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Investing inside your 401k

Posted October 30, 2019

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Stop chasing past performance

If your employer offers a 401k plan, you have undoubtedly been confronted with picking different investment options available in the plan. A frequent question I get when talking to people is how they should invest in their 401k plan? This is an important question that can either help or hurt your retirement plans. While everyone is unique in both their age, risk tolerance (how much volatility can your stomach handle), risk capacity (how much volatility can you afford to handle), and financial goals (how much income do you need at retirement), there are some good rules of thumb. The younger an investor is, the more risk they can take. This is because the young investor has a large amount of human capital (i.e., future earnings) and can afford to have riskier assets since they may still have up to 40+ working years to continue earning wages. The older an investor gets, the less human capital they have in their portfolio, and therefore have less ability to take on investment risk since most of their working years are behind them.

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 allowed 401k providers to start using Target-Date Retirement Funds as the Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA). This was a huge improvement for 401k participants because it provided a simple, set it and forget it mutual fund to choose. The Target-Date Fund is designed to incrementally change its allocation from nearly all stocks to a mixture of stocks and bonds as the fund gets closer to its target year. So if an investor doesn’t know what to do or doesn’t make a selection, then the Target-Date Fund that coincides with your retirement age is a fantastic option.

Without proper guidance and know-how, investors can get themselves into disastrous situations by deciding to chase returns by continually moving funds into the highest performing funds. The problem with this method is that by the time you make the change, the fund has already achieved its major gains and is likely to underperform going forward. This is why I’m a fan of most investors sticking with Target-Date Funds inside their 401k. While it’s far from perfect, the Target-Date Fund does ensure the investor is well diversified globally across all asset classes and maintains a disciplined investment approach.

However, if an investor has investments outside of the 401k, these assets need to be coordinated with the 401k. Having funds in different accounts allows the investor to focus on asset location instead of just the typical allocation and diversification discussion. This allows the investor to maintain the proper diversification and asset allocation, but they can implement more tax-efficient strategies among their investments.

Unless an investor is working with an advisor or has a strong understanding of investing, Target-Date Funds are a strong choice inside their 401k plan.


Thayer Financial, L.L.C. (“Thayer Financial”) is a registered investment adviser offering advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. This website’s presence on the Internet shall not be directly or indirectly interpreted as a solicitation of investment advisory services to persons of another jurisdiction unless otherwise permitted by statute. Follow-up or individualized responses to consumers in a particular state by Thayer Financial in the rendering of personalized investment advice for compensation shall not be made without our first complying with jurisdiction requirements or according to an applicable state exemption.

All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Thayer Financial, L.L.C., unless otherwise specifically cited. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to other parties’ informational accuracy or completeness. All information or ideas provided should be discussed in detail with an advisor, accountant or legal counsel prior to implementation.


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