Target-Date Funds in Your 401(k): Navigating the Expense and Rigidity

Alina Myakota |

Target-date funds (TDFs) have gained immense popularity over the years as a seemingly convenient and hands-off investment option for individuals looking to save for retirement. These funds are designed to automatically adjust their asset allocation as you approach your target retirement date. While they offer simplicity and the promise of a balanced portfolio, there are important considerations regarding their cost and flexibility that investors need to be aware of.

Your retirement year is the "target date" of most of these funds, and the funds are conveniently named to correspond with your planned retirement year. They provide a one-stop-shop investment solution for investors who want a diversified portfolio without the hassle of selecting and managing individual assets. Earlier in your working career, they are set for growth and have a large portion of your portfolio in stocks. As you are approaching your retirement date, your target-date funds shift to fixed-income and lower-risk investments. 

Why Choose Target-Date Funds

Choosing target-date funds (TDFs) can be a practical and convenient option for many investors, especially those who prefer a hands-off approach to managing their retirement savings. Here are several compelling reasons why someone might choose target-date funds. They offer simplicity, portfolio diversification, broad accessibility, and automatic rebalancing as you approach your retirement date. 

The Cost Conundrum

One of the less apparent drawbacks of target-date funds is their expense. While they may appear cost-effective on the surface, you'll discover that the fees associated with these funds can be surprisingly high. TDFs typically charge expense ratios that encompass management fees and administrative costs. These expenses can eat into your returns over time, potentially eroding a significant portion of your retirement savings.

Moreover, the underlying funds within a target-date fund may also have their own fees. This double layer of fees can add up, making TDFs more expensive than they initially seem. It's essential to scrutinize these costs and understand how they impact your long-term returns.

The Rigidity Issue

Another critical aspect to consider is the inflexibility of target-date funds. These funds follow a predetermined glide path, adjusting the asset allocation as you approach retirement. While this may seem like a hands-off approach, it can lead to suboptimal outcomes for investors with unique financial goals or risk tolerances.

For instance, TDFs may become too conservative too quickly, especially for individuals who plan to work longer or have other sources of retirement income. Conversely, they may not be conservative enough for those who want to retire early or have a lower risk tolerance. This one-size-fits-all approach may not align with your specific financial situation and goals.

Finding a Balanced Approach

While target-date funds can be a convenient option, it's crucial not to overlook their potential drawbacks, primarily the hidden costs and lack of customization. As an investor, it's important to take control of your financial future by understanding the fees associated with your investments and tailoring your portfolio to your unique needs.

Consider working with a financial advisor who can help you create a diversified and cost-effective investment strategy that aligns with your retirement goals. This approach allows you to maintain control over your investments, potentially reduce costs, and tailor your portfolio to your specific timeline and risk tolerance.

If you would like to review your 401(k) strategy with a financial advisor, use this link to set up a call and ensure your plans meet your future goals.