2022's Best Mutual Funds in 401(k) Retirement Plans

A key to smart retirement saving: spreading your portfolio across a few of the best mutual funds in your 401(k) plan. Here are the 29 top options available.

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Checking your 401(k) balance when the market gets choppy, as it has in recent months, can feel a lot like watching a scary movie: You're afraid to look, but you want to know what's happening. And in that context, we decided now was a good time to check in again with the country's most popular 401(k) mutual funds.

Every year, with the help of financial data firm BrightScope, a financial data firm that rates workplace retirement savings plans, we analyze the 100 mutual funds with the most assets in 401(k) and other defined contribution plans, then rate them Buy, Hold or Sell. Our goal: To guide you toward the best mutual funds likely to be available in your plan.

In the end, only a cool 29 funds, which we'll describe in detail below, won our "Buy" seal of approval. But you'll want to pay attention to the fine print. Some funds are appropriate for aggressive investors; others are geared for moderate savers.

We'll also point out that we didn't weigh in on index funds. That's because choosing a good index fund always rests on three simple questions: 1.) Which index do you want to emulate? 2.) How well has the fund done in matching that index? 3.) How much does the fund charge? Generally speaking, however, we have no issues with any of the index funds listed in the top 100.

Assessing actively managed mutual funds is a different beast. We look at each fund's long-term returns and year-by-year performance, as well as its volatility and how it fares in difficult markets. We also consider manager tenure, fees and other factors.

Here are the 29 best mutual funds for 401(k) retirement savers as we enter 2022, plucked out of the nation's 100 most popular options. Your 401(k) probably won't offer all of these funds, but it's likely that at least some will be available. While some might be suitable for your personal situation, and others might not be, each mutual fund stands out for its quality, making it a prime choice for its respective category.


Returns and data are as of May 20, unless otherwise noted, and are gathered for the share class with the lowest required minimum initial investment – typically the Investor share class or A share class. The share class available in your 401(k) plan may be different. Funds are listed in reverse order of their popularity within 401(k) plans.

Nellie S. Huang
Senior Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Nellie joined Kiplinger in August 2011 after a seven-year stint in Hong Kong. There, she worked for the Wall Street Journal Asia, where as lifestyle editor, she launched and edited Scene Asia, an online guide to food, wine, entertainment and the arts in Asia. Prior to that, she was an editor at Weekend Journal, the Friday lifestyle section of the Wall Street Journal Asia. Kiplinger isn't Nellie's first foray into personal finance: She has also worked at SmartMoney (rising from fact-checker to senior writer), and she was a senior editor at Money.