The retirement program involves two accounts. The first account is a 403(b) defined contribution retirement plan, to which my employer will make contributions equal to 10% of my annual pre-tax salary (note that these contributions are separate from my salary). The second account is a 401(a) mandatory retirement plan, to which I am required to contribute 4% of my annual pre-tax salary (these contributions are deducted from my salary). As someone who maintains a relatively high savings rate and likes the freedom of deciding where, when, and how to invest my savings, I do not like having to make mandatory contributions. However, I suppose one could view it as an acceptable tradeoff for getting larger contributions from my employer, even though the two types of contributions are separate; that is, they are not "matching" contributions that occur in some 401(k) plans. Thus, total contributions equal to 14% of my annual pre-tax salary will go into the two accounts; based on my current salary, that works out to a little over $10,000 per year.
Regarding investment options, my choices are rather limited. There are four "tiers" of investments available to me:
- Target-date funds: A mix of various stock and bond funds based on an individual's age. For someone my age (31 years old), a typical mix is 90% stocks and 10% bonds. The mix becomes more conservative over time, with a decreasing percentage of stocks and an increasing percentage of bonds.
- Index funds: Passively managed funds that track various stock and bond market indices.
- Actively managed funds: Funds managed by investment professionals and usually geared toward specific investing styles (e.g., value vs. growth, domestic vs. international, etc.). Fees are higher than in the other tiers, even though higher returns are by no means guaranteed. In fact, history shows that most actively managed funds tend to underperform passively managed market index funds.
- Brokerage account: Provides a much broader selection of investment possibilities, except it is restricted to investment in mutual funds and there are transaction fees. The purchase of individual stocks is not permitted.
|Symbol||Name||Index Tracked||Expense Ratio|
|VINIX||Vanguard Institutional Index Fund||S&P 500 Index (Large-Cap Stocks)||0.04%|
|VIEIX||Vanguard Extended Market Index Fund||S&P Completion Index (Small- and Mid-Cap Stocks)||0.12%|
|VFWSX||Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US Index Fund||FTSE All-World ex US Index (International Stocks)||0.12%|
|VBTIX||Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund||Barclays U.S. Aggregate Float Adjusted Index (U.S. Bonds)||0.07%|
|VIPIX||Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund||Inflation-Indexed U.S. Bonds (i.e., TIPS)||0.07%|
I am not keen on the bond funds for two reasons. First, as a young investor with a long time horizon, there is not much need for bonds in my portfolio. I do not mind taking the "riskier" approach of having the bulk of my investments in stocks. Second, the two bond funds focus on U.S. bonds, and anyone paying attention to the news this year knows there is a lot of talk about rising interest rates in the U.S. When interest rates rise, bond values fall, so bond funds do not strike me as good investments for the next few years.
Regarding the stock funds, I tend to view the domestic vs. international categorization as a misleading dichotomy. Many U.S.-based companies, especially the large-cap ones, do business in dozens or hundreds of countries around the world, including both developed and emerging markets. For that reason, I see no compelling need to own an international stock fund.
Given that large-cap U.S. companies represent the most stable stocks in which to invest, and the S&P 500 companies have produced a decent rate of return for decades, I decided to allocate 100% of the contributions in both retirement accounts to VINIX, which tracks the S&P 500 index. I get exposure to a diversified group of some of the best companies in the world while paying the lowest expense ratio of all available investment options.
Of course, I am free to change my investment allocation in the future, so this decision is not set in stone. Each year I will take some time to re-evaluate my investment options and decide whether an alternative allocation is preferable. For example, after interest rates eventually rise and plateau, it might be worthwhile allocating a portion of my contributions to a bond fund. For the time being, though, I will simply let my retirement accounts track the S&P 500 index.
Once the first contributions are made to my retirement accounts, I will start reporting their status in my monthly reviews, most likely beginning with my October review.