Objective information about retirement, financial planning and investments


Target Date Funds: Does the Glide Path Matter?


Most Target Date Funds are funds of the mutual funds of the fund family offering the TDF.  The pitch is to invest in the fund with a target date closest to your projected retirement date and “… we’ll do the rest….”  A key element of Target Date Funds is their Glide Path into retirement.  Stated another way the Glide Path is the gradual decline in the allocation to equities into and during retirement.  Should the fund’s Glide Path matter to you as an investor?

Glide PathTarget Date Funds have become a big part of the 401(k) landscape with many plans offering TDFs as an option for participants who don’t want to make their own investment choices.  Target Date Funds have also grown in popularity since the Pension Protection Act of 2006 included TDFs as a safe harbor option for plan sponsors to use for participants who do not make an investment election for their salary deferrals and/or any company match.

These funds are big business for the likes of Vanguard, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price who control somewhere around 70% of the assets in these funds.  Major fund families such as Blackrock, JP Morgan Funds, and the American Funds also offer a full menu of these funds.  Ideally for the fund company you will leave you money in a TDF with them when you retire or leave your employer, either in the plan or via a rollover to an IRA.

What is a Glide Path?

The allocation of the fund to equities will gradually decrease over time.  For example Vanguard’s 2060 Target Date Fund had an equity allocation of almost 88% at the end of 2013.  By contrast the 2015 fund had an equity allocation of approximately 52%.

This gradual decrease continues through retirement for many TDF families including the “Big 3” until the equity allocation levels out conceivably until the shareholder’s death.  T. Rowe Price has traditionally had one of the longest Glide Paths with equities not leveling out until the investor is past 80.  The Fidelity and Vanguard funds level out earlier, though past age 65.

There are some TDF families where the glide path levels out at retirement and there is some debate in the industry whether “To” or “Through” retirement is the better strategy for a fund’s Glide Path.

Should you care about the Glide Path? 

The fund families offering Target Date Funds put a lot of research into their Glide Paths and make it a selling point for the funds.  The slope of the Glide Path influences the asset allocation throughout the target date years of an investor’s retirement accumulation years.  The real issue is whether the post-retirement Glide Path is right for you as an investor.

On the one hand if you might be inclined to use your Target Date Fund as an investment vehicle into retirement, as the mutual fund companies hope, then this is a critical issue for you.

On the other hand if you would be inclined to roll your 401(k) account over to either an IRA or a new employer’s retirement plan upon leaving your company then the Glide Path really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to you as an investor in my opinion.

In either case investing in a Target Date Fund whether you are a 401(k) participant saving for retirement or a retiree is the ultimate “one size fits all” investment.  In the case of the Glide Path this is completely true.  If you feel that the Glide Path of a given Target Date Fund is in synch with your investment needs and risk tolerance into retirement then it might be the way to go for you.

Conversely many people have a number of investment accounts and vehicles as they head into retirement.  Besides their 401(k) there might be a spouse’s 401(k), other retirement accounts including IRAs, taxable investments, annuities, an interest in a business, real estate, and others.

In short, Target Date Funds are a growing part of the 401(k) landscape and I’m guessing a profitable way for mutual fund companies to gather assets.  They also represent a potentially sound alternative for investors looking for a professionally managed investment vehicle.  The Glide Path is a key element in the efforts to keep these investors in the Target Date Fund potentially for life.  Before going this route make sure you understand how the TDF invests, the length and slope of the Glide Path, the fund’s underlying expenses, and overall how the fund’s investments fit with everything else you may doing to plan for and manage a comfortable retirement.

Approaching retirement and want another opinion on where you stand? Not sure if your investments are right for your situation? Need help getting on track? Check out my Financial Review/Second Opinion for Individuals service for detailed guidance and advice about your situation.

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Target Date Funds: 6 Considerations Before Investing


Target Date Funds are a staple of many 401(k) plans. Most Target Date Funds are funds of mutual funds. The three largest firms in the TDF space are Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, and Vanguard with a combined market share of about 80 percent. All three firms use only their own funds as the underlying investments in their target-date fund offerings. Some other firms offer other formats, such as funds of exchange-traded funds, but the fund of mutual funds is still the most common structure.

Target Date Funds Investing

Here are 6 considerations to think about when deciding whether to use the Target Date Fund option in your company’s retirement savings plan:

Is the Glide Path really that important?

Much has been made of whether the Glide Path (a leveling of the fund’s equity allocation into retirement) should take investors to or through retirement. Target Date Fund providers spend a lot of time devising and administering the Glide Path that their funds use into and through your retirement years.   Before making too much of this, however, the key question is what will you do with your retirement plan dollars once you retire? TDF providers hope that you take the money invested in their Target Date Funds and roll these dollars into an IRA with them, maintaining your Target Date Fund position.  There are big dollars at stake for them.  In reality you might take your money out of the plan and do something else with it, including consolidating these funds with other retirement assets already in an IRA perhaps at another custodian.

