The past year hasn't been kind to income investors. Next-to-nothing interest rates have translated to next-to-nothing returns on traditionally safe fixed-income investments like bonds and CDs. To get returns that can outpace inflation, it's essential to invest in stocks.

Vanguard has a number of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that are perfect for those seeking low-risk investment income. ETFs give you the instant diversification that's almost impossible to achieve by handpicking your own stocks. And the beauty of Vanguard ETFs is that they have some of the lowest fees out there. Here are four Vanguard funds income investors should seriously consider.

The Vanguard Real Estate Investment ETF(NYSEMKT:VNQ) offers a way to invest across the entire U.S. real estate market without buying up physical property. It invests mostly in equity real estate investment trusts (REITs), which own and operate income-generating commercial real estate.

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