2021's Best Mutual Funds in 401(k) Retirement Plans
Sifting through the mutual funds in your 401(k) plan can be intimidating, the array of choices dizzying and maybe even paralyzing.
But it doesn't have to be.
Every year, with the help of financial data firm BrightScope, a financial data firm that rates workplace retirement savings plans, we analyze the 100 mutual funds with the most assets in 401(k) and other defined-contribution plans, and rate them Buy, Sell or Hold. Our goal: to guide you toward the best mutual funds likely to be available in your workplace plan.
In the end, 23 funds, which we'll describe in detail below, won our seal of approval. But pay some attention to the fine print: Some funds are appropriate for aggressive investors, while others are geared for moderate savers.
Also note that we didn't weigh in on index funds, either, as choosing a good index fund always rests on three simple questions: 1.) Which index do you want to emulate? 2.) How well has the fund done in matching that index? 3.) How much does the fund charge? Generally speaking, however, we have no issues with any of the index funds listed in the top 100.
Assessing actively managed mutual funds is a different beast. We look at each fund's long-term returns and year-by-year performance, as well as its volatility and how it fares in difficult markets. Manager tenure, fees and other factors are considered, too.
Here are the 23 best mutual funds for 401(k) retirement savers as we enter 2021, plucked out of the nation's 100 most popular options. It's likely that at least some of these funds are available in your 401(k). While some might be suitable for your personal situation, and others might not be, each mutual fund stands out for its quality, making it a prime choice for its respective category.
Returns and data are as of Dec. 27, unless otherwise noted, and are gathered for the share class with the lowest required minimum initial investment – typically the Investor share class or A share class. The share class available in your 401(k) plan may be different.
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American Funds American Balanced
- Expense ratio: 0.59%
- One-year return: 9.9%
- Three-year annualized return: 8.4%
- Five-year annualized return: 9.7%
- 10-year annualized return: 9.9%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #30
- Best for: Moderate-risk investors in search of a fund that holds stocks and bonds
American Funds American Balanced is one of Capital Group's best mutual funds as far as reliability is concerned. ABALX has beaten its peers – the group that Morningstar awkwardly dubs "Allocation, 50% to 70% Equity" – in 10 of the past 11 calendar years.
As its name implies, American Balanced holds roughly 60% of its assets in stocks and 40% in bonds. The stock side of ABALX holds a mix of dividend-paying and growth-oriented large-company shares. Microsoft (MSFT), Broadcom (AVGO) and UnitedHealth Group (UNH) are currently the fund's biggest stock holdings at last report. The bond side holds a mix of high-quality corporate and government and government-backed debt.
Learn more about ABALX at the American Funds provider site.
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American Funds New Perspective
- Expense ratio: 0.75%
- One-year return: 31.6%
- Three-year annualized return: 17.3%
- Five-year annualized return: 16.0%
- 10-year annualized return: 12.6%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #57
- Best for: Investors in search of growth across the globe
Foreign stock funds are scarce among the 100 most popular 401(k) fund selections. American Funds boasts three of those, and among them, American Funds New Perspective is its best foreign-stock fund offering.
ANWPX invests in multinational firms with strong growth prospects that are poised to benefit from "changing global trading patterns." Seven managers roam developed and emerging countries looking for growing companies that generate at least 25% of their revenues abroad and have $3 billion in market value at the time of purchase.
The managers focus on companies, not countries or regions. But in the end, more than half of ANWPX's assets are invested in U.S. firms. European firms comprise about a quarter of the fund's assets; Asian companies in developed and emerging countries make up roughly 15%.
New Perspectives has been one of the category's best mutual funds over the long term, besting 91% of its peers over the past decade and 96% over the past 15 years.
Learn more about ANWPX at the American Funds provider site.
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Dodge & Cox Income
- Expense ratio: 0.42%
- One-year return: 9.2%
- Three-year annualized return: 6.2%
- Five-year annualized return: 5.7%
- 10-year annualized return: 4.7%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #41
- Best for: Investors looking for a low-risk intermediate-term bond fund
The nine managers of this medium-maturity bond fund invest with a three- to five-year time horizon in mind and a view toward outperforming the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index while keeping risk at bay.
So far, so good: In seven of the past 11 calendar years (including the nearly complete 2020), Dodge & Cox Income beat the AGG index.
Compared with peers, DODIX is one of the best 401(k) funds out there, too. In trailing periods over the past three, five and 10 years, Income has delivered above-average returns with below-average risk, relative to other intermediate-term core bond funds. The fund yielded 1.9% at last report.
Heading into the COVID crisis, corporate and government-backed mortgage-bonds each comprised roughly 35% of assets. But at the height of the pandemic-related market panic, when nearly all bonds became difficult to buy and sell and the AGG index lost 6.3%, the managers were readying for a buying spree. (For the record, Dodge & Cox Income lost 7.7% during the selloff.)
The managers established new positions in more than a dozen companies at what they say were "exceptionally attractive valuations," including Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), Coca-Cola (KO), Exxon Mobil (XOM), FedEx (FDX), Oracle (ORCL) and T-Mobile US (TMUS). These moves increased the fund's corporate bond holdings to 45% of assets, paid for with proceeds from the sale of some holdings in mortgage bonds and Treasuries.
Big changes are rare for this fund, especially over such a short period of time, but the managers say they "believed the uncertainty and incredible market volatility created unique attractive investment opportunities."
Learn more about DODIX at the Dodge & Cox provider site.
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Dodge & Cox International Stock
- Expense ratio: 0.63%
- One-year return: 1.2%
- Three-year annualized return: 0.8%
- Five-year annualized return: 6.2%
- 10-year annualized return: 4.6%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #38
- Best for: Investors with long-time horizons looking for foreign stock exposure
The thing about Dodge & Cox stock pickers is that they're a bit contrarian. The managers do in-depth analysis to find solid businesses with good growth prospects. But because they like a good bargain, they often go hunting in areas of the market that other investors are avoiding.
As a result, some investments can take time to play out, which requires patience on the part of investors.