How does the allocation of the Target Date Fund fit with your other investments? 

Many 401(k) participants invest their retirement dollars in a vacuum—meaning they don’t take their investments outside of the plan into consideration when making their investment choices. This is fine for younger workers just starting out.  Their 401(k) investment might be their only investment and the instant diversification of a Target Date Fund is fine here.

For those with other outside investments such as taxable accounts, a spouse’s retirement plan, and perhaps an IRA rolled over from old 401(k)s, this is a big mistake. Given that TDFs are funds of funds you might become over or under allocated in one or more areas and not know it as your account grows. Factoring the Target Date Fund allocation into your overall portfolio is critical. 

Is the Target Date Fund closest to your projected retirement date the right choice for you?

For example, a 2020 Target Date Fund is conceivably meant for someone who is 58 and retiring in seven years. If you were to take three 58-year-olds and look at their respective financial situations and tolerance for risk, it is likely that they are all fairly different. Plan providers need to do a better job of communicating to plan participants that the fund with the date closest to their projected retirement date may not be the right fund for their needs. Look at your own unique situation and pick the TDF that best fits your needs. 

Understand the underlying expenses

In some cases, the overall expense ratio may be a weighted average of the underlying funds. Others may also tack on a management fee to cover the costs of managing the fund. As with any investment, understand what you are being charged and what you are getting for your money. 

Target Date Funds don’t equate to low risk

Many participants are under the mistaken impression that investing in a Target Date Fund is a low risk proposition. As we saw in 2008, nothing could be further from the truth. Many investors in 2010 funds saw losses in excess of 20 percent. A recent review of more than 40 Target Date Fund families showed the share of stocks in the funds designed for those retiring in the current year ranged from about 25 percent to about 75 percent. As with any mutual fund, look under the hood and understand the level of risk that you will be assuming.

Investing in Target Date Funds doesn’t guarantee retirement success 

Contrary to the belief of some, investing in a Target Date Fund doesn’t guarantee that you will have enough saved at retirement.  Building a sufficient retirement nest egg is all about how much you save and how you invest those savings.  Target Date Funds may or may not be the best investment vehicle for your needs.

Target Date Funds can be a good vehicle for 401(k) participants and others who are not comfortable allocating their own investments. Unfortunately, TDFs are not a set it and forget it proposition. Investing in Target Date Funds requires periodic review to ensure that the fund you have chosen is still right for your situation. Retirement plan providers and sponsors also need to do a better job of communicating the benefits, pitfalls, and potential uses of these funds to plan participants.

Please feel free to contact me with questions about 401(k) investment options or about your overall financial and retirement planning needs.  

For you do-it-yourselfers, check out Morningstar.com to analyze your Target Date Fund and all 401(k) investment options and to get a free trial for their premium services.  Please check out our Resources page for links to some additional tools and services that might be beneficial to you.  

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Vanguard Target Date Funds – A Look Under The Hood


I’ve written several posts on Target Date Funds for this blog.  I have mixed feelings about them.  On the one hand TDFs do


provide investors with a professionally managed all-in-one investment solution.  Ideally you invest in the fund with a target date closest to your anticipated retirement date and the fund does the rest.  The manager typically lightens up on equities over time until the fund reaches its Glide Path into retirement, which is a point where the equity allocation levels off and you “glide” into retirement.

This is great in theory, but the reality is that across various fund families TDFs with the same target date can vary widely in their allocations and as to when the Glide Path starts.  Personally I like TDFs more for younger investors versus those who are within say 15 years or so of retirement.  Target Date Funds have become a staple in 401(k) plans due to the safe harbor given to plan sponsors who use them as the default investment choice for those plan participants who do not make an election of their own.

Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, and Vanguard control about 80% of the TDFs assets.  Let’s take a look under the hood at the Vanguard Target Retirement funds.

Vanguard offers funds with target dates beginning in 2010 and going out to 2060 in five year increments.  Additionally they offer an Income version of the fund for those already in retirement.

Low Cost and Simple

Vanguard’s approach is both simple and low cost.  The underlying funds consist mostly of Vanguard’s low cost index funds.  The overall expense ratio of the funds is a weighted rollup of the underlying funds and currently ranges from 0.17% to 0.19%.  This is far less expensive than either Fidelity or T. Rowe Price and each of the Vanguard funds ranks in the top (lowest expense) percentile of their respective peer categories.

Solid Performance

  • Each of the funds from the 2010 through the 2050 fund received a top ranking from Fi 360 a mutual fund and ETF ranking service that I utilize in their most recent rankings through the quarter ended September 30, 2012.
  • The Retirement Income fund received a score of 6 from Fi 360 meaning that it ranked in the top 6% of the 211 funds in its category based upon the 11 ranking criteria used by the service.
  • The 2055 and 2060 funds do not have enough history to receive a ranking.

