10 Best Target-Date Fund Families

The best target-date funds are a 'set it and forget it' approach to your retirement, but which fund family should you trust with your money?

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Target-date funds are a core component of many investors' retirement strategies. And for good reason: These funds provide a one-stop shop for retirement investors.

Every target-date fund adjusts its asset allocation from more aggressive and growth-oriented holdings in the early savings years to more conservative capital-preservation strategies as investors near and enter retirement. All investors need to do is choose the fund that most closely aligns with their target retirement date, and the portfolio managers will take care of the rest.

However, choosing is easier said than done.

Target-date funds vary in their cost, structure and methodology. While one 2050 target-date fund may use 90% stocks, another could hold only 60% stocks. These differences can result in widely different investment experiences for participants.

In general, when evaluating target-date funds, keep the following in mind:

  • Cost: All target-date funds require some degree of active management, as someone has to make the rebalancing decisions for you. But costs will vary depending on what these funds invest in. Some target-date funds hold lower-cost index funds while others use active funds that are pricier, but might provide the potential for higher returns or a less volatile investment journey.
  • "To" versus "through" glide paths: A target-date fund's glide path is how it manages the level of risk, or equity (more risky) versus fixed-income (less risky) exposure, throughout an investor's lifetime. Some funds reach their lowest equity allocation at the target retirement date and then maintain that exposure throughout retirement, known as a "to" glide path, because they manage to retirement. Other funds manage through retirement by continuing to de-risk after (or through) the target retirement date. The "to" glide path strategy argues that the riskiest day of an investor's financial life is the day she retires. Managers of "through" portfolios would argue that because investors are living for 30-plus years in retirement, they need a higher allocation to growth investments at their retirement date.
  • Aggressiveness: Target-date funds offer varying degrees of aggressiveness. The fund families on our list range from 99% equities in the early years to 82% equities; in retirement, they range from 55% equities to only 8%. Funds heavier in stocks have higher growth potential, in theory, but they're riskier and have the potential for more volatile returns.

Read on as we look at the distinguishing features of 10 of the industry's best target-date fund providers. 

Fund families listed in alphabetical order.

Coryanne Hicks
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger.com

Coryanne Hicks is an investing and personal finance journalist specializing in women and millennial investors. Previously, she was a fully licensed financial professional at Fidelity Investments where she helped clients make more informed financial decisions every day. She has ghostwritten financial guidebooks for industry professionals and even a personal memoir. She is passionate about improving financial literacy and believes a little education can go a long way. You can connect with her on Twitter, Instagram or her website, CoryanneHicks.com.