Anyone investing in the Thrift Savings Plan in the past several years has noticed the dramatic fluctuations in the stock market. When you are planning for retirement, these fluctuations can have a dramatic influence on your future retirement lifestyle. As an investor, you want to maximize your future retirement income while minimizing the risk inherent in investing.
So how can you do that?
Numerous studies have demonstrated that trying to time the stock market often results in financial disaster for an investor. It is virtually impossible for professional investors to predict the short term movements of the stock market. Most of those investing in the Thrift Savings Plan are not professional investors and probably do not have the time or the inclination to spend the necessary hours researching stock market trends on a regular basis.
One answer provided by the TSP is the relatively new lifecycle funds. These types of funds are sometimes referred to as target date mutual funds.
Target date mutual funds are coming under scrutiny in Congress. Target date funds are similar to the lifecycle funds offered by the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The funds are becoming very popular for people investing for their future retirement. In another four years, analysts predict that about $1 trillion dollars will be invested in these funds—up from $269 billion today.
Congress is likely to become involved in looking at these funds at the urging of Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI). He became intrigued after a staff member noticed that various funds designed for people retiring in 2010 had markedly different results.
For example, in 2008, a disastrous year for the stock market, the S&P Target Date Fund dropped 17%. The AllianceBernstein 2010 Retirement Strategy fund went down 32% according to a report in Fortune magazine. Oppenheimer’s Transition 2010 target-date fund lost 41% in 2008.
And, according to the same report, the average fee for a target date fund is 1.16%.
What about the Thrift Savings Plan?
The TSP has target date funds available to investors. They are called lifecycle funds but the theory is the same. A person who selects a target date fund chooses a fund (such as the L2010 fund) that reflects the approximate year of your retirement. For those who are retiring sooner, the mix of TSP funds is more conservative than for those who are retiring later (such as the L2040 fund). The lifecycle funds own all five TSP core investments and they rebalance automatically.
So what happened in 2008 to the L2010 fund in the TSP?
It also went down as stocks took a dive. But it was not down 41% or even the 17% that the S&P Target Date Fund fell. In 2008, the L2010 fund was down 10.53%. Here is how the L2010 fund was structured in July 2008: