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Mutual Fund choices in a 401K - help please...
Old 11-04-2014, 10:52 AM   #1
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Mutual Fund choices in a 401K - help please...

As we all know, 401K investment choices are limited to what our employers choose in our specific plan. Iím sure our choices include considering our target retirement date, our age, and diversity of mutual funds in category and type. How do you or would you diversify your mutual fund selection in a typical 401K company plan? Iím 53 hoping to retire within 5 years if all possible. My plan is managed through the Principal Financial Group with 28 choices. It would be safe to say that many employees do not think too clearly or seek sound advice when that make their selection and choices. In my company, many of my works associates have too much in company stock which is too risky.

Thanks in advance for your guidance!
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Old 11-04-2014, 11:06 AM   #2
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Could we narrow this down some? Are you asking about
  • selecting an appropriate asset allocation, or
  • having identified your target AA - which specific funds to choose (in which case it would be lot easier if we knew what the specific funds are - to know returns vs benchmarks, expense ratios, etc.)?
And whether or not you have significant investments outside the 401k would be a significant consideration as well.

Otherwise you might want to just Google 'help with choosing 401k funds' to start.
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Old 11-04-2014, 11:20 AM   #3
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Look at what your lower cost options are. Low cost index funds are an easy choice. For diversity consider large US companies, international companies, small companies, emerging markets. Nearly any fund will have enough company diversity (other than company stock funds). Limit company stock to something like 5% to 25% if you like it.

If you have other investments, you might be able to select just the best funds available in your 401k and fill out your portfolio diversification with your other accounts. Consider your diversification across your entire portfolio, not just the 401k.

In terms of diversification, a target date retirement fund is fine. One and done. I'm not sure how the PFG funds might compare in terms of cost. Typically you might hold a cheap S&P 500 index in your 401k and fill your portfolio out with better funds in your other accounts.

Also look for a stable vale fund and check its yield. You might have a good place to park cash or bond money there.
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Old 11-04-2014, 12:00 PM   #4
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I had to deal with this with both my husbands plan and my plan. My husband's plan was craptastic. (if you put in a search for the term craptastic - you'll find my thread about it.) Nothing but funds with significant loads ON TOP OF high expense ratios. We chose the lightest loaded funds (a bond fund and a money market) given his age and that this would only be for new money contributed - not for previous savings. This entitled him to the match and allowed more tax deferred savings than a tradtional IRA.

My plan had a variety of funds - most were mid range in the expense ratios (0.5-0.7)... but there was one vanguard institutional s&p index fund with a super low ER, and there was a stable value fund. I picked those in my asset allocation (60% equities, 40% fixed). Since retiring, I moved the entire amount into stable value - because it's a better deal than other fixed income funds available to me... And I moved some of my rolled IRA (from older employers) out of fixed and into total market index funds. The goal was to keep my TOTAL asset allocation at 60/40... but take as much advantage of the stable value fund.
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Old 11-04-2014, 12:09 PM   #5
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Look at what your lower cost options are. Low cost index funds are an easy choice. For diversity consider large US companies, international companies, small companies, emerging markets. Nearly any fund will have enough company diversity (other than company stock funds). Limit company stock to something like 5% to 25% if you like it.

If you have other investments, you might be able to select just the best funds available in your 401k and fill out your portfolio diversification with your other accounts. Consider your diversification across your entire portfolio, not just the 401k.

In terms of diversification, a target date retirement fund is fine. One and done. I'm not sure how the PFG funds might compare in terms of cost. Typically you might hold a cheap S&P 500 index in your 401k and fill your portfolio out with better funds in your other accounts.

