The Best Vanguard Funds for Retirees

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Some of the best Vanguard funds to buy are outstanding choices for retired investors. Yes, there are dozens of funds at Vanguard that are great choices for saving for retirement. But are those still the best funds once investors actually reach retirement?

Although many retirees can still be considered long-term investors, it is wise that they begin to invest for the short- and intermediate-term needs, in addition to long-term growth. For example, even though you may be in your 60's, you may live another 20 or 30 years. Therefore, you'll still need to invest for growth. However, once you're retired, your investment objective is likely to shift more toward income and preservation, with growth being an important but lesser priority.

Dividend Funds

Vanguard Investments is a mutual fund company that offers low-cost, no-load mutual funds to investors and they have some of the best dividend funds that can be ideal for retirement income.

Benefits of Dividend Funds

Dividend mutual funds, which are often categorized with value stock funds, tend to be less aggressive (less risky) than other types of funds, such as growth stock mutual funds. This also makes them appropriate for retired investors, who typically don't want to buy shares of riskier funds, such as aggressive growth stock mutual funds.

Dividends can be received as a source of income, or they can be used to buy more shares of the mutual fund. Most retired investors who buy dividend mutual funds are usually looking for a source of income, which is to say that they are looking for steady and reliable payments from their mutual fund investment.

Here are some of the best Vanguard funds for dividends:

  • Vanguard Dividend Growth (VDIGX): This fund is an outstanding choice for investors who are looking for reasonable dividends now but want to see the dividend payouts (the yields) grow over time. The fund primarily focuses its holdings in U.S. large-cap value stocks with about 10% of the portfolio allocated to foreign stocks. The expense ratio for VDIGX is a low 0.22%, and the minimum initial purchase is $3,000.
  • Vanguard Utilities Index Admiral Shares (VUIAX): This fund focuses on stocks in the utility sector, which is highly sought for its high dividends. The portfolio holdings consist of large-cap U.S. stocks of utility companies, such as Duke Energy Corporation (DUK) and Southern Co (SO). The expense ratio for VUIAX is an attractively low 0.10%. However, this mutual fund is only offered in Vanguard's "Admiral" share class, which has a minimum initial purchase of $100,000.

Investors should keep in mind that, although dividend mutual funds may pay high yields for current income, there is always principal risk involved with these investment securities.

Conservative Allocation Funds

The very nature of conservative investing is aligned with smart retirement investing: In most cases, the overall strategy involves keeping market risk low and to keep volatility to a minimum while still achieving average returns that can match or slightly outpace inflation, which averages about 3% in the long run.

Benefits of Conservative Allocation Funds

Retired investors may want to use conservative allocation funds, which usually hold a relatively low-risk blend of stocks, bonds, and cash in just one fund. This way retired investors won't see big declines during bear markets, and they can get a diversified allocation in just one mutual fund.

Here are some of the best conservative funds from Vanguard:

  • Vanguard LifeStrategy Conservative Growth (VSCGX): The asset allocation for this fund is approximately 40% stocks and 60% bonds. This allows for slow but steady growth over the long term, which makes for a good conservative fund. VSCGX has been able to average over 4% annualized returns over the long term. The expense ratio is cheap at 0.12%, and the minimum initial investment is $3,000.
  • Vanguard Wellesley Income (VWINX): The portfolio is solidly conservative with an allocation that ranges between 35% and 40% stocks, around 60% bonds, and the remainder in cash. As for performance, Wellesley beats at least 90% of other conservative allocation funds for 3-, 5- and 10-year returns. For one of the best conservative mutual funds you can buy, it’s hard to beat the cheap expense ratio of 0.23%. The minimum initial investment is $3,000.
  • Vanguard Wellington (VWELX): The asset allocation for VWELX is not quite as conservative as VSCGX and VWINX but its moderate allocation of approximately 65% stocks and 35% bonds can be suitable for conservative investors willing to take a bit more risk in exchange for higher long-term returns. Although Wellington is a medium-risk allocated fund, it still beat most 100% stock allocations in the challenging market period between the years 2000 and 2015, when the fund had an average return that was higher than the S&P 500 Index. Like other Vanguard funds, you'll get a low expense ratio (0.25%) for Wellington. The minimum initial investment is $3,000.

Bond Index Funds

Low expense ratios are especially crucial for gaining a performance edge in the world of bond funds, and Vanguard has the best selection of low-cost bond funds in the mutual fund universe.

For example, in some market environments, just a 1% difference in returns can separate the best bond funds from the worst, and many of Vanguard's index bond funds are between 0.5% to 1% lower in expenses than the average bond fund.

Benefits of Bond Index Funds

Vanguard's passively-managed funds naturally have lower expenses than actively managed funds because the operating expenses are much lower for index funds (i.e. costs for research, analysis, buying and selling holdings is much lower for passively-managed funds).

An index fund manager only needs to track the underlying benchmark index, whereas the active manager is usually attempting to beat the benchmark, which takes much more time and money. For bond funds, the primary benchmark is the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index, which is a broad bond index covering most U.S. traded bonds and some foreign bonds traded in the U.S.

Using index funds can also be an advantage because the passive management removes the risk of the fund manager making human mistakes, such as miscalculating economic conditions like the direction of interest rates.

Here are some of the best bond index funds at Vanguard that can be smart for retired investors:

  • Vanguard Intermediate-Term Investment Grade (VFICX): Although VFICX isn't an index fund, it's expense ratio is still a low 0.2%. And although the active management style doesn't always keep it ahead of the benchmark index, the long-term returns have averaged better than index funds like VBMFX.
  • Vanguard Short-Term Investment-Grade (VFSTX): Short-term bonds typically have lower yields and lower returns, compared to intermediate- and long-term bonds but short-term bonds aren't as interest-rate sensitive, which makes them good choices when interest rates are rising.

Why Choose Investment-Grade Bonds

You may be wondering what "investment grade" means. Bonds are rated by their credit-worthiness. Depending upon the rating agency, the ratings are from AAA (highest quality) to D (in default).

Investment grade is a middle ground, which typically ranges from AAA down to BBB-. An example of an AAA-rated bond is a U.S. Treasury bond. Investment-grade bond funds invest in an average of medium-quality bonds. The advantage for investors is that yields and long-term returns can be higher, especially in the long run, at least compared to other short-term bond funds such as VFSTX.

All three of the above Vanguard funds have a minimum initial investment of $3,000.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. 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.