Target Date Funds: A Winning Play to Reaching Your Retirement Goal Line

What are Target Date Funds?

Target date funds are often the default investment in your 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan. A Target Date Fund (TDF) is like having an investing coach that helps you win the retirement game. The primary goal? To hit a financial home run when it’s time to retire. These mutual funds invest in a mix of stocks, bonds, and other assets. TDFs use a “glide path” strategy that gradually shifts the asset allocation based on your expected retirement date, usually at age 65. The idea is that the closer you get to retirement, the less risky your investments should be.

How Do Target Date Funds Work?

Glide Path – To vs. Through: Two Ways to Finish the Game

Imagine your retirement journey as a marathon race. Target Date Funds follow stock “glide paths”. These determine how the fund’s stock allocation changes over time. “To” glide paths assume that you will retire on your target retirement date. As a result, they adjust the asset allocation quickly like sprinting to the finish line. They hit their most conservative allocation at retirement. “Through” glide paths, on the other hand, take a steadier approach. They reduce stock allocations gradually for several years after your reach your retirement finish line. This technique expects you to have a longer fun-filled retirement.

Active, Passive, or Hybrid? Choose Your Offensive Strategy

Target Date Funds use different approaches to winning the retirement game, just like sports teams. Some active managers select investments tactically while aiming to outperform the market and their peers. They shift assets tactically aiming for big plays, at potentially higher costs, like a quarterback calling audibles at the line of scrimmage. Passively managed funds mirror market indexes, sticking to the playbook, offering lower fees but potentially lower scores. This is similar to a hockey team grinding out wins with strong defense. Hybrid funds mix it up, aiming for a sweet spot between cost and performance. They are like all-around athletes competing in the Olympic decathlon, blending the best of both worlds. Choose a TDF that uses a style that fits your risk tolerance and investment philosophy.

Diversification: Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

In the world of sports, a well-rounded team is key to success. Target Date Funds bring this concept to you by diversifying your investments across various asset classes. It’s similar to having a baseball lineup with power hitters, speedy base stealers, and reliable contact hitters. This ensures your financial lineup is well-prepared for the unpredictable twists and turns of the market game. They balance risks across categories like US and international stocks, government and corporate bonds or real estate. Some fund families do this better than others making diversification is an important criteria when evaluating TDFs.

Risk Exposure: Know Your Comfort Zone

Risk in Target Date Funds is like playing defense in sports—it’s essential. TDFs managed by different investment firms can have diverse levels of risk exposure. The amount of risk in each TDF series depends on the target date, how quickly the equity glide path reduces the stock allocation, the asset class diversification, and the fund manager’s philosophy. Risk is similar to a baseball hitter swinging for the fences until he has two strikes when he will trade potential home runs for just making contact. Another degree of risk comes from the diversification in the TDF’s investment portfolio. A significant allocation to investments like small cap stocks or real estate can improve the diversification and reduce the impact of risk. Understanding your risk tolerance is essential. Different TDFs series offer varying amounts of risk, allowing you to choose a strategy that aligns with your risk tolerance.

Target Date Funds and Your 401(k) or 403(b)

Your 401(k) plan may offer Target Date Funds as a default option. This means that if you don’t choose your own investments, your money will be automatically invested for you. Your contributions, and those of your employer, will be invested in the fund that has a target date that is closest to the year you will turn 65, which is your ‘default’ retirement date. It’s somewhat like getting drafted by a baseball team and being assigned to their rookie league team. Unlike the rookie though, you can change your investments. This can be a convenient “set it and forget it” way to save for retirement, especially if you don’t have the time, knowledge, or interest to manage your own portfolio.

You can always opt out of the default by selecting one or more different investments. For example, if you don’t plan to retire until you are 70 or beyond you can select a target date fund that has a time horizon that is 5 or 10 years later instead. An important distinction to remember about your 410(k) is that you will not have a choice on the manager of your Target Date Fund. On the other hand, you can choose your investments in an IRA.

Advantages (Pros) and Disadvantages (Cons) of TDFs

Target Date Funds have some pros and cons that you should be aware of before investing.

The Pros of Target Date Funds

Set It and Forget It Simplicity: Target Date Funds simplify the retirement game, allowing you to set your date and let the fund do the heavy lifting. TDFs handle rebalancing and gradual risk adjustment towards retirement. Almost as if you have a coach that takes care of your game plan, giving you more time for off-field pursuits.

Diversification: Target Date Funds invest in a broad range of asset classes including stocks and bonds. Some managers even include real estate, commodities, and alternatives which helps to reduce the risk of loss due to market fluctuations or unexpected events further. It’s like having all the players on your team in the right positions.

Professional Management: All TDFs are run by professional manager who make strategic decisions based on market conditions. That’s similar to having a coach calling the shots for your retirement game, which for many people is far better than handling it on their own.

The Cons of Target Date Funds

One Size-Fits-All Approach: While Target Date Funds suit many investors the fund series on your 401(k) plan may not align with your financial game plan. This may be especially true in your 401(k) plan where the investment firm that manages your TDF is chosen by your employer.

Limited control: Target Date Funds are managed by investment professionals. They make the decisions about asset allocation and rebalancing. This means you have limited control over your investments, and you may not be able to take advantage of market opportunities or avoid market risks. On the other hand, if you don’t have the knowledge to do it yourself this could be a good thing for you!

Fees: There is a large range of fees associated with Target Date Funds so it’s important to weigh the cost against the convenience. Some TDFs can be pricey, comparable to the cost of box seats vs. general admission bleachers. On the flip side, sometimes it pays to have a good coach.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Target Date Fund

You may not have access to the Target Date Fund that is the best fit for you in your 401(k) or 403(b) plan. In that case review the glide path and decide which target date available to you has the asset allocation that fits your goals and risk tolerance.

When you do have a choice in selecting a TDF, you should consider the following factors:

Your risk tolerance: Choose a TDF that matches your risk tolerance, which depends on your age, income, savings rate, investment experience, and retirement goals. Select one that aligns with your comfort zone.

The glide path: Select a TDF that uses a glide path that matches your retirement horizon and risk profile. The fund series should have a well-diversified asset allocation that adjusts to more conservative investments in order to reduce risk over time.

Performance History: Pick a Target Date Fund that has a track record of consistent performance that often beats its benchmarks and peers. While it’s not a crystal ball, it is helpful to understand how a TDF has fared in different market conditions. Keep in mind that past performance is no guarantee of future results. It’s similar to choosing the right player to add to your team.

Fee Structure: Fees are just one part of the equation when choosing a Target Date Fund. Consider the fee structure and decide whether you’re willing to pay a premium for a top-performing squad or prefer a more budget-friendly lineup. Often times you get what you pay for. The goal is aligning a fund’s strategy to your preferences at a reasonable price.

Bottom Line

Target date funds simplify investing for retirement by automatically adjusting diversified portfolios along a glide path aimed at your retirement date. TDFs deliver a strategic game plan for retirement, with the potential to score big points for your financial future. Like a seasoned athlete, TDFs adapt to changing conditions, helping you stay in the game and achieve your retirement goals. In conclusion, if you don’t have the time or inclination to choose your own investments let a Target Date Fund take you on a winning journey toward a fun-filled retirement.