Learning Center


Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds are issued by public entities such as state and local governments, health systems, universities, and school districts to help finance ongoing expenses and major projects such as roads, water systems, and facilities. An attractive feature of these bonds is that the interest is generally exempt from federal income tax, as well as from state and local taxes if you live in the state where the bond was issued.

For this reason, muni bonds and funds have long been a mainstay in the portfolios of income-focused investors who want to manage their tax burdens. The tax-free yields are often more valuable to investors in higher tax brackets.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act introduced changes to tax rates and allowed deductions that impact some investors more than others, with implications that spill into the municipal bond market.

Chart comparing the taxable equivalent yield of a taxable bond to the yield of a tax-exempt muni bond.

An Altered Landscape

If an investor’s new marginal tax rate is much lower than before, the tax exemption might also be less valuable. However, the federal deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) is now limited to $10,000 a year. For many affluent investors in high-cost, high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey, California, and Connecticut (among others), the appeal of tax-free income is stronger than ever. Consequently, a surge in investor demand drove up muni bond prices and pushed down yields in 2019.1

Another tax provision made income from some municipal bonds (“private activity” bonds that often fund stadiums and airports) subject to the federal alternative minimum tax (AMT). The AMT is a parallel tax system with different rates and rules that disallow certain deductions. Fortunately, the phaseout threshold for the AMT also increased (from $160,900 in 2017 to $1,020,600 in 2019 and $1,036,800 in 2020 for joint filers), so many households no longer need to worry about the AMT.

Tax-Exempt Funds

Some muni bond funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are national and offer income free of federal income tax, but they may be subject to state and local taxes. Other funds focus on bonds from one specific state and may also include bonds from U.S. territories that are not subject to state taxes, making the fund’s interest income tax-free for investors who live in the targeted state.

Investors should keep in mind that capital gains taxes could still be triggered if tax-exempt bonds or fund shares are sold for a profit. Also, tax-exempt interest is included in determining whether a portion of any Social Security benefit received is taxable.

Review the Risks

Because government entities have the power to raise taxes and fees as needed to pay the interest, muni bonds are generally less risky than corporate bonds. The 10-year default rate for U.S. investment-grade municipal bonds is 0.18%, compared with 1.74% for investment-grade corporate bonds.2

Regional economies and the financial strength of issuers can vary widely, so municipal issues are rated for credit risk, as are other bonds. A credit rating ranging from AAA down to BBB (or Baa) is considered “investment grade”; lower-rated or “junk” bonds carry greater risk.

As interest rates rise, bond prices fall, and vice versa. When redeemed, bonds may be worth more or less than their original cost. Bond funds are subject to the same inflation, interest-rate, and credit risks associated with their underlying bonds. The return and principal value of bonds and mutual fund shares fluctuate with changes in interest rates and other market conditions, which can adversely affect investment performance.

Mutual funds and ETFs are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.


Information provided has been prepared from Broadridge Advisor Solutions sources and data we believe to be accurate, but we make no representation as to its accuracy or completeness. Data and information is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended for solicitation or trading purposes. Broadridge Advisor Solutions is not an affiliate of Equitable Advisors, LLC. Please consult your tax and legal advisors regarding your individual situation. Neither Equitable Advisors nor any of the data provided by Equitable Advisors or its content providers, such as Broadridge Advisor Solutions, shall be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for the actions taken in reliance therein. By accessing the Equitable Advisors website, a user agrees to abide by the terms and conditions of the site including not redistributing the information found therein.

Securities offered through Equitable Advisors, LLC (NY, NY 212-314-4600), member FINRA, SIPC. Annuity and insurance products offered through Equitable Network, LLC and its subsidiaries.

The Retirement Planning Specialist title is awarded by Equitable Advisors, based upon the Financial Professional's (FP) receipt of a Certificate in Retirement Planning from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. In a collaboration between the Wharton School and Equitable Advisors' affiliated life insurance carrier, coursework for the certificate was developed exclusively for Equitable Advisors FPs, and the title may be used only by FPs who have completed the required coursework and maintain the title through ongoing continuing education requirements. To verify that an FP has earned and holds the title in good standing, contact us at atretirement@equitable.com. Complaints about an Equitable Advisors FP should be directed to customer.relations@equitable.com.

Securities offered through Equitable Advisors, LLC (212-314-4600), member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory products and services offered through Equitable Advisors, LLC, an investment advisor registered with the SEC. Annuity and insurance products offered through Equitable Network, LLC and its insurance agency subsidiaries. Equitable Network, LLC does business in California as Equitable Network Insurance Agency of California, LLC and, in Utah, Equitable Network Insurance Agency of Utah, LLC. Equitable Advisors and its affiliates do not provide tax or legal advice. Individuals may transact business and/or respond to inquiries only in state(s) in which they are properly registered and/or licensed. The information in this web site is not investment or securities advice and does not constitute an offer.

Equitable Advisors, LLC is an Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/D/V

IMPORTANT: The names of all companies under the formerly-used AXA brand name have been updated under Equitable, the brand name of Equitable Holdings, Inc. and its family of companies. As we work to completely revise all of our website content, advertising, and other communications, you may occasionally see a remaining and inadvertent reference to some variation of "AXA", which should be disregarded and will be corrected as soon as possible.

Link to equitable.com

Privacy Policy

Check the background of this financial professional on FINRA's BrokerCheck
Check the background of this financial professional on FINRA's BrokerCheck