Three Investments That Put Your Money to Work With Less Risk

Bonds, brokered CDs and fixed annuities can be quickly liquidated while providing steadier returns and fewer fluctuations to your principal.

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Editor’s note: This is part four of a five-part series on supplemental income streams in retirement. Part one, Could Supplemental Income Strategies Work for Your Retirement?, is an introduction to the series. Part two is A Managed Account Offers Optimization and Tax Efficiency. Part three is Annuities Provide Peace of Mind and Lifetime Income. Part five is That Cash in Your Emergency Fund Doesn't Have to Be Idle.

As you near the end of your prime earning years, it can be harder to confidently weather fluctuations in the markets. Still, you may be unwilling to give up your retirement assets’ power to grow. Shifting assets to safer classes of investments may be an effective strategy for supplementing your retirement income without sacrificing the safety of your principal investment.

When looking for the most reliable way to grow investable assets, most people turn to the stock market. With an average annual return over the last 50 years of 10%, investing in the market is a great way to help grow your principal retirement assets — when you have time on your side. But as you near retirement, your investments become more susceptible to short-term market dips and may leave you with little time to recover losses. There are less-risky investment classes and financial products that can still put your money to work while hedging against swings in the market. Here are some of them:

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Government-backed Treasuries

One of the safest investments during periods of market volatility or high inflation are government-backed Treasuries such as savings bonds and Treasury bills. Treasuries are backed by the U.S. government and can be purchased to mature at varying intervals from as little as a few months to several decades. While you shouldn’t expect a rate of return comparable to most stocks, government Treasuries — in most cases — will at minimum keep pace with inflation and can even be smarter investments as interest rates rise to bring inflation down.

The barrier for entry in Treasury securities is also low, with bonds available in a variety of denominations at or above $1,000. In the event you have a need for immediate cash, government bonds may be sold for at least the value you purchased them for — but you’ll miss out on the bond’s maturity value and any future interest payments.

Despite their low risk, bonds are not always a perfect solution — particularly when the markets are stable. Because of their lower rate of return, investors should expect only modest gains, which means lost opportunity for more rewarding returns from other investments in good economic times. Also, while Treasury-backed bonds are typically non-callable — meaning the issuer cannot pay off the bond before it matures — other short-term bonds can be called, closing the investor off from additional interest payments.

Brokered CDs

Another potential consideration for investors looking for more predictable or lower-risk returns on investment is a brokered certificate of deposit (CD). A brokered CD differs from a traditional bank CD in that the investor purchases a portion of a larger bank CD from a brokerage firm. The brokered CD earns interest and has a maturity date just like a traditional CD, but also typically has higher yields for investors due to the larger underlying investment from the brokerage firm.

Brokered CDs can be advantageous options for investors who need flexibility with their investable assets. In the event that an investor needs access to their capital before the maturity date of the CD, brokered CDs often can be sold on the secondary market without the high penalty fee you’d pay to withdraw money from a bank CD.

While brokered CDs offer more flexibility and higher yields, they can be problematic for investors in a shifting interest rate environment. As rates rise, investors in a brokered CD may have difficulty selling their lower-interest investment on the secondary market. Conversely, if interest rates drop over the life of the CD, investors run the risk of their CD being called — recouping their principal investment but missing out on future interest earnings.

Short-duration fixed income

Another option for investors to consider: short-duration, fixed-income solutions. These products are offered as either short or ultra-short bonds. Common solutions in this category would be short-term corporate bonds, bond mutual funds or bond ETFs.

Short-duration fixed-income solutions offer investors a capital preservation strategy with strong liquidity, which generally provides a greater yield than the assets in your emergency fund, like money market or bank deposit sweep vehicles.

Fixed annuities

While not fully liquid, fixed annuities can also be a great option when looking to provide a fixed rate of return for a set period that can allow you to plan for sustained growth with certainty. Annuity products will also provide for tax deferral on earnings while the contract is in force, allowing for a more efficient means to accumulate and protect assets.

Often, fixed annuities also can include a return-of-premium feature, which allows the investor to surrender the policy while maintaining the invested principal. While some annuities may offer a return of premium, most contracts may be assessed a surrender penalty (or contingent deferred sales charge, or CDSC) if the policy is surrendered before the end of the required term, generally three to seven years.

Approaching retirement can mean it’s time to re-evaluate how you’re investing your money, but it doesn’t mean you have to pull your funds out of appreciating assets altogether. Working with your financial adviser to ladder these strategies can help provide liquidity at various intervals so you don’t need to surrender or sell before maturity.

Exploring investment opportunities that pay a fixed yield and may be quickly liquidated — such as bonds, brokered CDs and fixed annuities — may provide a worthwhile return on assets without the risk of a significant loss.

Next week, look for the last part of this five-part series, about low-risk, low-yield investment vehicles for your emergency fund.

The other articles in this series:
Part one:
Could Supplemental Income Strategies Work for Your Retirement?
Part two: A Managed Account Offers Optimization and Tax Efficiency
Part three: Annuities Provide Peace of Mind and Lifetime Income
Part five: That Cash in Your Emergency Fund Doesn't Have to Be Idle

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Rich Guerrini
President and CEO, PNC Investments

Rich Guerrini is the President and Chief Executive Officer of PNC Investments. In his role, he is responsible for all sales, operations, risk and compliance activities for the retail investments organization. Prior to his current responsibilities, Guerrini was Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Alternative Investments for PNC Investments and was responsible for development and rollout of the PNC Investment Center and PNC’s web-based investment offering.