Thrift Savings Plan Fund Deep Dive – The C Fund
There are only five investments available in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), so let’s take a detailed look at them one at a time. First, we’ll cover the C Fund, which would probably be the fund you would pick if you were only allowed to pick one.
29 JAN 1988
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board currently contracts BlackRock Institutional Trust Company, N.A. (BlackRock) to manage the C Fund assets. The C Fund remains invested regardless of the performance of the securities markets or the overall economy.
The C Fund is invested in a stock index fund that fully replicates the Standard and Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index, a broad market index made up of the stocks of 500 large to medium-sized U.S. companies. The C Fund’s objective is to match the performance of the S&P 500. Also, some of the money in the C Fund is temporarily invested in the G Fund and earns the G Fund return.
The C Fund is a passively managed fund that remains invested according to its indexed investment strategy regardless of stock market movements or general economic conditions.
What is the Risk?
Your investment in the C Fund is subject to market risk because the prices of the stocks in the S&P 500 Index rise and fall. You are also exposed to inflation risk, meaning your C Fund investment may not grow enough to offset inflation.
What is the Benefit?
Historically, this increased risk has been rewarded with an increased return. It offers the opportunity to experience gains from equity ownership of large and mid-sized U.S. company stocks. Here is all the performance data as of 2 MAY 2018:
Types of Earnings
The C Fund changes in value as the market price of its stocks change. In addition, the C Fund makes money for its investors when those stocks pay dividends. Unlike a traditional mutual fund, though, income from dividends is included in the share price calculation. It is not paid directly to participants’ accounts.
It also makes some money on interest on short-term investments and securities lending income.
BlackRock credits interest and dividend income each business day. This income is then reflected in the TSP share prices.
Share Price Calculations
The value of your account is determined each business day based on the daily share price and the number of shares you hold. At the end of each business day, after the stock and bond markets have closed, the total value of the funds’ holdings (net of accrued administrative expenses) is divided by the total number of shares outstanding to determine the share price for that day. The daily change in TSP share prices reflects all investment income (interest on short-term investments, dividends, capital gains or losses, and securities lending income) net of TSP administrative expenses.
The net expenses paid by investors is 0.032% or 3.2 basis points, which like all the TSP funds is ridiculously low and is a major benefit of the TSP. It cost $0.32 for each $1,000 invested. You won’t find a lower cost S&P 500 fund anywhere, even at Vanguard.
How Should I Use the C Fund in my TSP Account?
The C Fund can be useful in a portfolio that also contains stock funds that track other indexes such as the S Fund (which tracks an index of small US company stocks) and the I Fund (which tracks an index of international stocks). The C, S, and I Funds track different segments of the overall stock market without overlapping. This is important because the prices of stocks in each market segment don’t always move in the same direction or by the same amount at the same time. By investing in all segments of the stock market (as opposed to just one), you reduce your exposure to market risk.
The C Fund can also be useful in a portfolio that contains bonds. Again, it is because the prices of stocks and bonds don’t always move in the same direction or by the same amount at the same time. So a retirement portfolio that contains a bond fund like the F Fund, along with other stock funds, like the S and I Funds, will tend to be less volatile than one that contains stock funds alone.
Advice from My Favorite Short Investing Book
Here is what my favorite investing book, The Elements of Investing: Easy Lessons for Every Investor, says about S&P 500 index funds like the C Fund:
“The best-known of the broad stock market mutual funds and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) in the US track the S&P 500 index of the largest stocks. We prefer using a broader index that includes more smaller-company stocks…Funds that track these broader indexes are often referred to as ‘total stock market’ index funds. More than 80 years of stock market history confirm that portfolios of smaller stocks have produced a higher rate of return than the return of the S&P 500 large-company index. While smaller companies are undoubtedly less stable and riskier that large firms, they are likely – on average – to produce somewhat higher future returns. Total stock market index funds are the better way for investors to benefit from the long-run growth of economic activity.”
If you want to follow their advice, you just combine the C Fund with the S Fund in a 3:1 ratio. To see how I use the C Fund, read the Crush the TSP series.