Do the TSP Target Date Funds Miss the Mark?

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Blooom is an on-line financial advisory service that will manage your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and other retirement accounts for only $10/month. On another blog I wrote an article about them and some readers got into a Twitter dialogue with them. During this dialogue it was suggested that an investor doesn’t need to pay $10/month for an advisor because you can always just use target date funds if you don’t want to manage your investments yourself. Blooom’s response pointed to a blog post of theirs about target date funds and all the problems associated with them. Let’s take a look at their post and see if the points they raise are valid when compared to the TSP’s target date funds, the Lifecycle Funds.

What’s a Target Date Fund?

According to Investopedia, a target date fund is:

A fund offered by an investment company that seeks to grow assets over a specified period of time for a targeted goal. Target-date funds are usually named by the year in which the investor plans to begin utilizing the assets. The funds are structured to address a capital need at some date in the future, such as retirement. The asset allocation of a target-date fund is therefore a function of the specified timeframe available to meet the targeted investment objective. A target-date fund’s risk tolerance become more conservative as it approaches its objective target date.

The Lifecycle or L Funds are the TSP’s version of target date funds. You can read my deep dive on them if you like for more information.

Are the Lifecycle Funds Too Conservative?

Yes, in my opinion, the L Funds are too conservative when compared to other target date funds and the fact that many of us will have an inflation-adjusted pension. To compensate you can always just pick a L fund that targets a later year. When I used the L funds in my TSP, that is what I did.

For example, if you want to retire in or around 2030 you would normally pick the L 2030. Instead you could pick the L 2040 or L 2050 to get more aggressive. That said, the most aggressive you can get with the L Funds right now is the L 2050, which is 82% stocks and 18% bonds. If you want less than 18% bonds, you can’t do that with any of the current L funds.

Do the Lifecycle Funds have High Expense Ratios?

This is a definitive no. While other target date funds can have high expenses, the L funds are composed of funds with the lowest expenses you will find anywhere. You probably cannot find a target date fund with lower expenses than the TSP L Funds.

Do the Lifecycle Funds Lack Personalization?

Yes, they do. There’s no way around this one. You can personalize them a little bit by adjusting the target date you invest in, as described above, but they are by definition standard for all investors.

I would argue that these standard asset allocations are good enough for just about everyone to come up with a reasonable investment plan. If you want a personalized plan, though, you may have to get some help or use a financial advisor.

The Bottom Line – Do the L Funds Miss the Mark?

I think it depends. They are definitely low cost, so they hit the target there. I do think that they are too conservative, but as long as you are OK with a minimum bond allocation of 18% you can just adjust that by using a fund with a target date that is further off. They are definitely not personalized, but I don’t think they need to be. The asset allocations they use would do for 99% of the people investing, including myself.

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