Total return funds mean different things to different people. There are about 75 mutual funds with "total return" in their names, according to Morningstar. Nearly half of those funds were started in the past 10 years, including eight last year and this year. Since total return funds span more than a dozen Morningstar categories, the name of the fund might not indicate much about the assets it holds or the strategies it pursues.

When clients want a total return fund, it may be difficult for advisors to sort out the options. Determining what role a total return fund can play in a client's portfolio requires a deeper understanding of this confusing category.

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