But two additional things have been working against Dodge & Cox International Stock, which favors value-priced foreign shares, these days. Overseas stocks have lagged U.S. shares, and value-priced foreign stocks have lagged their growth counterparts for much of the past decade. For instance, growth-oriented shares in the MSCI EAFE index, which tracks foreign stocks in developed countries, climbed 7.4% annualized over the past decade, while the value stocks in the MSCI EAFE returned just 3.5% annualized.
Despite the uphill battle, International Stock has kept pace with the MSCI EAFE over the long haul. The fund's 15-year annualized return, 4.7%, just beats the benchmark's 4.5% return. DODFX outdoes 93% of its peers, value-oriented foreign stock funds, over that time, too.
The fund's low expense ratio, which is 44% cheaper than the average fee charged by peers, is another plus.
Learn more about DODFX at the Dodge & Cox provider site.
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Dodge & Cox Stock
- Expense ratio: 0.52%
- One-year return: 5.7%
- Three-year annualized return: 6.9%
- Five-year annualized return: 11.8%
- 10-year annualized return: 11.8%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #10
- Best for: Long-term, patient investors seeking a value-oriented fund
Market sentiment has worked against this value-minded fund for the past decade, as investors favored shares in fast-growing companies instead. But investors might finally be turning toward these bargain-priced stocks at last, if the last quarter of 2020 is any clue.
Dodge & Cox Stock's healthy serving of stocks in the financial sector (26% of assets) and energy (7%) relative to the broad market was a drag in early 2020. But later in the year, these stocks rallied on sentiment that a vaccine could bolster an economic recovery.
Investors, says comanager Charles Pohl, "are starting to look through the downturn that was created by COVID." Shares in Bank of America (BAC), Capital One Financial (COF) and Wells Fargo (WFC), for instance, all which are top-10 fund holdings, each gained more than 20% in the last quarter of 2020, beating the S&P 500.
But these short periods of returns aren't the focus of the eight managers at Dodge & Cox Stock. They're long-term investors who buy stocks with an eye toward holding them for at least three to five years, typically longer. They invest in companies with good long-term prospects for earnings growth and cash-flow generation, that are also cheaply or reasonably priced. Over the long haul, Stock fund compares well with some yardsticks. Its 10-year annualized return, 11.8%, beats the Russell 1000 Value index and 96% of its peers: funds that invest in large companies with bargain-priced stocks. But DODGX lags the S&P 500.
No one knows how long the recent rebound will last, but Pohl is optimistic. There's still a wide disparity in valuation between growth and value stocks, in terms of standard measures including price-to-earnings and price-to-book value. Historically, says Pohl, that has been a good predictor of value stocks taking the lead. And an exposure to value stocks offers a good balance to the broad market, which is heavy in the fast-growing names that have done well, including Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX) and Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL).
Learn more about DODGX at the Dodge & Cox provider site.
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- Expense ratio: 0.52%
- One-year return: 21.5%
- Three-year annualized return: 13.2%
- Five-year annualized return: 12.4%
- 10-year annualized return: 10.8%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #50
- Best for: Moderate investors who want a stock-bond combination fund and are willing to put up with some volatility
Fidelity Balanced is an excellent choice for investors looking for a one-stop fund that holds stocks and bonds. Over the past five and 10 years, FBALX has been one of the best mutual funds in its category; its annualized returns outpace at least 95% of all other so-called balanced funds, which hold roughly 60% of assets in stocks and 40% in bonds.
But investors should be prepared for some added volatility. FBALX is more stock-heavy than its typical peer. At last report, Balanced had 67% of its assets in equities; the typical balanced fund, on the other hand, held an average of 58% of assets in stocks. That adds to the fund's volatility.
FBALX has an unconventional setup. Lead manager Robert Stansky makes the big-picture decisions of how much to put in stocks and how much to put in bonds. He also oversees the fund's eight stock pickers, who are essentially sector specialists, and four bond pickers. The bond side holds mostly investment-grade bonds and some high-yield corporate debt.
Learn more about FBALX at the Fidelity provider site.
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Fidelity Blue Chip Growth
- Expense ratio: 0.79%
- One-year return: 62.5%
- Three-year annualized return: 29.6%
- Five-year annualized return: 24.7%
- 10-year annualized return: 19.4%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #65
- Best for: Aggressively minded investors with long-term time horizons
Fidelity is chock full of good funds that invest in growing companies, and Fidelity Blue Chip Growth is one of its best. Over the past 10 years, FBGRX beats 95% of its peers – funds that invest in large, growing companies – with a 19.4% annualized return. It beats the 13.7% annualized gain in the S&P 500, too.
Manager Sonu Kalra, who has run the fund since mid-2009, focuses on companies with above-average earnings growth potential that the market doesn't recognize. In particular, he looks for events that might kick the business into a higher gear, such as a new product launch, a change in executives or a turnaround strategy.
FBGRX has been one of the best mutual funds of the past year. Its 62.5% gain over the past 12 months is a chart-topping return. Tesla (TSLA), which has soared 669% over that period, was a top contributor by a wide margin. The fund is also peppered with stocks that have doubled or better in that time, including Peloton Interactive (PTON) and CrowdStrike Holdings (CRWD).
Learn more about FBGRX at the Fidelity provider site.
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- Expense ratio: 0.85%
- One-year return: 31.5%
- Three-year annualized return: 18.5%
- Five-year annualized return: 17.8%
- 10-year annualized return: 15.3%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #5
- Best for: Moderate investors looking for a tamer growth fund
Fidelity Contrafund has been a solid performer for so long that it seems many people don't pay attention anymore. But manager Will Danoff still delivers market-beating returns, making this a top 401(k) fund selection. Over the past 12 months, FCNTX's 31.5% return trounces the 17.0% gain in the S&P 500.
Tech and communications services stocks helped fuel the fund's rise, particularly software and services companies such as Adobe (ADBE), Shopify (SHOP), PayPal (PYPL) and Salesforce.com (CRM). Amazon.com (AMZN), FCNTX's top holding, helped, too.
Danoff, who has managed Contrafund for more than 30 years, has been successful in part because he has adapted his approach as his fund has aged and grown. In the mid-1990s, for instance, 700 stocks filled the fund. Today, it holds roughly 330.
