If you are a conservative investor, or you are looking to balance out a more aggressive equity portfolio, Vanguard has a bounty of conservative equity funds that can fit the bill. These five funds, in particular, have performed well in their respective categories, and each of them provides a solid balance between safety and returns.

Vanguard LifeStrategy Conservative Growth Fund (VSCGX)

The Vanguard LifeStrategy Conservative Growth Fund is a fund of funds that invests in other Vanguard mutual funds to achieve a fixed allocation suitable for conservative investors. The portfolio is composed of around 40% equities and 60% bonds with the objective of achieving current income and moderate capital appreciation. Both the stock and bond portfolios have some foreign exposure. Its bond portfolio is widely diversified among short-, intermediate- and long-term U.S. government and agency bonds, investment-grade corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBSs). For retirees seeking to draw down at least 4% of their portfolios, the Vanguard LifeStrategy Conservative Growth Fund has returned nearly 5% per year for the past 10 years. Those returns go a lot further due to the fund's extremely low expense ratio of 0.15%.

Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund (VWINX)

Few conservative funds have achieved the solid level of performance of the Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund. For the last 15 years, it has delivered returns higher than the average in its category; and for the last 10 years, it has outperformed 95% of its peers. Its primary objective is to generate long-term income growth on top of a sustainable level of current income. It also seeks to capture some stock market gains while limiting downside risk. The fund utilizes a balanced approach, investing around 40% in large-cap stocks with histories of paying above-average dividends or with expectations of increasing dividends. Sixty percent is invested in a diverse mix of bonds, including U.S. government bonds, investment-grade corporate bonds and other fixed-income securities. The fund's conservative approach served investors very well during the 2008 market crash, declining only 9.84%, which is a fraction of the decline experienced by the average stock fund. As of December 2015, the fund has returned 6.72% per year over the last 10 years and 7.36% over the last five years. Its 0.23% expense ratio is very low for the fund category.

Vanguard Target Retirement 2015 Fund (VTXVX)

Target-date funds are the ultimate set-it-and-forget-funds for retirement, with portfolios designed around a hypothetical retirement timeline. The goal of a target-date fund is to maximize the expected returns relative to the risk profile assumed by the portfolio to produce a balance of income and income growth for retirees. The Vanguard Target Retirement 2015 Fund accomplishes that objective by investing in five Vanguard index funds, including the Total Stock Market Index Fund, the Total Bond Market II Index Fund and the Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities Index Fund. More recently, the fund has increased its exposure to international securities through the Total International Stock Index Fund and the Total International Bond Index Fund. The overall portfolio allocation is 70% in domestic and foreign fixed income securities and 30% in domestic and foreign stocks. The fund has returned 5.17% annually over the last five years and 4.96% over the last 10 years.

Vanguard Managed Payout Fund (VPGDX)

Managed payout funds are designed to generate regular monthly payouts that keep pace with inflation. To accomplish that, they need to achieve balance of capital preservation, current income and income growth. The Vanguard Managed Payout Fund strives for an annual distribution yield of 4% by investing in a diversified mix of other Vanguard funds, including the highly regarded Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund. It also invests in outside funds to achieve the risk-return level it seeks. The monthly payout is established in January of each year and is expected to remain constant each month. The minimum investment is $25,000, and the expense ratio is an almost non-existent 0.01%. As of December 2015, retirees and other conservative investors have enjoyed an average annual return of 7.39% for each of the last five years.

Vanguard Tax-Managed Balanced Fund (VTMFX)

The Vanguard Tax-Managed Balanced Fund seeks to provide a high after-tax return based on tax-exempt income from municipal securities and long-term capital gains from common stocks. Its portfolio is allocated almost equally between the two. Three-quarters of its municipal holdings have one of the top three credit ratings, and the portfolio has a dollar-weighted maturity between six and 12 years. Recent holdings in its stock portfolio include Apple, Microsoft and Exxon Mobil. The fund has returned 6.01% annually over the last 10 years and 8.49% over the last five years. Its expense ratio of 0.11% is among the lowest in its category.

 

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