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Mutual Funds

Retire on Autopilot

One-stop funds let you invest and forget it.

If you'd rather spend more time at the beach or on the links and less time fretting over your investments, relax. Retirees have plenty of one-stop fund options to choose from. Target-date retirement funds, which allow you to pick the fund whose asset allocation is geared to your expected retirement date, typically include a choice for investors who have already reached their target dates. In choosing the right retirement-income fund, avoid those that heap an additional layer of fees on top of the expenses of the underlying funds. Total annual expenses for one-stop life-cycle funds should be less than 1%.

After fees, asset mix is the most important factor in determining which retirement-income fund is best for you. Funds from Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and Vanguard all have low fees, but each has a slightly different investing strategy.

Vanguard Target Retirement Income (symbol VTINX) has just 30% of its assets in stock funds (all index funds, incidentally), and it charges a rock-bottom fee of 0.21% a year. Fidelity Freedom Income (FFFAX) is even more conservative, with just 20% in stock funds. Its expense ratio is a modest 0.55%.

Our favorite is T. Rowe Price Retirement Income (TRRIX). It has about 40% of its assets in stock funds, including some that are closed to new investors, and a reasonable 0.56% expense ratio. The higher allocation to stock funds has boosted performance without adding much volatility compared with other retirement-income funds. Over the past three years to June 1, the Price fund returned an annualized 9%. That beats the three-year record of the Vanguard fund to June 1 by an average of two percentage points per year, and outpaces the Fidelity fund by an average of three percentage points a year.