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Target Date Funds:  A Public Service Announcement

Before getting into the main objective of this article, let me briefly explain a Target Date Fund.  Investopedia defines a target date fund as “a fund offered by an investment company that seeks to grow assets over a specified period of time for a targeted goal”.  The specified period of time is typically the period until the date you “target” for retirement or to start withdrawing assets.  For this article, I will refer to the target date as the “retirement date” because that is how Target Date Funds are typically used.

Target Date Funds are continuing to grow in popularity as Defined Contribution Plans (i.e. 401(k)’s) become the primary savings vehicle for retirement.  Per the Investment Company Institute, as of March 31, 2018, there was $1.1 trillion invested in Target Date Mutual Funds.  Defined Contribution Plans made up 67 percent of that total.

Target Date Funds are often coined as the “set it and forget it” of investments for participants in retirement plans.  Target Date Funds that are farther from the retirement date will be invested more aggressively than target date funds closer to the retirement date.  Below is a chart showing the “Glide Path” of the Vanguard Target Date Funds.  The horizontal access shows how far someone is from retirement and the vertical access shows the percentage of stocks in the investment.  In general, more stock means more aggressive.  The “40” in the bottom left indicates someone that is 40 years from their retirement date.  A common investment strategy in retirement accounts is to be more aggressive when you’re younger and become more conservative as you approach your retirement age.  Following this strategy, someone with 40 years until retirement is more aggressive which is why at this point the Glide Path shows an allocation of approximately 90% stocks and 10% fixed income.  When the fund is at “0”, this is the retirement date and the fund is more conservative with an allocation of approximately 50% stocks and 50% fixed income.  Using a Target Date Fund, a person can become more conservative over time without manually making any changes.

Note:  Not every fund family (i.e. Vanguard, American Funds, T. Rowe Price, etc.) has the same strategy on how they manage the investments inside the Target Date Funds, but each of them follows a Glide Path like the one shown below.

The Public Service Announcement

The public service announcement is to remind investors they should take both time horizon and risk tolerance into consideration when creating a portfolio for themselves.  The Target Date Fund solution focuses on time horizon but how does it factor in risk tolerance?

Target Date Funds combine time horizon and risk tolerance as if they are the same for each investor with the same amount of time before retirement.  In other words, each person 30 years from retirement that is using the Target Date strategy as it was intended will have the same stock to bond allocation.

This is one of the ways the Target Date Fund solution can fall short as it is likely not possible to truly know somebody’s risk tolerance without knowing them.  In my experience, not every investor 30 years from retirement is comfortable with their biggest retirement asset being allocated to 90% stock.  For various reasons, some people are more conservative, and the Target Date Fund solution may not be appropriate for their risk tolerance.

The “set it and forget it” phrase is often used because Target Date Funds automatically become more conservative for investors as they approach their Target Date.  This is a strategy that does work and is appropriate for a lot of investors which is why the strategy is continuing to increase in popularity.  The takeaway from this article is to think about your risk tolerance and to be educated on the way Target Date Funds work as it is important to make sure both are in line with each other.

For a more information on Target Date Funds please visit


Rob Mangold

About Rob………

Hi, I’m Rob Mangold. I’m the Chief Operating Officer at Greenbush Financial Group and a contributor to the Money Smart Board blog. We created the blog to provide strategies that will help our readers personally, professionally, and financially. Our blog is meant to be a resource. If there are questions that you need answered, please feel free to join in on the discussion or contact me directly.

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Investment advisory services offered through Greenbush Financial Group, LLC. Greenbush Financial Group, LLC is a Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through American Portfolio Financial Services, Inc (APFS). Member FINRA/SIPC. Greenbush Financial Group, LLC is not affiliated with APFS. APFS is not affiliated with any other named business entity. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not ensure against market risk. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.