Also look for a stable vale fund and check its yield. You might have a good place to park cash or bond money there.
Through the Principle Financial Group we have an assigned financial advisor who I have spoken with over the last several years. I never liked her guidance, and out of pure novice choices and positive market condition, I think I did much better in the last 6 to 8 years than if I would have taken her advice over the years. Many at my company were employed when we first started receiving company stock in lieu of a pension, and in 10 years of distribution and eventually IPO several years ago, many of us had the dumb luck timing of having a balance to close to a million to 2 million range. Because of that very atypical scenario, I thought it would be responsible to learn about investment choices. Some of my works associates scare me and still have between 80 to 100% of these large balances in company stock. I have no other investments with the exception of my home, so almost everything is riding on my 401K in my scenario. I do have 60% of my funds in two target date retirement funds which I assume reduces some market risks. That's my story, and why I requested any kind of guidance.
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Old 11-04-2014, 08:07 PM   #6
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Here is my 401K mix in case you see a red flag or want to comment:

57% Balance/Asset Allocation - 2 target date Mutual funds - years 2020 and 2025

23% Large U.S Equity - 4 mutual funds with diversity

20% Small/Mid U.S. Equity - 6 mutual funds with diversity
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Old 11-05-2014, 08:50 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Kauai bound View Post
Here is my 401K mix in case you see a red flag or want to comment:

57% Balance/Asset Allocation - 2 target date Mutual funds - years 2020 and 2025

23% Large U.S Equity - 4 mutual funds with diversity

20% Small/Mid U.S. Equity - 6 mutual funds with diversity
Based on the target years, I'm guessing the balanced funds are about 30% bonds. If so, your overall AA would be about 83:17 equity:fixed. Some might consider that a little aggressive 5 years from retirement, but not at all out of the realm of reason. If that's your desired AA, your selections aren't that far from the mainstream with the exception of very limited international exposure (presumably some in the balanced funds)?
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Old 11-05-2014, 09:47 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kauai bound View Post
Here is my 401K mix in case you see a red flag or want to comment:

57% Balance/Asset Allocation - 2 target date Mutual funds - years 2020 and 2025

23% Large U.S Equity - 4 mutual funds with diversity

20% Small/Mid U.S. Equity - 6 mutual funds with diversity
Why two target date funds. Why did the advisor recommend that?

Do you realize that in the 12 funds you mention, there is a lot of company overlap?

As mentioned by midpack, you may have close to 80% stock. If others in your company have 80% in company stock, and that concerns you, then some of the concern must be applied to your 80% in stock. Your 80% is much more diversified, but it is still 80%.

You didn't mention what asset allocation you think is appropriate. If you have 28 choices, I'd think that 4-6 of those could be combined to produce the desired asset allocation, instead of the current selection of 12 funds.
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Old 11-05-2014, 09:49 AM   #9
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Guessing the balanced funds are about 30% bonds. If so, your overall AA would be about 83:17 equity:fixed. Some might consider that a little aggressive 5 years from retirement, but not at all out of the realm of reason. If that's your desired AA, your selections aren't that far from the mainstream with the exception of very limited international exposure (presumably some in the balanced funds)?
Thanks for the feedback...much appreciated. Yeah the balanced target fund of 2020 will have more bonds than the one targeted for 2025. We can select international mutual funds which I don't do to higher risk. My Principle representative thinks that I'm too stock heavy and don't have enough bonds, so I have been slowly increasing my balance target funds by shifting my investments for the last several years. Thanks again for your post, I feel a bit better.
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Old 11-05-2014, 10:00 AM   #10
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Thanks for the feedback...much appreciated. Yeah the balanced target fund of 2020 will have more bonds than the one targeted for 2025. We can select international mutual funds which I don't do to higher risk. My Principle representative thinks that I'm too stock heavy and don't have enough bonds, so I have been slowly increasing my balance target funds by shifting my investments for the last several years. Thanks again for your post, I feel a bit better.
What do you think your target asset allocation should be? Here's an easy, free, no obligation quiz to give you some idea... https://personal.vanguard.com/us/FundsInvQuestionnaire. I assume PFG has something similar they've offered along the way. I wouldn't assume your "Principle rep" knows, he/she is just providing generic one-size-fits-all info (absent better info?).