But Danoff's investment methodology is the same as it was in FCNTX's early days: He focuses on "best-of-breed" firms with superior earnings growth, proven management teams and sustainable competitive advantages that seem overly beaten down or overlooked.
Learn more about FCNTX at the Fidelity provider site.
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Fidelity Growth Company
- Expense ratio: 0.83%
- One-year return: 68.3%
- Three-year annualized return: 30.4%
- Five-year annualized return: 26.3%
- 10-year annualized return: 20.6%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #25
- Best for: Aggressive investors
Fidelity Growth Company is one of the best stock mutual funds in the country. Unfortunately, it has been closed to new investors since 2006. But if your workplace retirement plan offers it, that restriction doesn't apply to you.
FDGRX's 15-year annualized return, 15.4%, beats all but a handful of U.S. stock funds. It also beats the S&P 500 by an average of nearly 6 percentage points annually over that period.
Short-term returns are impressive, too. Over the past 12 months, the fund's whopping 68.3% gain, lifted in part by stakes in Shopify, Wayfair (W) and Moderna (MRNA), is one of the best returns of all diversified U.S. stock funds.
FDGRX is a high-risk, high-reward fund. Steven Wymer has run it for nearly a quarter-century, looking for companies with resilient business models that will fuel rapid growth over a three- to five-year period, says Morningstar analyst Robby Greengold. That means in addition to established, giant-size firms, such as Nvidia (NVDA) and Netflix, he also owns shares in small companies such as Penumbra (PEN), an $8 billion maker of medical instruments.
Learn more about FDGRX at the Fidelity provider site.
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Fidelity Low-Priced Stock
- Expense ratio: 0.78%
- One-year return: 8.4%
- Three-year annualized return: 6.7%
- Five-year annualized return: 9.6%
- 10-year annualized return: 10.5%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #60
- Best for: Investors looking for a solid value-oriented fund
Critics say Fidelity Low-Priced Stock isn't what it was 20 years ago, but it's still impressive. Over the past decade, FLPSX's 10.5% annualized return beats 87% of its peers – funds that invest in midsize companies trading at a bargain. What works against it, in part, is that the fund used to be considered a small-company fund, and it still uses the Russell 2000 Index, which tracks small-company shares, as its benchmark.
But the fund has always been focused on companies of all sizes. Manager Joel Tillinghast launched the fund 30 years ago to invest in stocks trading at a discount whether they were small and fast growing, or big and underappreciated. The common link: cheap stocks with a share price below $15.
Today, with a bulging $26 billion in assets, FLPSX's low-price threshold is now $35 a share. And the fund is more international than it was a decades ago. More than 40% of the fund holds foreign stocks, such as Canadian grocer Metro, U.K. property developer Barratt Developments (BTDPY), and Taiwanese electronics contract manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry.
Tillinghast, a legend in the business, now manages 95% of the fund's assets. Five co-managers handle the rest. Some focus on specific sectors; others are generalists who invest across the market. Together they still apply Tillinghast's investing philosophy, focusing on companies with solid balance sheets, that are run by good, honest executives, have stable earnings growth and trade at a discount to their view of a fair price.
Learn more about FLPSX at the Fidelity provider site.
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Harbor Capital Appreciation
- Expense ratio: 1.04%
- One-year return: 54.3%
- Three-year annualized return: 26.2%
- Five-year annualized return: 22.0%
- 10-year annualized return: 17.9%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #35
- Best for: Hardy investors looking for rich rewards but have the stomach for a rough ride
Harbor outsources the day-to-day management of Harbor Capital Appreciation to managers at Jennison Associates.
Long-time investors might remember the name of firm founder and rock-star manager, Spiro "Sig" Segalas, who has behind this fund since May 1990. He has taken on five comanagers since the turn of the century, and they work together to build a 55- to 70-stock portfolio of fast-growing, dominant market leaders with above-average revenue growth prospects, healthy financials and strong pipelines for new products.
The results are consistently above average, but so is the fund's volatility. Over the past decade, the fund's 10-year annualized return, 17.9%, beats 89% of its peers, large-company growth funds, and the S&P 500. But it has been 20% more volatile than the index (and 9% more bumpy than the typical large growth fund.
If you can handle some turbulence, HCAIX might be one of the best 401(k) funds you can buy for 2021.
Learn more about HCAIX at the Harbor Capital provider site.
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Invesco Developing Markets
- Expense ratio: 1.24%
- One-year return: 13.9%
- Three-year annualized return: 8.1%
- Five-year annualized return: 12.2%
- 10-year annualized return: 4.8%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #78
- Best for: Younger investors with long time horizons who want to tap growing stocks in developing countries.
This successful fund was once known as Oppenheimer Developing Markets. In 2019, Invesco acquired OppenheimerFunds, and the fund is now Invesco Developing Markets.
Manager Justin Leverenz has been at the helm since May 2007. He looks for firms that will benefit from growth trends in emerging markets and is willing to pay up for shares if the company has good growth prospects.
Leverenz's approach has delivered good results over time. Over the past decade, the fund's 4.8% annualized return beats its peers – other diversified emerging-markets stock funds, and the MSCI Emerging Markets index – by more than an average of one percentage point per year.
The fund's top holdings are big Asian tech firms: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSM), Tencent Holdings (TCEHY) and Alibaba Group Holding (BABA). China, India and Russia are the fund's top country exposures.
Learn more about ODMAX at the Invesco provider site.
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Metropolitan West Total Return Bond
- Expense ratio: 0.68%
- One-year return: 8.7%
- Three-year annualized return: 5.9%
- Five-year annualized return: 4.5%
- 10-year annualized return: 4.5%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #20
- Best for: Value-minded bond fund investors
Teamwork is the backbone of Metropolitan West Total Return Bond. Four bargain-minded managers make the big-picture calls on the economy, and sector specialists do the bond picking to build a diversified portfolio of high-quality, intermediate-maturity bonds.
The managers are mindful of risk, too. MWTRX got defensive early, loading up on government bonds in 2016 and 2017, which nipped returns. But its conservative position – it's currently loaded up on Treasuries, government mortgage-backed bonds and investment-grade corporates – has been a boon in recent months. Total Return's one-year return beats 68% of its peers, and its 10-year annualized return of 4.5% beats 67% of its peers and the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index.
