The G Fund Has Seen Better Days
It’s important to know what the investment can do for you—and what it can’t.
The G Fund is unique. It is the one Thrift Savings Plan fund that the government guarantees won’t lose money. But as many feds have found out, you are also guaranteed to not earn much money either.
But this hasn’t always been the case. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the G Fund earned returns of 8%-9%. That is pretty close to the average return of the C Fund!
But as you can see from this chart, the return has steadily declined over the last 30 years:
The decline in G Fund returns is not because the government has gotten stingy, it is a combination of historically lower inflation and interest rates. For example, if you got a mortgage back in 1990, you would have had an interest rate of around 10%.
Whenever I talk about this, the first question I get is: “Should I still invest in the G Fund?” It is a valid question. Because interest rates are so low everywhere, other investments considered “very low risk,” like the G Fund, are also paying close to nothing. In 99% of cases, to get a higher return these days you are going to have to take more risk and invest in the riskier funds. Your ability to take on risk, especially with your retirement funds, is a very personal question that you’ll have to answer yourself.
But I do have to mention another safe investment you should consider: paying off debt. Depending on the interest rate on that debt, paying it off may prove to be a valuable investment.
If you are looking for a safe return on investment, paying off debt is a great way to go. Especially if your debt has high interest (i.e. credit cards), paying it off can save you way more than you could make on most investments.
Even with debt that has relatively low interest (like a mortgage), paying it down faster makes you an easy 3%-4%. And while interest rates are so low, for many people, it makes sense to refinance your mortgage.
I am not saying you should always pay off your house instead of saving in your TSP because this isn’t always the best option. Sometimes having a mortgage in retirement can be worth it to have more money in retirement savings. But if you are all set for retirement and looking for a very safe place to put extra money, paying off a mortgage early can be a great option.
To be clear, I don’t think the G Fund is a bad investment. It is not. Most of the time, I recommend to my clients that they have at least a portion of their TSP in the G Fund. But it is important to know what the G Fund does well and what it doesn’t. You are never going to lose money in the G Fund, but especially now, you are also not going to get rich in just the G Fund. Inflation will often eat away at your balance faster than the G Fund can replace it, but it can play an important role in a diversified portfolio that makes sense for your situation.