Retirement 
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120 Rule vs. Target Retirement Funds

Have you ever heard of the 120 Rule? The 120 Rule is a basic asset allocation rule. Take your age and subtract it from 120. That is the percentage you should be invested in stocks and the balance should be in bonds. If you’re 40, then you should have 80% in stocks and 20% in bonds. If you’re 50, then 70% stocks and 30% bonds. It’s one of those age old “rules of thumb” that can be a good starting point for deciding asset allocation but bad as an end point. As a retiree at the age of 65, do you really want the majority (55%) of your investments in stocks? Maybe, maybe not, but your reasoning should go beyond the 120 Rule.

When it comes to Target Retirement or Lifecycle funds, not all funds are created equally.

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 Investing 
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How to Determine Your Asset Allocation

Gold Bars and Some CoinsAsset allocation is probably one of the hardest parts about investing because while we all know it’s important, we don’t really know what we’re supposed to do. We know that diversification is crucial but we aren’t entirely sure why outside of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Fortunately, there are some simple systems out there that can shed some light onto the asset allocation question.

This post is part of the Bargaineering Annual Financial Review week series where we take a closer look at the four major facets of personal finance and see if we can do better. This post is part of day three – taking a closer look at your investments.


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 Investing 
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Target Retirement Funds for Short-Term Goals

My retirement is forty years away and I have a portion of my brokerage account invested in a 2050 Target Retirement fund at Vanguard. The Target Retirement fund makes an excellent choice for me because it handles all the asset allocation and rebalancing issues without my interference, all with a target withdrawal date in mind. That’s when I got to thinking, why not utilize target retirement funds for shorter goals?

Let’s say you have kids that are planning on going to college. The natural choice is to go with a 529 plan or some other educationally advantaged account. After you open the account, what are you going to invest in? You could figure a safe allocation, given when you expect your child to go to college, and handle the finances or you could, if your account offered it, just go with a target retirement account. Simply buy the year closest to your target date, rounding down so you’re on the conservative side, and forget about it. It’s time-wise more efficient than managing it yourself and, if you go with the right firm, the fees will be reasonable.

This plan does have drawbacks. You often don’t much international exposure, which you may or may not want given our current economic environment. Many emerging markets are growing at breakneck speeds but the dollar is weakening, there’s plenty of uncertainty. You might want international exposure and a fund like the Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 has only 17.2% invested outside the United States, of which the lion’s share, 9.2%, is in Europe. Another risk is that you don’t have exposure to the asset class that has been growing the most recently, commodities (oil and gold, anyone?). Of course, we could be in a bubble right now or we could be seeing the start to something bigger – no one can see the future.

Either way, it’s an option on the table and one that I wanted to bring up to see if you all had any thoughts on the subject. Good idea with potential? Or just buying into the marketing hype of these lifecycle funds?


 Investing 
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Target Retirement Funds: Perfect For After 401k & Roth IRA?

Last week, reader AJ sent me an email asking for ideas on where he should be putting his savings once he’s maxed out the contributions to both his 401(k) and Roth IRA. He’s 23, employed in real estate, and has fully funded his emergency fund and was wonder where he should go next.

Question: I’ve been sold on the wisdom of buying index funds and I would like to take a portion of that savings account and buy at least 3 different index funds (total stock fund, total bond fund, and a total international fund.) Reason being, I do not want to be wholly in stocks, be it domestic or internation, or bonds. However, the minimum investment is $3000 per fund at Vanguard. So at the very minimum I would have to spend $9000 to begin which is not the problem. However, if I stopped there, my allocation would be all out of whack. I’d be 33% in domestic, 33% in foreign, and 33% in bonds.

At my age, those allocations do not make sense. (Bonds and foreign, I think are too high of a percentage.)

Any suggestions – short of buying enough of each to make the proper allocations?


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 Investing 
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We Liquidated Our Target Retirement 2050 Fund

Stock MarketMy fiancee and I put a portion of our savings, that is those funds aren’t earmarked for future taxes, weddings, or other purposes; in a Vanguard mutual fund account that is fully invested in the Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 fund (and a high yield savings account). The latest rattlings of the stock market have unnerved me and while my brain is telling me “think long term,” my heart is telling me to sit out the next month or so and let everything settle down. I know a lot of you will probably respond by saying “you should be thinking long term! why are you trying to time the market!?!?” and a less open blogger would’ve probably never mentioned it, but I feel that it would be remiss if I didn’t share with you my decision and why I did it.