Glide Path and Asset Classes

Vanguard uses 7 asset classes in its TDFs; Fidelity uses 11; T. Rowe Price uses 12.  This is not good or bad, but does reflect Vanguard’s more basic approach.

Vanguard’s Glide Path levels off at age 72; Fidelity’s at age 80; T. Rowe Price’s at age 95.  The Glide Path assumes that the investor will hold the fund until death; this may or may not be the case in reality.

Are Target Date Funds the Right Answer? 

As mentioned above, I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand TDFs are often a better solution than simply letting one’s retirement plan assets languish in a money market account.  On the other hand I am convinced that investors who are either comfortable doing their own allocation or who utilize an advisor are generally better served by tailoring an allocation from among the menu of investment choices offered in their 401(k) plan.

As far as Target Date Funds go, I generally like the Vanguard version for their basic, easy to understand approach and their low cost.

Check out Morningstar to look under the hood of Vanguard’s Target Date Funds and to compare them against other alternatives that you might be considering.  Get a  free trial for their premium services.

Please feel free to contact me with questions regarding your investments and your retirement planning issue.

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Lousy 401(k)? – Maybe it’s You Not Them


President George W. Bush signs into law H.R. 4...

Ever since the stock market tanked in 2008-09 there have been innumerable news stories and blog posts about how the 401(k) has failed investors.  The term “201(k)” was coined to describe the losses suffered by many investors.

It is true that there are a lot of sub-par 401(k) plans out there in the marketplace.

On the other hand, I have many clients who have or are the process of amassing significant retirement nest eggs via their 401(k) plans.

Maybe it’s not fair, but the responsibility for saving for our retirement has been placed upon us by a system that has made offering a traditional defined benefit pension plan prohibitively expensive for many employers.  For better or worse the 401(k) is the main retirement savings vehicle for many of us.  Unfortunately, in many cases 401(k) participants are their own worst enemy.  Here are some common 401(k) mistakes to avoid on the path to saving for your retirement:

Ignoring it.  How many stories have we seen over the past few years about plan participants who were afraid to open their statements?  The better solution is to be proactive:  figure out an investment strategy for your retirement savings, implement that strategy, monitor your allocation, and adjust when appropriate.

Assuming that the auto enrollment percentage contribution is sufficient to meet your retirement goals.    Trust me, it isn’t.  Many plans auto enroll all new employees unless they opt out.  Generally the deferral percentage is low, 1% or 2% of compensation is common.  This might be a good start, but if you don’t increase your contributions you can likely count on a pretty dismal retirement lifestyle.

Not taking advantage of professional help.  Many people are uncomfortable making investment decisions for any number of reasons.  If you work with a financial advisor already make sure that they are providing advice on this account as well.  Many plans offer advice services that range from online to one-on-one consultations.  Some of this help is free, some carries a cost, if you are uncomfortable managing your 401(k) yourself go get the help you need.  It’s never too early to get serious about your retirement and make sure that you are on the right path.

Assuming that that a Target Date Fund is the right solutionOn the surface the Target Date Funds offered by your plan looks like the ideal solution, especially if you are uncomfortable allocating your account from among the other investment choices offered by the plan.  This has been reinforced by the use of Target Date Funds as the default option by many plans under the safe harbor provisions of the Pension Protection Act of 2006.  What could be easier?  You pick the target date closest to when you are likely to retire, you make your contributions, and you basically set it and forget it.

Unfortunately it’s not that easy.  Target Date Funds with identical target dates can often look quite different.  Different Target Date Fund providers may offer funds that are geared “to” retirement while others are geared to go “through” retirement.  I strongly suggest that no 401(k) participant take anything on faith here.  All one needs to do is to look back on the recent performance of shorter dated funds during severe drops in the markets.  Witness the losses suffered by many Target 2010 funds during 2008.  Look closely at the Target Date Funds offered to you.  Understand how they will invest your money and what retirement Glide Path they take.  Decide if this is the right approach for your situation.  Remember, you don’t have to investment in the fund with the target date closest to your expected retirement date, go can go with any of the funds that best fits your needs.

Investing your 401(k) account in a vacuum.  I see far too many plan participants who fail to take a total portfolio view of their 401(k) account.  By this I mean including the 401(k) along with their spouse’s retirement account, IRAs, old retirement accounts still at former employers, brokerage and mutual fund accounts, individual stocks, and other holdings as a total investment portfolio.  Not doing this can cause you to take too much or too little investment risk in your 401(k).  Beyond the 401(k) having all of these accounts not being managed in harmony is just a waste of these investment dollars.  You worked hard to accumulate these assets, make them work just as hard for you.  In short develop an investment strategy that takes all of your investment assets into account, ideally one that is based on a financial plan.

It’s easy to blame the system or other factors if you are unhappy with the performance of your 401(k).  Rather than blame anyone, there is no better time to take charge of your retirement than today.

Please feel free to contact me with your financial planning questions.  Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page for more information about our services.   


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