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Unit Investment Trust (UIT) Explained Clearly

By Rebecca Lake · August 26, 2021 · 5 minute read

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Unit Investment Trust (UIT) Explained Clearly

A unit investment trust or UIT is similar to a mutual fund in that it’s a type of investment company that can hold a variety of securities, like stocks and bonds, that investors can buy as redeemable units.

In fact, UITs belong to the same category as mutual funds and closed-end funds, in that they pool money together from different investors. Similarly, unit investment trusts are designed to provide capital appreciation and/or dividend income, although without active trading of the securities in the portfolio.

UITs differ from most mutual funds several ways, chiefly in that they sell a fixed number of shares or units when the UIT is first opened; and the trust has a set maturity date when the UIT is dissolved and investors can redeem their units.

Unit investment trusts can offer some advantages to investors compared to mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). There are, however, some potential downsides that could make them less attractive than other types of pooled investments.

What Is a Unit Investment Trust (UIT)?

A unit investment trust is a type of investment company that issues and invests in securities. The other two types of investment companies are open-end funds (i.e. mutual funds) and closed-end funds.

Similar to a closed-end fund, a UIT raises money from multiple investors, typically through an Initial Public Offering or IPO. Each investor holds a unit in the trust that represents an ownership share and allows them to stake a claim to any capital appreciation or dividend income the trust generates. This type of trust can be established as a grantor trust or a regulated investment corporation.

Unit investment trusts can invest in a variety of different securities, but they tend to concentrate holdings in stocks and bonds. These assets are held in the trust for a set time period until the trust is dissolved. A typical holding period would be anywhere from 15 months to two years, though some UITs may have an end date that’s farther in the future.

Investors can sell their holdings back to the issuing company at any time, but they can’t trade UIT shares as they would shares of a mutual fund.

Once the portfolio manager of a unit investment trust chooses which securities to invest in, the investment focus usually doesn’t change. That means there is typically no active investing management in terms of trading the underlying assets. The investments that a UIT chooses depend on its overall strategy and objectives. So the risk and return profile of unit investment trusts can vary from one to another, based on the underlying holdings.

When a UIT matures, investors can do one of three things:

• Wait for the trust to liquidate its portfolio and receive their share of the proceeds

• Roll the investment over to a new UIT

• Receive a like-kind distribution of stock from the trust’s underlying investments

It’s important to keep in mind that UITs are not guaranteed investments. So it’s possible that returns could be lower than expected or even negative if the trust fails to meet its objectives.

UIT vs. Mutual Fund

As noted above, a mutual fund is a company that pools money from investors and invests them in securities. There are many different types of mutual funds, including but not limited to bond funds, stock funds, blended funds, target-date funds, and index funds. Some mutual funds can be actively managed while index funds follow a passive investing strategy.

Recommended: Active vs Passive Investing: Key Differences

At first glance, a UIT and a mutual fund might seem like the same thing since they fall under the same investment company umbrella. And while they do have some features in common, there are other things that distinguish the two.

How Are UITs and Mutual Funds Similar?

UITs and mutual funds share common ground when it comes to diversification, regulation, and how they pass on capital gains or dividends to investors. A capital gain represents a gain between the price you initially paid for an investment and the price you receive when you sell it. A dividend is a percentage of an investment’s profits that are paid out to investors.

Recommended: How Do Dividends Work?

Since UITs and mutual funds are both types of investment companies, they’re subject to SEC regulation. This means they’re required to meet regular reporting requirements. While this can help to minimize the potential for fraud, investors are still encouraged to read each fund’s prospectus to ensure they understand what the fund invests in.

What Are the Differences Between UITs and Mutual Funds?

The biggest differences between UITs and mutual funds have to do with their structure and management. A UIT has a set beginning when shares are issued, and an end date when it matures — while an open-end mutual fund typically allows investors to continually buy and sell shares. Additionally, a unit investment trust issues a certain number of units when the trust is created while mutual funds can issue new shares periodically.

With UITs, the underlying investments remain largely the same for the entirety of the investment period. Mutual funds, on the other hand, can buy and sell underlying assets as needed to stay aligned with the fund’s objectives. So mutual funds can be more adaptable if an underlying investment doesn’t perform as expected.

How to Invest in UITs

If you’re interested in investing with a unit investment trust, it’s possible to buy them directly from the issuer. UITs can also trade on an exchange, so you could purchase them through an online brokerage account. SoFi Invest®, for example, offers members access to IPO investing.

Before buying a unit investment trust, however, there are a few things to consider. Specifically, look at the following when comparing UITs:

• Duration of the UIT

• Minimum investment requirement

• Underlying investments

• Investment strategy and objectives

• Fees

Also, consider the investment risks. Again, there’s no guarantee that a unit investment trust will perform as expected. And since the trust investments are fixed, your returns (or losses) more or less hinge on whether those investments do well.

It’s also important to think about how well the underlying investments match up with the other investments in your portfolio. If you’re already heavily concentrated in equities, for example, it may not make sense to choose an equity UIT since that could increase your exposure to some of the same companies. A bond UIT, on the other hand, might help to balance out your asset allocation.

Are UITs a Good Investment?

Whether a unit investment trust is a good investment for you personally can depend on what you need and expect a pooled investment to do for you. If you’re an active trader, for example, then a UIT likely wouldn’t be a good fit. On the other hand, if you tend to take the longer view when investing or you prefer a buy-and-hold approach, you may find a unit investment trust fits well in your investment portfolio.

While you could benefit from capital gains distributions and dividends, keep in mind that unit investment trusts offer less flexibility than mutual funds or ETFs. Dividends, for example, can’t be reinvested the way they could with a mutual fund or index fund.

Investment fees are another important consideration when investing in a UIT. Since investment costs can reduce total return amounts over time, it’s important to understand all the costs associated with buying units and redeeming them when the trust matures.

Consider Investing in a Unit Investment Trust

Given their less flexible structure and set maturity date, unit investment trusts may be appealing to investors who take a longer-term approach and tend to prefer a buy-and-hold strategy. If you’d like more flexibility with your investments, you may consider mutual funds or ETFs in place of UITs, which have a set beginning and end date and little or no active trading of the securities within the trust. You also might want to explore alternatives to trusts or funds, like cryptocurrency or investing in IPOs.

Those are all things you can do when you open a brokerage account with SoFi Invest. SoFi offers convenient, low-cost online trading for beginners and more experienced investors who want to build wealth through their portfolios. Learn more about how to get started today.

Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz


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