1. Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS)
While I wouldn’t recommend buying an MBS these days, it’s still an investment worth knowing. In order to be able to afford to offer mortgages, most small banks package their mortgages and sell them through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As the housing industry works through the toxic mortgages it’s offered over the past couple of years, it’s best to avoid investing in an MBS or a collateralized mortgage obligation (CMO) — the cheaper version of an MBS.
2. Municipal Bonds
Municipal bonds, often called ‘munis,’ are bonds issued by states, counties, or municipalities for capital expenditures. When you purchase a municipal bond, you’re essentially offering a loan to the local government. At first glance, most municipal bonds seem to have very low returns; however, most are exempt from federal taxes and can be exempt from state and local taxes as well. When you factor in the improved tax situations, the return on municipal bonds is significantly better.
3. Mutual Funds
Members of mutual funds lump their money together and have a mutual fund manager buy stocks. The mutual fund manager is responsible for researching stocks, making sure the fund is diversified and all the details that can make investing in stocks worrisome for first time investors. Most funds have a set goal, along with strategies for risk and return. Mutual funds are particularly popular because you can easily make monthly purchases.
4. Options (Stocks)
Options are not actually securities, unlike many investments. Instead, options are the privilege to buy or sell a particular security at a set price within a certain period of time. If, for instance, you were to buy an option to buy a stock, you would hope the share price will rise significantly; you then purchase the stock and immediately resell it — or you can resell the option. Stock options are a particularly risky investment and most brokers will require you to receive approval to trade options — the added step is an attempt to limit the number of traders with no experience or knowledge.
5. Preferred Stock
Preferred stock represents your ownership in a company, just like common stock, but most preferred shares do not confer any voting rights, unlike common stock. For most preferred stock, dividends are also often different than common stocks: you would normally receive a fixed dividend indefinitely with preferred stock. Preferred stock is treated more like a combination of stocks and bond than straight stock. The main benefit of this approach is that, in the event of a company going bankrupt, its preferred stockholders will be repaid before common stockholders.
6. Real Estate and Property
For most people, purchasing a home is the largest single investment they will ever make in their lives. Of course, real estate investments can go far beyond houses: commercial properties, undeveloped land, condos and other opportunities are all included in this category. While real estate has developed something of a bad reputation lately, it can still be a very worthwhile investment. However, it is important to remember that real estate can be one of the more expensive investments to hold, between maintenance, property taxes and related expenses.
7. Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)
If you’re interested in investing in real estate, but feel like it’s too expensive, you can still invest in REITs. These investments are traded like stocks on most major stock exchanges — they are directly invested in properties or mortgages. Compared to traditional real estate investments, REITs are far more liquid, have better tax advantages and have high yields. REITs are usually less volatile than the rest of the stock market, although lately they’ve been riskier than usual.
8. Treasury Securities
Treasury securities actually include a number of different investments, including treasury bills (short-term investments), treasury notes (medium-term) and treasury bonds (long-term). All treasury securities are considered low risk; they are loans made to the national government which is assumed to be unlikely to default. Because of the risk factor, the return on treasury securities is fairly low.
9. Unit Trust (UIT)
UITs are fairly similar to mutual funds in that they hold a portfolio of investments. However, they differ dramatically in the portfolios they each hold: UITs may own common stock, but rely on income-producing securities like municipal bonds, government bonds and corporate bonds. UITs are not actively managed like other investment portfolios might be: because they hold income-producing securities, they allow these investments to mature and pay out. UITs are mostly low-risk investments, although those that hold stocks can be less certainty of a good return.
10. Zero-Coupon Securities
While most bonds pay a return (known as a ‘coupon’) beyond their face value, banks or brokers also offer zero-coupon securities. Essentially, zero-coupon securities are bonds that have had their coupons stripped off: the broker removes the coupons and trades the remaining bond as a zero-coupon security. The benefit of investing in these securities is that you will pay less than face value — significantly less if the bond won’t mature for quite a while. For instance, you might pay $800 today for a $1,000 security that will mature in five years, when you will receive the full face value. Zero-coupon securities have little risk, but they do have a few tax disadvantages.