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What are the differences, in layman's terms between a REIT and an MLP? Why should I choose one over another? Could you also provide real-world examples for both types?

  • That is a very broad query. Do you mind tailoring it to your needs, so somebody can answer. – DumbCoder Apr 19 '16 at 10:02
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A REIT is a real estate investment trust. It is a company that derives most of its gross income from and holds most of its assets in real estate investments, which, in this case, include either real property, mortgages, or both. They provide a way for investors to get broad exposure in a real estate market without going to buy a bunch of properties themselves. It also provides diversification within the real estate segment since REITs will often (but not necessarily) have either way more properties than an individual could get or have very large properties (like a few resorts) that would be too expensive for any one investor. By law, they must pay at least 90% of their taxable income as dividends to investors, so they typically have a good dividend rate (possibly but not necessarily) at the expense of growth of the stock price. Some of those dividends may be tax advantaged and some will not.

An MLP is a master limited partnership. These trade on the exchange like corporations, but they are not corporations. (Although often used in common language as synonyms, corporation and company are not the same thing. Corporation is one way to organize a company under the law.) They are partnerships, and when you buy a share you become a partner in the company. This is an alternative form of ownership to being a shareholding. In this case you are a limited partner, which means that you have limited liability as with stock. The shares may appreciate or not, just like a stock, and you can generally sell them back to the market for a capital gain or loss under the same rules as a stock. The main difference here from a practical point of view is taxes: Partnerships (of any type) do no pay tax - Instead their income and costs are passed to the individual partners, who must then include it on their personal returns (Form 1040, Schedule E). The partnership will send each shareholder a Schedule K-1 form at tax time. This means you may have "phantom income" that is taxable even though cash never flowed through your hands since you'll have to account for the income of the partnership. Many partnerships mitigate this by making cash distributions during the year so that the partners do actually see the cash, but this is not required. On the other hand, if it does happen, it's often characterized as a return of capital, which is not taxable in the year that you receive it. A return of capital reduces your cost basis in the partnership and will eventually result in a larger capital gain when you sell your shares.

As with any investment, there are pros and cons to each investment type. Of the two, the MLP is probably less like a "regular" stock since getting the Schedule K-1 may require some extra work at tax time, especially if you've never seen one before. On the other hand, that may be worth it to you if you can find one that's appreciating in value and still returning capital at a good rate since this could be a "best of everything" situation where you defer tax and - when you eventually do pay, you pay at favorable capital gains rates - but still manage to get your cash back in hand before you sell.

(In case not clear, my comments about tax are specific to the US. No idea how this is treated elsewhere.)

By real world example, I guess you meant a few tickers in each category? You can find whole lists online. I just did a quick search ("list of MLP" and "list of REIT"), found a list, and have provided the top few off of the first list that I found. The lists were alphabetical by company name, so there's no explicit or implicit endorsement of these particular investments.

Examples of REIT:

  • AKR
  • AIV
  • ARE

Examples of MLP:

  • CAFD
  • ACMP
  • AB

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