FWIW, avoiding international funds 'due to higher risk' while holding an AA with over 80% equities could be contradictory.
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Old 11-05-2014, 10:22 AM   #11
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Why two target date funds. Why did the advisor recommend that?

Do you realize that in the 12 funds you mention, there is a lot of company overlap?

As mentioned by midpack, you may have close to 80% stock. If others in your company have 80% in company stock, and that concerns you, then some of the concern must be applied to your 80% in stock. Your 80% is much more diversified, but it is still 80%.

You didn't mention what asset allocation you think is appropriate. If you have 28 choices, I'd think that 4-6 of those could be combined to produce the desired asset allocation, instead of the current selection of 12 funds.
Thank you for the help and guidance.

My plan has a bunch of JP Morgan Smart Retirement 20** I Fund based on targeted retirement date. I personally selected 2020 and 2025 based on my estimated anticipated retirement date (maybe in 5 years if possible?)

Yeah... I think you are right with the a lot of company overlap, something that my Principal representative told me as well. I think she thought that I should just select one target balance fund. I'm quite the novice in this stuff, but only started to study it when the balance grew based on company stock distribution (a no brainer - just happened). When our private company stock went public (IPO) a few years ago, I anticipated the enormous growth rate would disappear. Mentally, which probably makes no sense, I selected a wide diversity of mutual funds... out of the simple safe-guard of diversity. It's seems to work in my scenario.

I have nothing in Short Term Fixed Income or Fixed income or International stock categories. I transfer company stock every time I receive it quarterly.

What is the advantage and purpose of reducing mutual fund choices from 12 to about 4 to 6 selections? Thanks again, I am listening... and i have been reading a lot of investment and retirement books as well. However, this forum site is great to get live feedback from those with a lot more wisdom than me on this stuff.
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Old 11-05-2014, 10:31 AM   #12
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What do you think your target asset allocation should be? Here's an easy, free, no obligation quiz to give you some idea... https://personal.vanguard.com/us/FundsInvQuestionnaire. I assume PFG has something similar they've offered along the way. I wouldn't assume your "Principle rep" knows, he/she is just providing generic one-size-fits-all info (absent better info?).

FWIW, avoiding international funds 'due to higher risk' while holding an AA with over 80% equities could be contradictory.
I only talked to my Principal representative 3 times in 5 years... kind of generic advice which they run retirement scenarios for you and save it on their web site. I almost think she just wants to keep you as a client when I retire, because she doesn't get paid commissions when she helps me.


I'm confused on two contradictory goals: reduce risk because I want to retire in 5 years, and grow portfolio because I don't have enough saved to retire (@ $923,000). I'm not in a position to increase my 6% regular contribution, and I'm not sure if I want to get a second job... but thinking about it. I'm starting to really think about ways to cut expenses, but still have two kids in college for another 2 years. This stuff is not easy... but it's only money...lol.
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Old 11-05-2014, 11:23 AM   #13
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I only talked to my Principal representative 3 times in 5 years... kind of generic advice which they run retirement scenarios for you and save it on their web site. I almost think she just wants to keep you as a client when I retire, because she doesn't get paid commissions when she helps me.


I'm confused on two contradictory goals: reduce risk because I want to retire in 5 years, and grow portfolio because I don't have enough saved to retire (@ $923,000). I'm not in a position to increase my 6% regular contribution, and I'm not sure if I want to get a second job... but thinking about it. I'm starting to really think about ways to cut expenses, but still have two kids in college for another 2 years. This stuff is not easy... but it's only money...lol.
Risk and return generally go hand in hand long term. Historically international has provided higher returns (and commensurately higher volatility), but more diversification (less correlation). Having all your investing eggs in the domestic basket is less diversification. Adding international has increased portfolio returns and reduced portfolio volatility historically. Just general principles from the past. Keep reading the books recommended earlier and you'll be better able to make informed decisions that best fit your goals and risk tolerance.