The upshot: The managers are "patient and disciplined," says Morningstar analyst Brian Moriarty, and that should continue to set this fund's performance apart over the long term. MWTRX yields 0.9%.
Learn more about MWTRX at the Metropolitan West provider site.
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T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth
- Expense ratio: 0.69%
- One-year return: 33.0%
- Three-year annualized return: 20.6%
- Five-year annualized return: 19.3%
- 10-year annualized return: 17.5%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #24
- Best for: Aggressive investors with long time horizons unafraid to hold big stakes in tech firms
We're big fans of T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth, which has been a member of the Kiplinger 25 since 2016. Larry Puglia has managed the fund since its mid-1993 launch. Since then, through three bear markets and several bull markets, Puglia has steered the fund to an 11.8% annualized return over the past 27 years, which outpaces the 9.8% gain in the S&P 500 index.
Puglia has a knack for finding good, fast-growing companies. Of course, that trade has worked in his favor of late, as those types of businesses have led the stock market's gains in recent years. His tilt toward firms with competitive advantages over rivals and strong multiyear growth prospects leads him naturally to big tech and consumer stocks. Holdings also must generate strong cash flow, have healthy balance sheets and be run by executives who spend in smart ways to be considered for the fund, which holds more than 100 stocks.
Blue Chip Growth typically deserves a mention among the best mutual funds for 401(k) investors under Puglia, who says he has no plans to retire. But the firm named Paul Greene associate manager in early 2020, and that move has sparked speculation that it's part of a succession plan. Morningstar analyst Katie Rushkewicz Reichart, for example, wrote recently that she thinks Puglia might step down sometime in the next two years.
Manager changes are always tough, even when they're planned in advance. That said, Greene comes off a solid stint at T. Rowe Price Communications & Technology (PRMTX), which focuses on sectors that are in Blue Chip Growth's sweet spot. During his six-year tenure, the fund returned 13.8% annualized. That's an average of 10 percentage points per year ahead of its competition: funds that invest in communications sector stocks.
We'll be watching closely.
Learn more about TRBCX at the T. Rowe Price provider site.
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T. Rowe Price Growth Stock
- Expense ratio: 0.65 %
- One-year return: 35.9%
- Three-year annualized return: 20.5%
- Five-year annualized return: 18.9%
- 10-year annualized return: 16.8%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #44
- Best for: Investors in search of a good growth fund
T. Rowe Price Growth Stock is one of three T. Rowe Price products on the roster of popular 401(k) funds that focus on large, growing companies (Blue Chip Growth and Large Cap Growth are the others).
What sets PRGFX apart from its siblings is its higher stake in tech stocks. Nearly 40% of Growth Stock's assets, at last report, were invested in tech, compared with the typical large growth stock fund, which has 32% of assets in that sector.
PRGFX's returns are solid. But they aren't as good as Blue Chip Growth. Still, you might not have access to Blue Chip Growth in your 401(k) plan, and in that case, Growth Stock is a solid choice.
Joe Fath has managed the fund since early 2014. Over the past five years, Growth Stock's 18.9% annualized return beats 63% of its peers, as well as the S&P 500. Fath keeps the portfolio to a trim 85 names, and Amazon.com, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook are among the fund's top holdings.
Learn more about PRGFX at the T. Rowe Price provider site.
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T. Rowe Price Large-Cap Growth Class I
- Expense ratio: 0.56%
- One-year return: 38.2%
- Three-year annualized return: 22.6%
- Five-year annualized return: 21.2%
- 10-year annualized return: 18.0%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #59
- Best for: Aggressive investors unafraid to hold big stakes in tech firms.
You might be less familiar with T. Rowe Price Large-Cap Growth Class I than other T. Rowe Price funds, but that's only because this institutional fund's $1 million minimum puts it beyond the reach of most individual investors.
It's a nifty offering. Taymour Tamaddon, who earned his stripes with a standout stint at T. Rowe Price Health Sciences (PRHSX) in the early 2010s, took over TRLGX in 2017. Since then, Large Cap Growth Class I, formerly known as Institutional Large-Cap Growth, has returned 22.6% annualized, well ahead of the S&P 500, which gained 13.5% over the same period.
Tamaddon runs a smaller portfolio than his colleagues at Blue Chip and Growth Stock, of 60 to 70 stocks. The top 10% holdings represent just over half of the fund's assets, and you'll recognize most of them. Amazon.com, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple held the top five positions in TRLGX at last report.
Learn more about TRLGX at the T. Rowe Price provider site.
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T. Rowe Price Mid-Cap Growth
- Expense ratio: 0.74%
- One-year return: 24.4%
- Three-year annualized return: 17.0%
- Five-year annualized return: 16.2%
- 10-year annualized return: 14.7%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #47
- Best for: Investors in search of a growth fund that doesn't hold Apple, Microsoft or Facebook
T. Rowe Price Mid-Cap Growth has been closed to new investors for more than a decade. But if you have access to it in your workplace retirement savings plan, and you're new to the fund, those rules don't apply.
We're jealous. We've liked this fund for a long time.
Brian Berghuis has run this portfolio of mid-cap stocks since it opened in July 1992. Since then, it has returned 13.7% annualized, which outpaces the S&P 500 by an average of 2.9 percentage points per year.
As its name suggests, Mid-Cap Growth invests in midsize companies, but Berghuis is willing to hold on to them as they grow. He homes in on firms with market values of roughly $4 billion to $30 billion. Top holding Hologic (HOLX), a healthcare company focused on women, has a market value of just under $19 billion.
RPMGX still appears to be one of the market's best mutual funds, but like a few other top T. Rowe Price funds, it seems to be moving toward a transition. Berghuis is in his 60s. Although the firm hasn't announced any coming change in manager, last October, the fund took on two new associate managers, Don Easley and Ashley Woodruff. They join associate manager John Wakeman, who has been with Berghuis from the start. New associate managers have been a harbinger of a manager change at T. Rowe Price. The firm likes to choreograph manager changes with long stretches of overlap.
