3 Reasons Target Date Funds Aren’t Right for Anyone!

Sure, they're an easy way to plan for retirement, but those who take the easy way out could be shortchanging themselves.

I know that the title of this newsletter is a bit provocative because you must be thinking, “They must be right for someone?” The answer is they are not right for anyone, because they try to fit everyone during many years, some as many as 40 years.

Assets in target date funds swelled to more than $880 billion in 2016, according to Morningstar. That’s a number that’s high enough to scare me. Why am I so against target date funds? There are many reasons; let me share three.

1. Bonds aren’t a sure thing for retirees.

The first problem with target date funds is that they are trying to predict the future by saying when you retire it is a good idea to have most of your assets in bonds vs. stocks.

We are currently at the end of a long bull market in bonds. If your target date is close, your performance will suffer as bonds decline and interest rates rise; just when retirement is around the corner your account will take a big hit.

Target date funds are meant to become more conservative as you get closer to retirement, because bonds are supposed to be less risky than stocks. While that’s often true, any adviser with 30 years of experience would know this is not always the case, based on history. Interest rates go up and down and the cycle may be long sometimes, but nothing stays the same forever.

2. Multiple fees can hide inside these funds.

The management of these funds can be outrageous. Take a look at what your money is invested in, and you will be surprised you actually own many mutual funds within the same fund company; sometimes 20-25 of their own funds.

Wow, what a great way for the mutual fund company to make more fees: Charge ½% to 1% for the target fund management fee, and then invest the clients’ money in your own mutual funds, which charge another ½% to 1% of fees on top of that.

I hope you are not paying a broker management fees or commissions on top of the internal fees. You must also be careful of the fund company your money is with, because in some occurrences the mutual fund company will charge a sales charge to invest in their funds within the target date fund. I wonder how many investors have no idea this is happening?

3. They do an educational disservice to investors.

Finally, the product’s oversimplification can result in a lack of education for investors about risk tolerance. Understanding your capacity for risk is important, and it comes through good investment education.

A broker may ask you what your tolerance for risk is. If you don’t understand how stocks work and fear the unknown, you tell the broker you have a low tolerance despite being only 45 years old. Then you get steered toward low-risk, low-reward investments, which may not be the best for someone with plenty of time until retirement.

Seventy-year-olds should not have the same amount of his investments in stocks as 45-year-olds. They should have more money in short-term investments, like CDs and money markets, which are available on short notice for medical emergencies and other short-term needs.

This doesn’t mean they should have nothing in stocks, or even a very small amount. Today, 70-year-olds have a good chance of living well into their 80s or 90s. In the U.S., there are about 72,000 centenarians, and that number is expected to more than double in the next four years. So, even at 70, one could easily have another 15 to 30 years to live.

Since my firm invests in value companies that are less risky than many stocks, I feel comfortable with a higher portion of my clients’ assets in stocks (especially including some dividend-paying stocks) in their portfolio.

I always talk about how great Wall Street is in designing products to make you feel comfortable and make them a lot of money. Target date funds were a big winner for Wall Street. They feed off the needs of people who want to do the right thing but don’t know exactly how.

Can you imagine planning your vacation once and never having to change it? That would not work out too well because life changes as time passes. It’s the same with your retirement plans: If you want to have a good retirement you need to spend the time necessary to understand your portfolio. A qualified investment adviser can help.

If you don’t start doing things right now, you will regret it when it’s too late.

About the Author

Brent M. Wilsey, Registered Investment Adviser

President, Wilsey Asset Management

Brent M. Wilsey, President of Wilsey Asset Management, is a highly regarded registered investment adviser and a seasoned financial strategist with over 40 years of experience. He offers day-to-day investment guidance to both individual investors and corporations. Having opened his LPL branch office in 1992, currently Wilsey's firm manages over $200 million in assets. Reach him online at

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio: All 41 Warren Buffett Stocks Ranked

The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio: All 41 Warren Buffett Stocks Ranked

The Berkshire Hathaway portfolio is a diverse set of blue chips, and increasingly, lesser-known growth bets. Here's a look at every stock picked by Wa…
November 16, 2021
Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts

Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts

Don't let those holiday sale promotions persuade you into buying something now that will be much cheaper later.
November 18, 2021


How Leveraging Alternative Assets and Modern Portfolio Theory Can Help Investors Improve Returns

How Leveraging Alternative Assets and Modern Portfolio Theory Can Help Investors Improve Returns

To help manage risks and possibly boost returns, everyday investors should think about including alt investments in their portfolios. Here’s how to ap…
December 4, 2021
12 States That Tax Social Security Benefits
social security

12 States That Tax Social Security Benefits

You may have dreamed of a tax-free retirement, but if you live in one of these states, your Social Security benefits may be subject to state taxes.
December 2, 2021
18 States With Scary Death Taxes

18 States With Scary Death Taxes

Federal estate taxes are no longer a problem for all but the extremely wealthy, but several states have their own estate taxes and inheritance taxes t…
December 2, 2021
What’s Your Retirement Number? Don’t Just Go by the 4% Rule
retirement planning

What’s Your Retirement Number? Don’t Just Go by the 4% Rule

To help make sure your retirement income covers your needs and lasts for a lifetime, you need a custom plan. The 4% rule of thumb is a handy starting…
December 1, 2021