Vanguard is making its target-date retirement mutual funds more accessible to small investors by cutting the required minimum initial investment to $1,000 from $3,000.
The change announced Wednesday applies to 12 funds in the Target Retirement series of the nation's largest fund company. Vanguard is also cutting investment minimums for 15 other funds that aren't part of its target-date series. The minimums are dropping to $3,000 for those funds, down from as much as $25,000 in some cases.
The reductions are designed to attract young investors and others with little available cash as they start investing.
Previously, just one among Vanguard's 170 U.S. funds allowed an initial investment as small as $1,000. Several other fund companies already set investment minimums that low, or lower. In some instances, investors can start with as little as $100, although additional restrictions may apply.
Vanguard's move is geared toward individuals investing on their own, typically through individual retirement accounts, rather than participants in 401(k)s and other workplace savings plans. Participants in such plans invest through payroll deductions, so the cuts in minimum investments don't apply. All told, workplace programs hold about two-thirds of the assets in target-date funds across the industry.
Nearly $88 billion of the $1.7 trillion in U.S. fund assets that Vanguard manages is in its Target Retirement funds. The company, based in Valley Forge, Pa., is the second-biggest provider of target-date funds. The biggest is Fidelity Investments, whose Freedom Funds set investment minimums at $2,500.
Target-date funds, also known as lifecycle funds, aim to help investors achieve long-term savings goals while leaving portfolio adjustments to the pros. As investors approach their target retirement date and have less appetite for risk, the mix of investments in the fund becomes more conservative. Fewer stocks and more bonds reduce the chances that an ill-timed market decline will cut deeply into savings just before or during retirement.
The 12 Vanguard funds that now have $1,000 minimums invest in other Vanguard funds that track particular segments of the stock and bond markets.
The other Vanguard funds with reduced investment minimums include some of Vanguard's largest such as the Vanguard Wellington, with nearly $59 billion in assets, and Vanguard Windsor II, with $38 billion.
In reducing the minimums, Vanguard improves its prospects of attracting new customers unable to meet higher thresholds to start investing. However, maintaining a large number of customers with small accounts can saddle a fund company with higher costs. That's why customers with larger accounts are generally charged lower fees per dollar invested, and effectively enjoy a bulk rate.
Vanguard has positioned itself as the industry leader on fees. In October, the company reduced fees for about 2 million of its individual customers by lowering the investment minimums needed to qualify for its lowest-cost Admiral shares of mutual funds. The minimum for Admiral shares of Vanguard index funds dropped to $10,000 from $100,000.