IMO the best use of this forum is not to seek easy reassuring "answers." It's guidance toward the education to understand investing so you can see the right answers for yourself. Without that well founded understanding, many people panic and make rash decisions at the most inopportune moments.

The key trait to the many successful retirees here is that understanding and resulting discipline, not the "math" or pat answers. FWIW
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Old 11-05-2014, 12:06 PM   #14
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Risk and return generally go hand in hand long term. Historically international has provided higher returns (and commensurately higher volatility), but more diversification (less correlation). Having all your investing eggs in the domestic basket is less diversification. Adding international has increased portfolio returns and reduced portfolio volatility historically. Just general principles from the past. Keep reading the books recommended earlier and you'll be better able to make informed decisions that best fit your goals and risk tolerance.

IMO the best use of this forum is not to seek easy reassuring "answers." It's guidance toward the education to understand investing so you can see the right answers for yourself. Without that well founded understanding, many people panic and make rash decisions at the most inopportune moments.

The key trait to the many successful retirees here is that understanding and resulting discipline, not the "math" or pat answers. FWIW
Well said and great advice! I will continue to study and learn from those books and this forum site! I do observe that many people in general react or over-react to the market verses sticking to a well grounded long term plan and strategy. I do realize that nobody can predict the future. Thanks again... and I'm so glad to find this forum site.... which is tremendously valuable.
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Old 11-05-2014, 09:02 PM   #15
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Thank you for the help and guidance.

My plan has a bunch of JP Morgan Smart Retirement 20** I Fund based on targeted retirement date. I personally selected 2020 and 2025 based on my estimated anticipated retirement date (maybe in 5 years if possible?)

Yeah... I think you are right with the a lot of company overlap, something that my Principal representative told me as well. I think she thought that I should just select one target balance fund. I'm quite the novice in this stuff, but only started to study it when the balance grew based on company stock distribution (a no brainer - just happened). When our private company stock went public (IPO) a few years ago, I anticipated the enormous growth rate would disappear. Mentally, which probably makes no sense, I selected a wide diversity of mutual funds... out of the simple safe-guard of diversity. It's seems to work in my scenario.

I have nothing in Short Term Fixed Income or Fixed income or International stock categories. I transfer company stock every time I receive it quarterly.

What is the advantage and purpose of reducing mutual fund choices from 12 to about 4 to 6 selections? Thanks again, I am listening... and i have been reading a lot of investment and retirement books as well. However, this forum site is great to get live feedback from those with a lot more wisdom than me on this stuff.
Of the 28 fund choices, at least a dozen are target funds. Conventional buy/hold strategy might tell you to put all in one target fund.

Another buy/hold strategist might tell you to invest in 3 funds: Total U.S. Stock, Total International, and Total Bond.

A third strategist might advise to break down the above 3 choices to: US Large Cap, US Small/Mid Cap, Foreign Developed Markets, Emerging Markets, Short Term Bond, Stable Value.

Keep reading and searching, as it all makes sense after you invest the effort. As for number of funds:

Too Many Mutual Funds?

I'm thinking that you are under the impression that buying more funds makes you more diversified. That is not always the case. It could be the case for you, but doesn't have to be...

At 53 I knew very little about investing. We were very much behind the eight ball, with one going to college, and one not far behind. I read online, discussed in forums, and set an allocation. Over a 7-8 year period we've adapted to changing times, but I still have the same belief in buy/hold, especially for mutual funds.
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Old 11-05-2014, 09:17 PM   #16
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I am also stuck in a Principal 401k. The only good thing to say about it is that the previous Principal 401k was even worse. Most of the funds have high ER and there is an administrative fee on top of the fund expenses. They are supposed to be transparent about fees, but the information is still pretty hard to find.