This is a prudent move, and a responsible way to go about it. But when Berghuis retires, we might change our view of the fund until the new managers are tested and prove worthy. He's still in place, however, and no announcement has been made. We're staying tuned.
Learn more about RPMGX at the T. Rowe Price provider site.
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- Expense ratio: 0.27%
- One-year return: 1.9%
- Three-year annualized return: 6.3%
- Five-year annualized return: 10.1%
- 10-year annualized return: 11.6%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #55
- Best for: Investors seeking a smoother ride in a stock fund
For more than a decade, Vanguard Equity-Income has delivered above-average returns with below-average risk. That's in part by design. VEIPX is intended to provide current income and does so – it currently yields 2.7% – by investing in companies that consistently pay dividends. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Cisco Systems (CSCO) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) are among the fund's top holdings.
Smart stock picking by steady hands has helped, too. Michael Reckmeyer, of subadviser Wellington Management, manages two-thirds of the fund's assets, focusing on firms that can sustain their dividend or raise it over time. Jim Stetler and Binbin Guo, of Vanguard's in-house quantitative stock-picking group, run the rest using sophisticated computer models to ferret out stocks that meet four characteristics, including consistent earnings growth and relatively low prices.
VEIPX has been one of the best mutual funds investors could want in a 401(k) account for years. Over the past decade, it has delivered an annualized return of 11.6%, better than 93% of its peers – funds that invest in large-company stocks trading at a discount, with considerably less volatility, too.
Vanguard Equity-Income also is a member of the Kiplinger 25.
Learn more about VEIPX at the Vanguard provider site.
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- Expense ratio: 0.45%
- One-year return: 32.3%
- Three-year annualized return: 19.3%
- Five-year annualized return: 18.4%
- 10-year annualized return: 14.2%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #80
- Best for: Retirement savers looking to diversify their U.S. stock holdings with small and midsize companies
In recent years, Vanguard Explorer has turned in a better-than-average performance. In fact, in each of the past three full calendar years – 2017 to 2019 – this small- and midsize-company stock fund has outpaced the small-company index, Russell 2000; the midsize company benchmark, Russell Midcap; and the typical fund in its Morningstar peer group, which invests in small, growing firms.
The sustained turnaround is one reason we upgraded VEXPX's rating to a Buy after several years of assigning it a Hold.
That said, a few things about the fund still trouble us. Size is one. Explorer, with $17 billion in assets, is the biggest actively managed small-company stock fund in the country. Too much money can hamper returns, especially for funds that focus on small- and mid-cap stocks. When such a fund tries to make trades in shares that typically see little activity, they may move share prices – up when buying, down when selling – in ways that can hurt results.
Asset bloat is to blame in part for another concern, too: the number of subadviser changes at the fund. Vanguard's solution for outsize assets is to carve up and dole out pieces of the fund to different advisory firms. But if the mix of firms produces ho-hum results, Vanguard swaps out one subadviser for another. At Explorer, Vanguard has made 14 such partial manager changes over the past decade.
Time will tell if current arrangement brings strong results and warrants no changes, or if more manager shifts may be afoot. VEXPX had a tough time staying ahead of its peers in 2020, though it beat the Russell 2000. And over the past five years, its five-year annualized return, 18.4%, beat 58% of its peer group – funds that focus on fast-growing small-company stocks.
Learn more about VEXPX at the Vanguard provider site.
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Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities
- Expense ratio: 0.20%
- One-year return: 10.7%
- Three-year annualized return: 5.9%
- Five-year annualized return: 4.8%
- 10-year annualized return: 3.6%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #70
- Best for: Nearly retired or retired investors who want to guard against inflation
Inflation is not an imminent worry, but expectations for it are rising. Indeed, over the near term, we have a moderate view on rising prices for goods and services. In 2020, Kiplinger expects 2.1% inflation – higher than the 1.2% rate in 2020, but still below the 2.3% rate logged in 2019. However, the Fed's easy-money policies mean high inflation is a likelihood in the future, say many market analysts.
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities, which is actively managed, invests in Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS). These inflation-protected bonds act as an insurance policy against rising consumer prices. The securities pay a fixed coupon rate on top of the principal that is adjusted for inflation and come with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Like actual TIPS these days, VIPSX currently sports a negative yield, of -1.2%.
TIPS matter more for investors who are already retired than for those who are early in their careers. While a retiree might hold 10% of her assets in TIPS; those just beginning their working life might have none or no more than 1% of their assets in TIPS. For investors in the middle of the careers, an allotment of 2% to 5% is more than enough.
Learn more about VIPSX at the Vanguard provider site.
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Vanguard International Growth
- Expense ratio: 0.43%
- One-year return: 56.4%
- Three-year annualized return: 21.5%
- Five-year annualized return: 20.8%
- 10-year annualized return: 12.1%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #40
- Best for: Foreign stock exposure
Like other Vanguard funds with sizable assets, Vanguard International Growth experienced its own version of manager musical chairs in the early 2010s. But by mid-2016, the fund had slimmed its roster of three subadvisers to just two – Baillie Gifford and Schroders – and the lineup is proving to be a winning combination.
Over the past three years, VWIGX's annualized return of 21.5% beats 95% of its peers and is well ahead of the 4.4% three-year average return in the MSCI ACWI ex USA Index, which tracks stocks outside the U.S. in emerging and developed countries.
The firms, both U.K.-based, have slightly different approaches. Baillie Gifford, which runs roughly 60% of the fund's assets, is willing to pay up for stocks with explosive growth; Schroder's ideal stock is underappreciated but growing fast.
Emerging-markets stocks make up 18% of the portfolio. That includes the likes of Tencent and Alibaba, as well as Meituan Dianping (MPNGY), a Chinese shopping platform for domestic consumer products, and Argentine online auction and e-commerce company MercadoLibre (MELI). Management should be able to keep VWIGX among the best mutual funds in this international category.
Learn more about VWIGX at the Vanguard provider site.