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 Investing 
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Kiplinger Doesn’t Advocate Target Date Mutual Funds

This is a guest post by Mapgirl, a single, 30-something woman with a mortgage who has all her student loans paid off. She’s outside most of the demographics being written about in mainstream personal finance media. She’s hoping to fill the niche. If you like what you read (I often do), stop by her blog or consider subscribing to her RSS feed.

Recently, I came across an old article from October 2006 Kiplinger about target-date mutual funds, and I agree with most of the arguments in the article about why these funds are aren’t for everyone. Jim recently wrote a devil’s advocate post about index funds, about which you could make some of the same arguments.

First of all, target-date funds are not without risk, and you’ll have to evaluate them on the same basis of performance as you would any other mutual fund. You could stick your money into one of these funds and get a piddly 4% return. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll be screwed when the targeted date comes around with an underfunded retirement. If you decide to go with a target date fund, make sure it’s performing to your expectations like you would with any other investment.

Second, the Kiplinger article points out that these funds are one-stop shopping and are meant to be the ONLY investment in your portfolio. However, if you already have investments, to reallocate them into these funds will have tax fallout. They say it’s probably not a good idea for someone already saving, but a great place to start if you are young in your 20′s. Sure, if you are young in your 20′s and you aren’t inclined to to save, nor to pay attention to retirement saving, then this is a perfectly fine investment vehicle.

The other part I can’t really say better, so let me quote:

The alternative to not remaking your existing portfolio is to undermine the purpose of the target fund. Suppose, to take an exaggerated example, you throw $1 million into a target fund that has three-fourths of its assets in stocks and one-fourth in bonds. But say you have another $1 million socked away in municipal bonds. Presumably, your goal in investing in the target fund is to acquire a portfolio that’s 75% stocks and 25% bonds. But if you keep the munis, you end up with a portfolio that’s 62.5% in bonds and only 37.5% in stocks.

Third, they write that a 55 year old investor is 9 years away from retirement, but the target date fund has only 60% stocks in it so a target date fund isn’t a very good choice. I have a way around that which is to move to the next one with a date in the future which will carry more stocks. I personally like a lot of risk and I would move to the fund designated for people 5-10 years younger than me just to keep a higher level of risk. I’m surprised the article doesn’t mention this as a possible strategy for being in a target date fund when you don’t think it’s holding enough stocks.

The final point of the article is the piece de resistance. They write that most people don’t have the stomach to sit in one investment for 30 years, which is the whole point of these target date funds. I would agree. I couldn’t have just one iron in the fire when it comes to retirement. Seems
kind of a bad idea, but I suppose a fund like this is better than holding onto CD’s or US Treasuries, which is certainly what some people do with their money.

What about you? Can you stomach holding onto one investment for 30 years? Are you in a target fund? Why?


 Investing 
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Vanguard Target Retirement Funds Explained

There has been some interest in an explanation of how the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds work since I mentioned them in an explanation about Mutual Funds in a past article (read The Beauty of Mutual Funds). In this article, I’ll give you a little explanation of how these funds work and what you might expect from them (past performance is not an indicator of future performance!).

They’re in the asset class titled “Lifecycle” by Vanguard and several other brokerage houses have very similarly structured, lifecycle mutual funds (Fidelity has the Fidelity Freedom Funds if that rings a bell). The concept is as the target date draws closer, the fund will invest in increasingly stable investments that have higher yields. Vanguard recommends the lifecycle funds for those seeking “an all-in-one retirement portfolio that automatically grows more conservative as their expected retirement date nears…”

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 Investing 
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The Beauty of Mutual Funds

The two tenets of investing in the stock market are: “Diversification” and “Buy Low, Sell High.” Simple in spirit, difficult in execution. Mutual funds help you with the first rule of “diversification”, but you’re on your own with “buy low, sell high.” You’ve probably heard of mutual funds before and chances you may even own shares in a mutual fund, but do you really understand how they operate? What’s the load on your fund? Who is the investment manager and what is his or her track record?

A mutual fund is technically a company that holds a portfolio of investments; sometimes people refer to the mutual fund as the portfolio itself. The distinction is minor and not terribly important, but for clarity’s sake the fund actually refers to the “company.” A professional investment manager who manages the various securities held by the fund in its portfolio, that’s how a fund brings “automatic” diversification, runs the fund itself. When you invest in a fund, you’re purchasing shares of the company just as you would with the shares of any other public company.

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