What I have found is that each plan gets to pick which funds are offered and can adjust the ER of the funds, so you cannot generalize about all Principal plans because they differ. The strategy that worked for me was to look at the lowest cost funds in the mix which might fit somewhere in my desired asset allocation and just invest in those. I then use my IRA, which is loaded with old 401k rollover money, to fill in the blanks of my desired overall allocation. So the 401k account looks lopsided - in my case all equity split between SP500 fund and a mid-cap fund, but the overall portfolio is sensibly allocated among asset classes.

Since I can freely choose an IRA provider, I can get any funds I want at better ER than anything in the 401k. The 401k is worth putting up with higher ER to get the deductions, but once I am FI or if I change employers, I will happily roll this into my much better IRA and rebalance.
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Old 11-05-2014, 09:20 PM   #17
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What is the advantage and purpose of reducing mutual fund choices from 12 to about 4 to 6 selections?
Simplicity in administration / tracking is one reason.

Less duplication / overlap in the holdings is another, allowing one to more clearly see the finer details of the actual asset allocation within the portfolio. (Although tools like Morningstar x-ray or one of the newer robo-advisor sites like Personal Capital make this easier than it used to be.)

Saving a few bucks in fees is a third, particularly if you have assets spread across tax-deferred and taxable accounts. For example, I have a 15%-of-portfolio 457(b) account from an old employer. (I keep it open instead of rolling into an IRA because it has some favorable tax treatment if I pull off retirement before age 59-1/2.)

The administrator offers around 30 craptastic-to-OK fund choices. I went down the list and found the one with the lowest expense ratio that wasn't overly specialized or low-rated by Morningstar. So now I have 100% of that 457(b) account invested in one domestic small cap equity fund at a 0.2% expense ratio. This matches my desired 15% small-cap allocation and represents the lowest possible total 457(b) expense available to me outside of a money market fund. All my remaining bond and equity investments are made elsewhere, with an eye toward diversification and a managed asset allocation across the entire portfolio. Easy-peasy, for that account at least.

The OP would find LOL's old thread useful, I think.
Asset allocation tutorial?
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Old 11-05-2014, 10:14 PM   #18
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The OP would find LOL's old thread useful, I think.
Asset allocation tutorial?
Yes... a big thank you!!!
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Old 11-06-2014, 07:03 PM   #19
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This video from Vanguard will help you.

Find out why risk tolerance is an important aspect of asset allocation
https://personal.vanguard.com/us/ins...ideo/2962-Exc1

It is a very brief talk about what happens to your risk tolerance in good times, and in bad.
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Old 09-12-2015, 03:02 PM   #20
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By some crazy alignment of the stars and my destiny, I have landed in said Principal Financial Group 401(k) plan. YUK!

Most of the offered funds have expense ratios over 1%, and some are well over 1%. The really odd thing about the offering is that more than half are in a special category called "separate account." The separate account target funds are about .9 expense ratio. "Separate account" is short for group annuity contract. The index funds advertised for the separate account are approximately .31 in expenses, however, the footnote for these funds should be flashing red. It is impossible for me to understand the explanation. I am steering clear of these options for now and going with RNWEX American Funds New World Fund R3 - 1.0 E/R. Just hoping to get lucky by buying into this for a year or two before I make my exit and transfer everything to Vanguard or Schwab.

I'll try to get a conversation going with a rep to see what the real expenses are for those "low e/r" index funds. Barring that, I may see if I can add those "separate account" index funds in addition to the primary account. Then I would put $10 each into the three funds (small, mid and large) for a year and publish the results with the real expenses ratios. I know there are yearly fees and I would incur a penalty if I withdraw those funds in less than six years or something similar. So it may be a complete waste of dollars to even attempt that.

Based on the low company match and high expenses, I'll just go to whatever contribution percentage gets me the maximum match.

I know what a very good 401(k) looks like, since I had one that was measured as 83 on brightscope.com. The new one gets a 74 rating, but I would definitely give it a lower 'D' score.
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