Reader Question – Does the TSP G Fund Count as a Bond or Cash in my Asset Allocation?

by | 21Aug2018 | Asset allocation, Bonds, Cash | 0 comments

A reader wrote in and asked the following question:

Hi there. I thoroughly enjoy your website! When determining what my current asset allocation is, should I consider the TSP’s G Fund as “cash” or as a bond fund?  I have a Vanguard account, and their website shows you these great “pie charts” reflecting one’s asset allocation.  But what’s the best way to think of the G Fund in this context?  Thanks a lot!

 

The Answer – It’s a Bond Fund

I can see why people might consider the G Fund a cash equivalent in their asset allocation, but I think it is best considered a bond because it is not liquid and is paying intermediate-term interest rates. Plus, Personal Capital agrees with me.

What is a cash equivalent? Here’s what Investopedia says:

Cash equivalents are one of the three main asset classes, along with stocks and bonds. These securities have a low-risk, low-return profile and include U.S. government Treasury bills, bank certificates of deposit, bankers’ acceptances, corporate commercial paper and other money market instruments.

The G Fund invests in “a nonmarketable short-term U.S. Treasury security that is specially issued to the TSP.” That makes it sound like a Treasury bill, which is listed as a cash equivalent above, but remember that the G Fund offers you a free lunch. It is a short term security but the interest rate it pays is:

based on the weighted average yield of all outstanding Treasury notes and bonds with 4 or more years to maturity. As a result, participants who invest in the G Fund are rewarded with a long-term rate on what is essentially a short-term security. Generally, long-term interest rates are higher than short-term rates.

In other words, it is really a hybrid between a short and long-term Treasury.

The other aspect of the G Fund that makes it a bond and not a cash equivalent is that it is not liquid. In other words, because it is in a retirement account you can’t sell it and use the proceeds to buy a car, deal with an emergency, or whatever else you need it for. Cash equivalents like CDs, money market accounts/funds, checking/savings accounts, or cold hard cash are all accessible and could be used for these purposes. Unless you are retirement age and withdrawing from your TSP account, the only way to get to the G Fund would be to take out a TSP loan, which we would not recommend.

Just to double check myself, I went to our favorite tool to automatically track your asset allocation, Personal Capital, to see what they considered my G Fund holdings. Here’s my allocation without the amounts on the far right:

When you look at the amounts (which I’ve hidden from you) and drill down on the asset allocation, it is clear that Personal Capital is also considering the G Fund a U.S. Bond holding.

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