Investing 9. Target Retirement Funds – Too much simplicity ?

Posted on Categories ETF, FIRE, Investment
Investing - 9. Target Retirement Funds - Too much simplicity ?
This post is part 9 in the series Investing – All about investing.

We have talked about many things now in the Investing series. We have covered index funds in details. Finally, we have covered several portfolios such as the Three-Fund portfolio and its variants and a few other lazy portfolios. But there is something we haven’t covered yet. It’s Target Retirement Funds.

Many people are investing for retirement. They may know for instance that they want to retire in 20 years. Given that and their age, it’s likely that their allocation to bonds will increase over the years until retirement. Most people will do that by changing their allocation every few years. Either by rebalancing or by injection of new capital. But there is another way. Target Retirement Funds will automatically change their bond allocation overtime.

In this post, I’m going to cover Target Retirement Funds. We are going to see what is good with them and what is not.

Target Retirement Funds

A target retirement fund is a mutual fund or an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). What is very singular about them is that they set a retirement year. For instance, there is a target retirement fund for people who plan to retire in 2050. If you know, more or less, the year you plan to retire, you can select the target retirement fund accordingly.

Such a fund is not a fund of stocks or a fund of bonds, but a fund of funds. It is a portfolio in itself. Most target retirement funds are funds of index funds with low-cost. They are composed of around three or four index funds.

Let’s take Vanguard Target Retirement 2040 Fund as an example. It is composed of the following parts:

  • Domestic Stocks Fund: 51.50%
  • International Stocks Fund: 33.50%
  • Domestic Bond Fund: 10.50%
  • International Bond Fund: 4.50%

In the case of Vanguard Fund, of course, it contains only Vanguard funds. But you’ll find target retirement funds from each major fund provider.

Over the years, the retirement funds will update their strategy. Generally, they are becoming less and less aggressive over the years until they don’t change after retirement.

The main advantage of this kind of funds is simplicity. You only own one fund. When you have money to invest, you always buy this fund. You never have to rebalance. You don’t have to think about the allocation. If there is a new trend of investing, it may change directly in your fund. And you fund is managed by professionals. You don’t even have to decide how much bonds you want.

What is wrong with Target Retirement Funds ?

Target Retirement Funds are very simple and convenient, but they are not perfect. Let’s see a few problems with them.

You may think they only changing the bond allocation over the years. But this is not true. They change much more than you may think. The biggest problem with them is that they can change many more things than you want. When you start to invest in such a fund, you may like the original allocation. However, this can change. Here are examples from Vanguard:

  • In 2006, Vanguard increased the stock allocation of many of their Target Retirement Funds by up to 25%.
  • Then, in 2008, Vanguard increased international allocation of the equity part from 20% to 30% for all their Target Retirement Funds.
  • In 2013, Vanguard added some international bonds to all their Target Retirement Funds
  • Finally, in 2015, Vanguard increased international allocation of the equity part from 30% to 40% for all their Target Retirement Funds again.

If you invested before 2006 in a Target Retirement Fund from Vanguard, your allocation would have changed very significantly. You may not have wanted international bonds. You may not have wanted so much international stocks. But you had no choice in the matter. I think this is a big problem.

They are very easy to replicate. It’s not difficult to do your own Target Retirement Fund. You simply have to buy the same funds. And generally, you can achieve cheaper overall Total Expense Ratio (TER) than the TER of the Target Retirement Fund itself. And the fund has to publish its allocation at least once a year. So you can still follow a fund if you want.

You may not know the date at which you are going to retire. It’s not easy to know exactly the year at which you will be able to retire. It’s likely you have an estimate. But this estimate may be wrong by a few years. Either your are too optimistic or too pessimistic or simply something happens that completely changes your plan. For good or for bad.

You cannot adapt your strategy. If you want to get more aggressive or more conservative some time, you can’t You are stuck with the strategy of the Target Retirement Fund. You could sell it and buy a new one but this will generate capital gains which may be taxed depending on your country.

Finally, you don’t have the possibility to hold these funds in the most tax-efficient manner. If you are in the U.S., you may hold index funds in your Roth IRA or your 401K or your regular investment portfolio. They all have different tax implications. Therefore, income funds such as bond funds should not be held in the same container as stocks for instance. This is not the case in Switzerland, but it’s a still a problem worth knowing.

Summary

Target Retirement Funds are a good tool. With it, you only have to hold a single fund in your portfolio. Every time you have new capital, you simply buy into the one fund. But they are a tool for lazy people in my opinion. If you want to follow exactly a Target Retirement Fund as a template, it’s very easy to replicate it by buying the funds it’s made of. And if the fund makes a change you are not comfortable with, you are free to replicate the change or not. And you can often achieve lower TER than the Target Retirement Fund itself.

I don’t yet know what will the next post of the series about. Maybe something about Warren Buffett. We’ll see what happens 😉

What do you think about Target Retirement Fund ? Do you own any of them ?

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