Whether you are looking to retire in the next five years or 35 years, it is important to monitor your investment mix to be sure you are not taking too much or too little risk.

Early in your work life, it is easier to tolerate the volatility of the stock market in the search for the higher returns you need to build a solid base for your retirement nest egg.

The amount of risk you take should lessen as your portfolio grows and you get closer to retirement, however. Each year as you rebalance your portfolio, the allocation between bonds, stocks and other investments should be adjusted. Generally, the percentage of bonds should increase as the percentage of stocks decreases.

If you would rather spend time making money in your chosen profession than researching and managing a diverse portfolio of investments, the mutual fund industry has just the product for you.

Several fund companies have created a series of funds that target specific years in which the investor is expected to retire and begin making significant withdrawals.

Instead of directly holding individual stocks, these funds hold a range of mutual funds or index tracking portfolios. The minute-to-minute trading of stocks and bonds is left to the underlying fund managers, allowing the lifestyle funds to monitor and adjust the allocation between their holdings. The portfolio mix is systematically rebalanced on a set schedule to get more and more conservative over time.

There are target retirement date funds as far out as 2050 for 20-somethings in their first job who plan to retire in their 60s. Below are comparisons of the year-to-date performance for funds tracked by TheStreet.com Ratings that target retirement dates of 2010, 2020, 2030 and 2040.

Life Cycle Funds Ranked by Year-To-Date Performance
Ticker Fund Rating YTD Return thru 11/27
2010 Funds
TRRAX T. Rowe Price Retirement 2010 Fd B- 10.36%
PENAX Principal Inv LifeTime 2010 A D+ 9.59%
STLBX Barclays Gbl Inv LifePath 2010 Fd I C 8.82%
SATAX State Farm LifePath 2010 LegA C 8.45%
FFFCX Fidelity Freedom 2010 Fd C 7.87%
STNRX Wells Fargo Avtg DJ Tgt 2010 A D+ 7.37%
2020 Funds
TRRBX T. Rowe Price Retirement 2020 Fd B 11.64%
PTBSX Principal Inv LifeTime 2020 Sel B- 11.35%
STLCX Barclays Gbl Inv LifePath 2020 Fd I C+ 10.87%
SAWAX State Farm LifePath 2020 LegA C+ 10.47%
STTRX Wells Fargo Avtg DJ Tgt 2020 A C- 9.69%
FFFDX Fidelity Freedom 2020 Fd C 9.40%
2030 Funds
TRRCX T. Rowe Price Retirement 2030 Fd B 12.74%
STLDX Barclays Gbl Inv LifePath 2030 Fd I B- 12.36%
SAYAX State Farm LifePath 2030 LegA C+ 11.94%
PTCSX Principal Inv LifeTime 2030 Sel B 11.90%
STHRX Wells Fargo Avtg DJ Tgt 2030 A C- 10.40%
FFFEX Fidelity Freedom 2030 Fd C 10.20%
2040 Funds
STLEX Barclays Gbl Inv LifePath 2040 Fd I B 13.66%
SAUAX State Farm LifePath 2040 LegA B 13.19%
TRRDX T. Rowe Price Retirement 2040 Fd B 12.79%
PTDSX Principal Inv LifeTime 2040 Sel B 11.92%
STFRX Wells Fargo Avtg DJ Tgt 2040 A C 11.58%
FFFFX Fidelity Freedom 2040 Fd C+ 10.62%
Source: TheStreet.com Ratings

T. Rowe Price ( TROW) topped three of the four lists. Its ( TRRAX) T.Rowe Price Retirement 2010 fund has averaged total annual returns of 10.8% over the three years ending Oct. 31. The fund's strategy calls for allocating 66% of assets to stocks and 34% to bonds, with the current allocation of the underlying funds adding up to 29.5% domestic bonds, 51.5% domestic stocks, 12.0% foreign stocks and 6.5% cash as of Sept. 30, 2006.

The ( TRRBX) T. Rowe Price Retirement 2020 fund has a target allocation of 78% stocks and 22% bonds and has returned 12.38% over the same three-year period. Both the ( TRRCX) T.Rowe Price Retirement 2030 fund and the ( TRRDX) T.Rowe Price Retirement 2040 fund target 90% stocks and they have three-year annualized returns of 13.73% and 13.74%, respectively.

All of these funds have a floor of 20% stocks for 30 years beyond their target dates. Because of increases in longevity, investors in their 90s may still need some growth component in their portfolios.

Also high on each list are the institutional Barclays Global Investors LifePath funds. State Farm LifePath funds, which are based on the Barclays Funds, follow close behind because of an additional layer of expenses. Both ( SATAX) State Farm LifePath 2010 and ( STLBX) Barclays' Global Investors LifePath 2010 had 52.8% of assets in bond funds, 34.4% in domestic stock funds and 12.5% foreign stock funds as of Sept. 30.

In addition to traditional mutual funds, LifePath funds can build their target allocations using iShares exchange traded funds such as the Lehman TIPS Bond ( TIP), S&P Mid-Cap 400 Index ( IJH), and the S&P Small-Cap 600 Index ( IJR).

Barclays' ( STLCXl) LifePath 2020 and ( STLDXl) LifePath 2030 funds, with bond allocations of 33.7% and 19.4%, respectively, assume less equity risk than the corresponding T. Rowe Price funds.

But ( STLEX) the Barclays Global Investors LifePath 2040 fund, with just a 7.3% allocation to bonds, is more aggressive than its T.Rowe Price counterpart. Given their relatively conservative allocations and the stock market's recent strength, it is no surprise that Barclays' 2020 and 2030 funds underperformed T. Rowe Price's while the Barclays 2040 fund outperformed its counterpart.

The Principal Investment LifeTime funds favor in-house Principal funds, while the Wells Fargo Advantage Dow Jones Target funds use portfolios of securities that track various Dow Jones indices for their equity exposure and portfolios that mirror Lehman Brothers indexes for the fixed-income portion of the portfolio.

Fidelity Investments has a full slate of Fidelity Freedom Funds from 2000 to 2050 in five-year increments. These funds hold as many as 25 different underlying Fidelity funds.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Fidelity Adv Freedom Funds are among the choices of funds available in TheStreet.com 401(k) plan and are held by many employees, including myself. This should not be considered an endorsement considering their relative performance.)
Kevin Baker became the senior financial analyst for TSC Ratings upon the August 2006 acquisition of Weiss Ratings by TheStreet.com, covering mutual funds. He joined the Weiss Group in 1997 as a banking and brokerage analyst. In 1999, he created the Weiss Group's first ratings to gauge the level of risk in U.S. equities. Baker received a B.S. degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.B.A. with a finance specialization from Nova Southeastern University.