When to Second Guess Your Target-Date Fund

Don’t assume you will have enough to retire on the target-date.

By + More

A number of retirement investment service providers have been offering simplified retirement products for several years. A target-date retirement fund is a one-stop shop for investing for the future. As the year of your retirement approaches, the brokerage gradually decreases the mutual fund's investment in stocks and increases its investment in bonds and cash. This theoretically provides safer but lower returns as the investor approaches the time the money is needed.

[See 5 Ways to Retire Before Age 40.]

The ease of investing with target-date retirement funds is an advantage. All of these mutual funds have the target year of retirement in the title, such as Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund or Fidelity's Freedom Fund 2030. Rather than rebalancing your portfolio's mix of stock and bond funds yourself, the investment managers handle the changes for you. This allows and encourages you to keep your hands off your investments and decreases the possibility of making trading decisions that hurt your returns.

While investment companies are more than willing to control your financial decisions, you are still responsible for these choices. Unless the government mandates standardization of target date mutual funds, different investment companies will continue to have different investment mixes. Your choice of fund will have a profound effect on your risk and return over the next three decades.

[See Why You Could Be Saving Too Much For Retirement.]

Consider the 2040 target funds managed by T. Rowe Price and Fidelity, two of the most popular low-cost brokerages. The T. Rowe Price Retirement 2040 Fund currently invests 90 percent in stocks and 10 percent in bonds. Fidelity's Freedom Fund 2040 invests 84 percent in stocks and 16 percent in bonds. T. Rowe Price's investment is more aggressive and that difference continues into retirement. In 2040 both funds will have shifted more towards bonds, but T. Rowe Price's fund will still have a larger percentage of stock funds. It's up to the individual investor to ensure the fund's risk profile is acceptable.

Even the most aggressive target-date funds may not be aggressive enough for all investors. These investments are designed for mass market appeal, so the brokerages tend to invest on the conservative side. That's not surprising considering the stock market's recent poor performance. If you have thirty years before retirement, you may want to consider investing your entire retirement portfolio in a diversified stock equity fund and leave bonds for later. With a target retirement fund, you are limited to the decisions that have been made for you. An interesting work-around is to increase your stock percentage by choosing a fund with a target date five or ten years after the date you plan to retire.

[See The 100 Best Mutual Funds for the Long Term.]

Target-date fund investments could lull an investor into a false sense of safety and security. This hands-off approach to investing encourages buying and holding for long-term success but it also opens the door to complacency. With your retirement investments on auto-pilot, you might not notice future changes such as a new investment strategy or an introduction of new fees.

Even if you choose to invest with target-date retirement funds, don't forget to review your choices and life situation occasionally. If your anticipated retirement date or lifestyle changes, make sure you will have a good probability of being prepared for retirement by reviewing your 401(k) and IRA investments.

Luke Landes writes for Consumerism Commentary, where he encourages discussions about money and consumer issues. Consumerism Commentary regularly tracks and reviews the best online savings accounts and other financial products.