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Vanguard Wellesley Income
- Expense ratio: 0.23%
- One-year return: 7.8%
- Three-year annualized return: 7.0%
- Five-year annualized return: 7.7%
- 10-year annualized return: 7.8%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #95
- Best for: Conservative investors interested in owning more bonds than stocks in a single fund
Bonds take center stage in Vanguard Wellesley and make up more than 55% of assets, while stocks play a supporting role with roughly 40% of assets. Cash and other assets round out the rest of the fund.
The same firm that manages some of Vanguard's best actively managed funds, Wellington Management, also runs this fine fund. Michael Stack and Loren Moran pick the bonds, focusing on A-rated corporate credits. Michael Reckmeyer, the whiz behind Vanguard Equity-Income, picks the stocks, finding high-quality, dividend-paying stocks with a yield higher than that of the S&P 500 at the time of purchase. (He's likely to sell if the yield falls below that average.)
Over the past three years – the period this team has been in place at Wellesley Income – VWINX's 7.0% annualized return beats 70% of its peers, which are funds that allocate roughly 40% to stocks.
Learn more about VWINX at the Vanguard provider site.
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- Expense ratio: 0.25%
- One-year return: 9.7%
- Three-year annualized return: 9.1%
- Five-year annualized return: 10.4%
- 10-year annualized return: 9.8%
- Rank among the top 401(k) funds: #8
- Best for: Moderately conservative investors looking for a 60% stock/40% bond portfolio
For years, Vanguard Wellington, another Kip 25 member, has delivered to its investors. Over the past 15 years, for instance, the fund's 8.2% annualized return beats 90% of its peers – funds that invest roughly 60% of its portfolio in stocks and 40% in bonds.
VWELX's managers have changed, but we're not worried. The new-guard members are longtime Wellington veterans. Bond picker John Keogh left in 2019, but his colleagues Michael Stack and Loren Moran, who had been named co-managers in 2017, were already in place. Meanwhile, Daniel Pozen, who has been with Wellington since 2006, stepped in for stock picker Ed Bousa in June.
We'll be watching the new team closely in the coming months, as there might be small tweaks at the margin to the portfolio. But Wellington says Pozen will continue to focus on high-quality, dividend-paying companies with strong balance sheets and competitive advantages that can fuel dividend hikes over time. The bond managers, who have been running their side of the show since 2019, have crafted a portfolio of mostly A-rated U.S. corporate bonds and Treasuries.
Learn more about VWELX at the Vanguard provider site.
The Best Mutual Funds for Retired People
By: Rose Johnson
Although Social Security provides income for many retirees, some individuals need and desire additional income sources. Investing strategies for retirees differ from individuals in younger age groups. Retirees seek to preserve their nest egg, and if possible, grow their income. If you are retired, certain conservative mutual funds can provide a return on your investment while limiting risks. Understanding the types of mutual funds that are best for retired people can help you develop an effective retirement strategy.
Bond funds are great investments for retirees because they provide period income payments and are less risky than stocks. The manager of a bond fund focuses his efforts on investing solely in bonds. The specific underlying assets vary per bond fund. Some funds choose to invest in a particular type of bond, while others select a variety of bond types. Mortgage-backed securities, corporate, municipal and government bonds are common assets found in a fund. Risks associated with investing in bond funds include credit, interest rate and prepayment risks.
Money Market Funds
Legislation requires money market funds to invest in low-risk securities, making them a great mutual fund choice for retired people. The underlying securities may include government securities, certificates of deposits and commercial paper of companies. The dividends paid to investors typically correlate to short-term interest rates. Unlike a money market account, this type of mutual fund is not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, losses in money market funds are possible, but rare.
An income fund’s primary purpose is to buy and sell investments that provide investors with regular income payments. Although many income funds invest in bonds, income stock can also serve as underlying assets. Investors receive income payments on a monthly or quarterly basis. The loss of value is softened for income funds during a market downturn because they invest in stable companies with above average dividend yields.
Managed Payout Funds
Some retirees look to managed payout funds to secure income for retirement. A managed payout fund allows you to remain in control of your assets. You deposit an initial investment with the fund and begin receiving regular monthly payments that remain fixed throughout the calender year. Payments are typically adjusted at the beginning of a new year, and can increase or decrease. You can lose money if the fund's underlying assets perform poorly.
Best Mutual funds for retired people
We all want peaceful life post retirement and want to enjoy during the period with our children and grand children. All these are possible only when you make a right investment plan and choose the right investment medium. And there is nothing better than investing in mutual funds. But before investing in the funds, analyze how much money you will need at retirement, how much monthly income you need to meet your basic needs, number of years left for retirement and the risk profile. If you have a long term investment goal for retirement, then mutual fund is the best option.
Why Investing in mutual fund is a good option for retirement?
Mutual funds are more flexible investment products which do not have any restriction on payment. You can withdraw in between without any penalty. Depending on your risk appetite, you can choose various mutual fund schemes.
In mutual funds, you can make money in three ways.
• Dividend payment :
Corporation earns profit and reinvest the same in business and share a fraction of profit with share holders in the form of a dividend.
• Capital gains distribution :
There are two types of capital gains, short term and long term capital gains. These gains are distributed to the shareholders and the distribution is declared at the end of the year.
• NAV :
NAV stands for Net Asset Value, which results from the difference between the assets and liabilities of the fund. Mutual fund’s selling and buying process is based on NAV of the trade date. It is calculated by dividing the current market value of the fund with the number of outstanding units.
Mutual funds allow you to start with SIPs, which will help you to get organized and discipline in payment. With small amount, you can build a substantially higher amount for your retirement. Mutual funds also allow you to redeem your lump sum amount any time before or after the retirement. Mutual funds are subject to market risk but with this risk they allow you to switch off your investment into safer avenues for retirement.
Where to invest for good returns for post-retirement life?
A person, who is near to retirement, should invest in large and stable companies. There are many such companies operating in the space of FMCG, pharmaceuticals, which are ideally suited for the desired investment. The retired person should choose the funds that invest in the stocks of companies after checking their previous records and return history.
1. Open ended funds and close ended funds
An open-ended fund is where units can be bought and sold on a continuous basis, allowing investors to enter and exit the scheme whenever they want to.
Close-ended funds are those where unit capital remains fixed and they sell a particular number of units.
