4 Great Mutual Funds to Earn 3% to 4% in Investment-Grade Bonds

We've found low-cost funds that give you a wide range of these low-risk investments.

High-quality bonds form the base of a fixed-income portfolio. Issuers include major governments, government agencies and companies that are the strongest financially. The bonds have low credit risk; there's little chance that the issuers would be unable to pay interest or principal as promised.

Earnings for All

For most of the period from 2010 through mid 2016, long-term interest rates fell while the Fed kept its benchmark short-term rate near zero. With the Fed now hiking, the bellwether 10-year Treasury note yield has risen from 1.4% in mid 2016 to nearly 3% recently, lifting yields on other high-quality bonds.

The risks: A key determinant of long-term bond yields is the inflation rate, because inflation erodes the value of fixed-income yields. If investors begin to fear that inflation will rise, they're likely to demand higher yields on new bonds–depressing the value of existing bonds.

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How to invest: Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND, $79, 3.0%) is a solid choice for a diversified bond holding, says Miriam Sjoblom, a bond-fund analyst at Morningstar. The portfolio tracks the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index of high-quality bonds, which include Treasury, corporate and mortgage issues. The fund's annual management cost is a mere 0.05% of assets. Its duration is 6.1.

For investors who prefer actively managed funds, Dodge & Cox Income (DODIX, 3.0%) has a "thoughtful long-term approach to investing and an attractive price tag," says Morningstar analyst Sarah Bush. The management cost is 0.4%, compared with an average of 0.8% for similar funds, and the portfolio duration is 4.2. Another actively managed pick: DoubleLine Total Return Bond (DLTNX, 3.4%), a Kip 25 member. Most of the bonds in the portfolio are mortgage-backed securities, the specialty of DoubleLine founder Jeffrey Gundlach. The fund's duration is 3.8.Cullen Roche, head of advisory firm Orcam Financial Group, recommends a small stake in the longest-term U.S. Treasury bonds, using iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT, $118, 3.0%). Such long-term bonds carry high volatility risk (the ETF's duration is 17.5), but Roche views them as insurance against a geopolitical or global economic crisis. Long-term Treasuries have been the asset investors flock to in times of great fear. "There's no reason to think that has changed," he says.

Tom Petruno
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Petruno, a former financial columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is an independent investor, writer and consultant. He lives in L.A.