not be able to meet principal or interest payments. Consequently, they tend to offer higher interest rates to account for this extra risk. Corporate bond funds can be categorized into investment-grade bond funds and below-investment-grade, commonly known as junk bond funds.

Equity income funds

Equity income funds focus on investments in stocks that regularly pay dividends. These funds are particularly attractive to investors looking for a reliable monthly income generated from their portfolios. Historically, dividends have represented a significant portion of a stock’s total long-term return.

Other income funds

Other income-producing funds include those concentrating on real estate investment trusts (REITs), master limited partnerships (MLPs), and preferred stocks. These investments offer alternative avenues for generating income beyond the traditional bond or stock-focused income funds.

Example of an income fund

To provide a real-world illustration of an income fund, consider the T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund. This fund boasts a significant net asset value and pursues a dual objective of high dividend payments and capital appreciation. It distributes payouts on a quarterly basis, as exemplified by a dividend payment of $0.18 per share on Dec. 14, 2020. The fund has maintained a performance closely in line with its benchmark.
An investment of $10,000 in the T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund at its inception in 1985 would have grown to approximately $24,510 as of Feb. 28, 2021. In comparison, the Lipper Equity Income Funds Average would have resulted in roughly $25,150 for the same investment over the same period.

The bottom line

Income funds offer investors a distinct opportunity to prioritize current income, allowing for a more secure and predictable source of revenue compared to other investment options. Understanding the different types of income funds and their potential benefits and drawbacks is essential for making informed investment decisions. Whether you’re looking for a reliable income source, diversifying your investment portfolio, or considering a specific income fund like the T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the world of income funds and maximize your financial goals.
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
  • Steady income stream
  • Diversification of income sources
  • Potential for capital appreciation
  • Market risk affecting share prices
  • Interest rate sensitivity
  • Limited potential for significant capital gains

Frequently asked questions

What is the primary focus of income funds?

Income funds prioritize current income, often in the form of interest or dividend-paying investments.

How do income funds differ from growth funds?

Income funds focus on generating income, while growth funds aim for capital appreciation.

Are income funds considered low-risk investments?

Income funds are generally considered lower risk than funds that prioritize capital gains.

Can income funds invest in stocks?

Yes, income funds can invest in dividend-paying stocks as part of their portfolio.

What are some examples of income-producing securities?

Income funds can invest in bonds, preferred shares, money market instruments, and more.

Key takeaways

  • Income funds prioritize current income, often in the form of interest or dividend-paying investments.
  • They come in various types, including money market funds, bond funds, equity income funds, and more.
  • Income funds offer diversification of income sources and potential for capital appreciation.
  • However, they are sensitive to market risks and interest rate changes, limiting significant capital gains.
  • An example of an income fund is the T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund, known for its combination of dividend payments and capital growth.

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