2. Debt mutual funds
Debt mutual funds offer you a fixed maturity date and fixed rate of interest. These funds are best bet for retired people as they invest in fixed income securities, government securities, corporate Bonds, and other debt securities that pay high dividend and interest. One should go with debt mutual fund in place of FDs when interest rate in the latter goes down.
3 Money market funds
These funds are open-ended mutual fund schemes that invest your money in short term debt securities. These funds are very safe in comparison to other mutual funds for retirement purposes. Money market funds provide a very simple procedure for withdrawing fund from your bank account.
4. Hybrid debt oriented fund or Balanced funds:
These funds invest your money in different assets like equity, debt market, money market and gold schemes. The funds come in three forms- capital protection funds, asset allocation funds and monthly income plans. These funds are good for those people who are looking for safety and appreciation of the invested capital.
5. Retirement income funds :
These funds invest in stocks, cash and bonds for retired persons and provide them stable income during the retirement. There are three types of retirement income funds available in the market:-
6. Target date retirement funds :
Target date retirement funds automatically reset the asset of stocks, bonds in their portfolio as per the time selected by the investor. As an investor, you need to choose single fund to reach their retirement goal instead of choosing a number of investments. The fund manager keeps in line with the investor goal by rebalancing the fund assets each year for their retirement. These funds are quite risky.
7. Income replacement fund :
Income replacement fund returns your money, income and capital gains earlier than it liquidates in a selected year.
8. Managed payout funds :
Managed pay out funds provide you fixed monthly income through different strategies and payout may possibly fluctuate from year to year, and they are not expensive at all. These funds comes in different options to manage your payout funds.
(A)Variable payouts:With variable payouts, the amount of income may vary from month to month. Also, the return is not guaranteed.
(B)Inheritance: For immediate annuity, inheritance managed payout fund is a good option as you can transfer your payout amount to your beneficiary account any time.
(C) Flexibility: This option allows you sell your mutual fund units whenever you require money on an urgent basis.
Should retired people invest in Mutual Funds?
Retired people usually have their savings and investments locked up in bank FDs, PPFs, gold, real estate, insurance, pension plans etc. Most of these options are difficult to convert to cash immediately. This may lead to undue stress in case of medical or other emergencies. Mutual Funds provide the much-needed liquidity to retirees as they are easy to withdraw and offer better post-tax returns.
Most retired people fear the volatility or fluctuation in returns of Mutual Funds and stay away from them. They should put some part of their retirement corpus in Debt Mutual Funds and go for a Systematic Withdraw Plan (SWP). This will help them earn a regular monthly income from such investments. Debt funds are relatively safer than equity funds as they invest in bonds issued by banks, companies, government bodies and money market instruments (bank CDs, T-bills, Commercial Papers).
SWP in debt funds provides tax efficient returns as compared to bank FDs. Income from FDs/pension plans are taxed at higher effective rates compared to withdrawals under SWP. You can easily stop a SWP or change the withdrawal amount anytime depending on your need unlike in a pension plan. Thus, retirees should include Mutual Funds in their financial plans.
Persons funds retired best for mutual
The Best Vanguard Funds for Retirees
Are you getting your finances ready for retirement? Some of the best Vanguard funds are great choices for retirees.
Once you retire, your investment goals are likely to shift more toward income and stability. Growth is often a lesser priority. But retirees live longer than they used to. Even if you are in your 60s when you retire, you may live another 20 or 30 years.
You'll need to invest for short- and intermediate-term income after you retire. But you'll also need long-term growth for the next few decades.
These funds can help you manage your finances, not just before retirement, but also once you are retired.
Vanguard Investments is a mutual fund company that offers low-cost, no-load mutual funds. It has some of the best dividend funds for retirement income.
Dividends are the part of a company's profits that are paid to you when you hold stock. Dividend stocks allow you to receive income from your investments. Dividend funds let you hold many dividend stocks at once.
Dividend mutual funds are often categorized with value stock funds. They tend to be less risky than other types of funds, such as growth stock mutual funds.
Once you are retired you might not want to buy shares of riskier funds. Dividend funds can be a safer choice for retired investors.
Dividends can be put back into the fund to buy more shares. But most retired investors who buy dividend mutual funds want a source of steady and reliable income from their dividends.
Here are some of the best Vanguard funds for dividends.
Vanguard Dividend Growth (VDIGX)
This fund is a great choice if you want solid payouts now that will also grow over time. It mostly focuses on U.S. large-cap value stocks. About 4.9% of the portfolio is put into foreign holdings.
The expense ratio for VDIGX is a low 0.27%. You must make an initial purchase of at least $3,000.
Vanguard Utilities Index Admiral Shares (VUIAX)
This fund focuses on stocks in the utility sector, which tend to have high dividends. It mostly holds large-cap stocks of U.S. utility companies, such as Duke Energy Corporation (DUK) and Southern Company (SO).
The expense ratio for VUIAX is a low 0.10%. However, it is only offered in Vanguard's "Admiral" share class, which has a minimum initial purchase of $100,000.
If you can't afford to invest in VUIAX, you can try Vanguard's utility ETF (exchange-traded fund). Its symbol is VPU, and it has no minimum to invest.
Keep in mind that dividend mutual funds often pay high yields. But these funds also come with the risk that your investment may lose value instead.
Conservative Allocation Funds
In retirement, you may want to use conservative allocation funds. These hold a low-risk blend of stocks, bonds, and cash in just one fund. You won't see big declines during bear markets, and you can get a diverse allocation in just one fund.
Conservative funds are a good fit for retirement investing. The goal is to keep market risk low while still getting returns that match or slightly outpace inflation, which is around 3%.
Here are some of the best conservative funds from Vanguard.
Vanguard LifeStrategy Conservative Growth (VSCGX)
This fund holds about 40% stocks and 60% bonds. This creates slow but steady growth over the long term, which makes for a good conservative fund.
VSCGX has been able to average over 7% returns over the long term. The expense ratio is cheap at 0.12%. The minimum initial investment is $3,000.
Vanguard Wellesley Income (VWINX)
This fund is solidly conservative. It holds 35% to 40% stocks, 60% bonds, and the remainder in cash.
