Investing in stocks is the best way for most people to grow long-term wealth for things like retirement, and ETFs are a wonderful tool for many people. But investing shouldn't stop just because you've finally collected that gold pocket watch and moved to Fort Lauderdale (or wherever retirees move to nowadays).
ETFs can be a great way for retirees to generate steady income, and even after retiring, you have to think about growth with at least part of your retirement savings. We asked three of our top retirement planning and investing contributors to weigh in on the subject, and discuss some ETFs that make sense for retirees. Read on for what they had to offer.
ETF for high-yield income
Selena Maranjian: A solid choice for investors looking to remain at least partially invested in the stock market during retirement is the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (NYSEMKT:VYM). It's an index fund, tracking the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index, which is focused on companies with high-yielding dividends. That's appealing for retirees who seek income.
The Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF is also one of Vanguard's largest ETFs, and like many Vanguard funds, its expense ratio (annual fee) is very low, at 0.10%. (That means it will charge you just $10 on a $10,000 stake in it.) It holds roughly 430 different stocks and its overall yield was recently 3.3%.
Retirees also tend to seek stable investments, and by focusing on dividend payers, this ETF delivers that, to some degree. That's because companies that pay dividends tend to be established, with their cash flows predictable enough that management is willing to commit to a dividend payout. Better still, healthy and growing companies tend to increase their payouts over time. As of the end of 2015, the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF's holdings tended to be large-cap value stocks, concentrated most in consumer goods, financial, and technology companies. Retirees can secure higher dividend yields through individual stocks, but this ETF offers easy and instant diversification and returns close to those of the overall stock market.
Want your dividends to grow every year? This ETF is for you
Dan Caplinger: One of my favorite ETFs for investors of all ages is the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSEMKT:VIG), but it's especially useful for retirees looking to stay invested in the stock market. This Vanguard ETF differs slightly from the Vanguard High Yield Dividend ETF that Selena discusses elsewhere in this article, but both can fit well in a retiree portfolio.
The primary objective for the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF is to find stocks that have reasonable yields now but also have a long track record of boosting their dividend payments to shareholders for at least 10 consecutive years. As a result, the stocks that you'll find in this ETF won't necessarily be the highest-yielding dividend stocks in the market. However, for long-term investors, you can expect that your income from dividends should rise steadily over time as the companies in the ETF's portfolio boost their payouts regularly.
Obviously, just because a stock has raised its dividend in the past doesn't mean that it will do so in the future, and some stocks unexpectedly cut their dividends. Nevertheless, the diversified portfolio that this ETF provides will protect you from unforeseen dividend cuts and should provide a good combination of current income and future growth.
You've got decades ahead of you: This ETF for growth
Jason Hall: Selena and Dan both hit the income funds, and those are a natural fit for a retiree's portfolio. However, just because you're retired doesn't mean you shouldn't still have a growth strategy, with at least part of your retirement savings. After all, the average person is living into their 80s now, so that means you'll still need income in a couple of decades.
With that in mind, investing in a simple, low-cost S&P 500 index fund is a good idea. To wit, the Vanguard 500 Index ETF (NYSEMKT:VOO) and iShares S&P 500 Index ETF (NYSEMKT:IVV) are both worthy choices. Both ETFs should track the returns of the S&P 500, less the very small expense ratio they charge, 0.05% for the Vanguard fund, and 0.07% for the iShares fund. In other words, Vanguard would charge you a nickel per year for every $1,000 you have invested in the fund, while iShares would charge you a nickel and two pennies for every $1,000 invested.
What do you get for that investment? Well, since 1900, the S&P 500 has averaged 9.7% in compounded annualized returns, making it a great wealth-generating machine. If you retire at 65 and invested $25,000 of your retirement savings in one of the S&P 500 index funds and capture the historical average returns, You'd have more than $100,000 at age 80 based on market averages.
Of course, there are no guarantees that the market will average that same level of returns, but over more than a decade, your chance of losing money is very low.
In other words this isn't the kind of investment you'd want to make with money you'll be needing in a few years. But as a hedge against running out of cash late in life, investing a small portion of your retirement savings for long-term growth in one of these ETFs is a prudent move.