What Is a Target Date Fund’s Glide Path?
A glide path shows the gradual change of investment mix at the heart of any target date fund.
Target date funds are a convenient choice for investors who want professional management for their retirement assets in a single, easy-to-use investment. Participants simply choose a fund that’s closest to the year they plan to retire.
Investment Goals Change as Participants Near Retirement
All target date funds have a glide path. The glide path represents the fund’s changing mix of investments, including stocks, bonds and cash equivalents, over time. When participants are further from retirement, the asset mix is more growth-oriented. As the participant’s target retirement date nears, the fund “glides down” to a more conservative mix of investments.
A Typical Glide Path is Diversified Across Stocks and Bonds
All target date funds reduce the amount of equity over time. However, funds that are managed “to” the target date put a higher focus on reducing volatility by becoming even more conservative as retirement approaches. This puts the responsibility of investment selection on retirees who withdraw their savings from the fund.
With life spans increasing, funds that are managed “through” the target date allow participants to continue using the same fund for decades in retirement. By maintaining a meaningful equity exposure approaching and throughout retirement, this can help participants manage the risk of outliving their savings.
An Objectives-Based Glide Path Shifts Equities Toward Income
Figure 1: A Static Approach
Figure 2: An Objectives-Based Approach
Some target date funds maintain a fixed allocation of growth and income stocks within the equity portion of their portfolios (see Figure 1). This static approach misses out on potential opportunities to reduce volatility in retirement. In contrast, target date funds that focus on investor objectives slowly shift from high-growth stocks to dividend-paying stocks as the retirement date nears (see Figure 2). Because dividends can help to cushion a portfolio during down markets, this approach allows the fund to maintain a greater equity exposure in retirement without necessarily increasing volatility.
Target date funds are subject to the risks and returns of the underlying assets. Although target date funds are managed for investors on a projected retirement date time frame, the funds’ allocation approach does not guarantee that investors’ retirement goals will be met. In addition, contributions to the fund may not be adequate to reach participants’ retirement goals.
Investors would be wise to weigh these different glide path features to determine which type of target date fund strikes the appropriate balance between appreciation and stability during their careers and in retirement.