Returns from Wellesley beat other conservative allocation funds for three-, five- and ten-year returns. It also has a very cheap expense ratio of 0.23%. The minimum initial investment is $3,000.
Vanguard Wellington (VWELX)
VWELX is not quite as conservative as VSCGX and VWINX. It holds around 65% stocks and 35% bonds. This can be a good fit if you are willing to take a bit more risk for higher long-term returns.
Wellington is a medium-risk allocated fund, but it still beat most 100% stock allocations between 2000 and 2015. Even during those difficult years, its average return was higher than that of the S&P 500 Index.
Like other Vanguard funds, it has low expenses (0.24%). You have to invest at least $3,000 to begin.
Bond Index Funds
Low expense ratios are important in the world of bond funds. Vanguard has the best selection of low-cost bond funds.
For example, in some cases, just a 1% difference in returns can separate the best bond funds from the worst. Many of Vanguard's index bond funds are between 0.5% and 1% lower in expenses than the average bond fund.
Vanguard's passively managed funds have lower expenses than actively managed funds. This is because their operating expenses are much lower. For example, costs for research, analysis, and buying and selling holdings are much lower for passively managed funds.
An index fund manager only needs to track the fund's benchmark index. An active manager, on the other hand, is usually trying to beat the benchmark. This takes more time and money to achieve.
Index funds also have other advantages. Passive management removes the risk of the fund manager making human mistakes, such as being wrong about what interest rates will do in the near future.
Here are some of the best bond index funds at Vanguard for retired investors.
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Investment Grade (VFICX)
VFICX invests in several medium and high-quality investment-grade bonds. It has a low expense ratio of 0.2%. The minimum investment is $3,000.
The active management style doesn't always keep it ahead of the benchmark index. However, its long-term returns have averaged better than index funds like VBTLX.
Vanguard Short-Term Investment-Grade (VFSTX)
Short-term bonds often have lower yields and lower returns than intermediate- and long-term bonds. But they aren't as interest-rate sensitive.
This makes them good choices when interest rates are rising. This fund has a low expense ratio of 0.2%. The minimum initial investment is $3,000.
Bonds are rated from AAA (highest quality) to D (in default). "Investment-grade" bonds are in the middle ground from AAA down to BBB-. These funds invest in an average of medium-quality bonds. Their yields and long-term returns can be higher in the long run, compared to short-term bond funds.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do Vanguard target retirement funds work?
Target-date funds are mutual funds that automatically rebalance the portfolio as the years go by to meet specific goals. Vanguard's target retirement funds allow investors to put their funds in a single investment without having to worry about their balance of stocks and bonds. As the target retirement date approaches, Vanguard automatically shifts the ratio away from equity and toward fixed-income investments.
How do you transfer your retirement funds to Vanguard?
Transfering your retirement savings to Vanguard essentially just takes two steps, but it can be confusing because it involves communication with two different financial institutions. The first step is to open a rollover IRA with Vanguard. This allows you to transfer funds from a retirement account without incurring penalty taxes. Then, speak to your original financial institution and start a rollover into your new Vanguard account. This may involve filling out forms or calling customer service, depending on your financial institution.
The Balance does not provide tax or investment advice or financial services. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.
Best SIPs to build a retirement corpus of Rs 3 crore
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Best mutual funds to build retirement corpus
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Don't take your retirement planning lightly
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Best Mutual Funds for Retirement Planning
Retirement planning is one of the important goals in life for which many people look for an efficient Investment plan. Looking at the various advantages of Mutual Funds in the long-run, investors are keen to invest in it. So, here are some of the benefits of planning retirement with Mutual Funds, along with some of the Best Retirement Mutual Funds to invest in.
Why Mutual Funds?
Here are some of the major benefits of investing in Mutual Funds for retirement planning:
The minimum investment amount in Mutual Funds are low and affordable. Most retirement funds start with an investment amount as low as per month.
Mutual Funds don’t have a lock-in period, which makes your investment flexible. You can liquidate your funds by withdrawing it whenever you wish to. Once you sell the units, it takes less than 2 days for the fund to get credited to your account.
The only fund that has a lock-in is- ELSSTax Saving Scheme, which is of 3 years, minimum. ELSS comes with the shortest lock-in compared to all other tax saving schemes like PPF, etc.
Beat the Inflation
Inflation is the rate of increase in prices of our day to day needs. This means that you need to invest in an avenue that also grows at par with the inflation rates. Mutual Funds are ideal under such situations. Equities have been able to beat inflation in the past, it also one those asset class that can beat the inflation in the future too. While other investment options FDs and PPF aren’t able to beat inflation by a considerable margin.
Mutual Funds are more tax-efficient than any other instruments. Short Term Capital Gains (less than 3 years) on Equity Funds attract a tax of 15%, while in non-equity funds STCG is added to your regular Income and taxed as per the income tax slab you fall under. There is not tax on equity funds in Long Term Capital Gains, but non-equity funds gains are taxed at 10% without indexation and 20% with indexation.
Mutual Funds don’t have any restrictions on the regular premium payment, or making partial or complete withdrawals in between. Investors can discontinue their investments or make a partial withdrawal without paying any penalties.
Best Retirement Funds
Best Retirement Mutual Funds for High Risk Takers
These funds are suitable for investors who fall in the age bracket of 25-40 years and are willing to invest for a longer duration, i.e. for at least .
Best Retirement Mutual Funds Moderate Risk Takers
These funds are suitable for investors who fall in the age bracket of 41-50 years and are willing to invest for at least more.
Best Retirement Mutual Funds for Average Risk Takers
Investors who are above 50 years of age would prefer Investing in low-risk funds. Thus, these funds are safer to invest.
Mutual Fund Calculator for Retirement Planning
Retirement calculator is one of the ideal ways to estimate your retirement savings. This calculator estimates the amount of money that you need to save for your post-retirement, as per your lifestyle. While using the retirement calculator, you would need to fill variables like current age, the age that you wish to take your retirement, regular expenses, inflation rate and the expected long-term growth rate on investments (or equity markets etc.). The sum of all these variables will help you to calculate the amount that you would need to save monthly for your retirement.