A 29-year old friend of mine asked me recently, “How do I get started investing for retirement?”* Since I prefer education and coaching to “advice”, here’s what I told him.
For me, investments should be simple, cheap and take only smart risks. There are more than 9,000 mutual funds out there. How do I choose one? I use these criteria:
- Type: I look for a Target Date Retirement Fund around the year I intend to retire. Target Date Retirement Funds automatically change their allocations to stocks, bonds and cash over time so that you take less risk as you age.
- Fees: Less than 0.75%, “No-Load.” Management fees are what you pay the company providing the investment to select and hold the securities in the fund. “No-load” means you pay no fees to make each investment.
- Minimum Investment: Not more than $1,000. Obviously, you want to make sure you can make the first investment!
- Turnover: <25%. Turnover measures how frequently the manager trades the securities in the fund. For example, 100% turnover means that the manager trades each security once, on average, each year. Low turnover keeps expenses and taxes lower.
Next, I put these criteria a screener like Morningstar’s to create a short list.
Then, I look for other outsized risks, fees, longevity, size and other issues to make the list even shorter. Here’s what I ended up with recently:
- Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 Fund Investor Shares (VFIFX). Vanguard offers tiny fees (0.16%), a classic, passive indexing strategy that begins with 90% in stocks, which ramps down according to a fixed schedule and is the largest mutual fund provider in the world. Vanguard is owned by the investors in its funds.
- Fidelity Freedom K 2050 Fund (FFKHX). Fidelity’s offering has higher fees (0.69%), starts at 93% stocks, and has an “active asset allocation strategy.” This allows the manager to increase or decrease investment in stocks, bonds and cash by up to ten percent versus an expected schedule. This could improve returns or increase risk. Fidelity is a for-profit corporation.
- TIAA-CREF Lifecycle Index 2050 Fund Retirement Class (TLLRX). This fund has low fees (0.35%), starts at 92% stocks and may deviate from its planned allocation schedule by up to ten percent based on “market conditions and outlook.” TIAA is a non-profit organization historically focused on educators.
How to choose among these three? Review the funds’ prospectuses, read the managers’ websites and chat with their customer service people. Are you comfortable with the fund’s strategy? Does the website give you insight into the company’s culture, values and strategy? Can you speak with a helpful human without a long wait?
Next: choose one and make your investment. More important than the specific fund you select is the action of saving ten to twenty percent of your income right away and until you retire. Don’t procrastinate: your future self will thank you!
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*Actually, he really wanted help finding a socially responsible investment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one that met the criteria above.
The above is for educational purposes only and is not financial advice.
Disclosure: the author has investments with Vanguard and Fidelity. Questions? Contact us.