Target-date funds sound like they make retirement simple.
Plunk one or more into your 401(k) or IRA account, choose a retirement date and watch your portfolio grow, bringing you to the financial nirvana every retiree craves.
That's the allure of a target-date retirement fund. But there are several caveats anyone considering this kind of investment vehicle should be aware of.
These asset classes can include domestic and international stocks, U.S. Treasury and high quality corporate bonds and as the target date nears, inflation-protected bonds or "TIPS." The fund automatically rebalances the asset allocation over time to make it more conservative as your retirement date nears.
As an example let's compare two target-date funds from the same family: Vanguard. We'll choose one fund dated 2015, the other dated 2030. The 2015 fund is right for a person with three or four years left in the work force, say someone around 60 years old. Currently the 2015 fund is 56.7% invested in stocks and 43.2% in bonds.
In contrast, the 2030 fund, which is appropriate to someone in the 40 to 45 age demographic, now has a mixture of 80.3 stocks and 19.6% bonds. The remainder of both funds (less than 1% is allocated to cash).
A selling point of target-date funds is they give you a pre-made, age-appropriate, professionally managed and diversified portfolio. Because asset allocations are determined for you, these funds can be just right for new investors unsure about how to build a portfolio. The funds are also designed for those individuals who want to "invest and forget" and not have to closely monitor the market fluctuations.
But targeted funds are not for everybody.
Here are some points to consider:
*Retirement target, not risk tolerance: The asset allocation of a target-date fund is based on your selected retirement date. As a result, the assets fund managers choose don't take into account your individual risk tolerance.
You may end up with a portfolio that contains much riskier investments than you're comfortable with. Or, conversely one that's too conservative to reach your retirement goals. Before you invest, check the fund's current holdings and whether you're comfortable with the risk they expose you to.
On the other hand, if you put in too much cash, you could risk losing your fortune in a poor performing fund. As a result, target-date funds may be one of the cornerstones of your retirement planning, but it shouldn't be the only one.
Every so often make sure your fund's performance isn't sliding. You'll want to monitor it against benchmarks such as the S&P 500 and/or other target-date funds. It's also wise to keep up with changes such as increases to the fund's expense ratio, or unplanned shifts in asset allocation and investing strategy. These changes will affect your ultimate investment dollars.
[Maximize your 401(k)'s performance with 5 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Overhaul Your 401(k)]
*Inflation: While scaling back on risk as you age is considered good money management, a high proportion of inflation-beating growth stocks may be needed to meet retirement goals.
Action to Take --> Target-date funds typically decrease stock allocation to less than 20% in the final years before they mature. Yet, some financial planners argue stock allocation should be at least 50% or higher during this time to meet growth targets. Again the solution is to make a target-date fund one part of your retirement planning strategy and not the entire solution.
[Want to learn how to build your own simple portfolio? Check out our guide: The Lazy Man's Retirement Portfolio]