Young people, don’t let this happen to you. Plan for retirement now!

Young people, a.k.a. “Millennials,” have the time horizon that should allow them to save well, and thus avoid the need to save much more in later years. Otherwise, they will end up like those now nearing retirement that Theresa Ghilarducci describes in her 2012 article on retirement:

Seventy-five percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. The specter of downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers. Almost half of middle-class workers, 49 percent, will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about $5 a day. See Our Ridiculous Approach to Retirement.

Acting now is crucial, but what do you do?

Step 1 – As a Millennial, accept that you need to start saving now and commit to acting. For encouragement, remember that:

The 35-year-old would need to boost her contribution rate to 9 percent to achieve the same result as the 25-year-old starter who was saving 6 percent. (from Retirment Saving for Young People) See You can Ignore Most Financial Planning Rules.

Step 2 – Identify how much you need to save by using a retirement calculator. There are many calculators you can use – see what we listed in The results from retirement calculations on different websites vary. Why?

Step 3 – Follow this hierarchy for how to set up accounts for your savings:

Start with your employer plan, 401(k), 403(b) or if you are self-employed, SEP-IRA. The contributions you make to a 401(k) or 403(b) are made from payroll deductions, so you never get a chance to spend this money. The deductions reduce your taxable income now, so the government is effectively helping you to save. Also, the amounts invested grow “tax sheltered,” meaning that you pay no tax on any interest, dividends and capital gains. However, when you retire and withdraw from the plan, you are taxed on that amount as regular income.

If you save more, use a Roth IRA next. Set up an auto debit from your checking to fund your Roth IRA, so contributing works like payroll deductions. The amount contributed to a Roth IRA is not deductible, but amounts withdrawn at retirement are not subject to income tax. The amounts invested grow tax sheltered.

Finally, if you still need to save more, set up a “taxable account,” meaning an account with no tax sheltering benefit. You can use auto-debit to add to this account.

Note: for the Roth IRA, you must qualify and have earned income from which to make contributions to the account. Also note that, for any of these tax sheltered plans, withdrawing funds before age 59½ may subject you to a 10% penalty in addition to income taxes, so do not fund any plan when you expect to need withdraw the money before retirement.

Step 4 – Invest. And when you invest, stick to the plan you set in place (this cannot be over-emphasized). The time to retirement is decades away so you can afford to take risks, some of which will take many years to pay off. If you panic and sell, you only lock in a loss; but if you weather the ups and downs, you will be far ahead. (see Don’t Let This Happen to You, Plan for Retirement Now)

Creating an asset allocation, where you diversify among stocks, bonds, real estate and cash. Include large cap, mid-cap and small-cap stocks, as well as international stocks. You man also include invest in real estate investment trusts (“REITs”) and hard assets. You can use exchange traded funds (“ETFs”). The low fees of ETFs leave more invested to grow, compared to high fee and load funds.

If you on-going advice, you may want to check out alternatives such as LearnVest and the new Future Advisor website.

Don’t just Speak to Your Parents, Do your own Planning

As young people, a.k.a. “Millennials,” graduate, become employed, start businesses and have families, their finances change. With increasing complexity come many options they must evaluate, as well as new responsibilities. Millennials are more educated that prior generations, but they are also saddled with greater student loan debt than any prior generation. And, despite their higher level of education, they get low marks for financial literacy according to a recent U.S. Treasury Department and Department of Education assessment.

What are they doing about their finances? Sources like Pew Research Center tell us that many Millennials seek advice from their parents. Unlike Boomers who did not want to speak to their parents, Millennials often share interests with their parents and correspondingly seek their counsel.

However, taking financial advice from their parents may not a good approach because many of their parents lack sufficient savings to fund their retirement needs. Mark Grimaldi, co-author of “The Money Compass: Where Your Money Went and How to Get It Back” says “never take advice from someone less successful than you are.” He continues: “With almost 30 years investment experience, I can say with complete confidence that many baby boomers, the parents of Gen Yers, are in a financial mess.”

What, then, should Millennials do then? Talking to their parents is not inherently bad, so long as that is not their sole source. “Of course, there’s a difference between receiving [parental] advice and relying solely on the advice given,” says Kristen Robinson, senior vice president of Fidelity Investments’ women and young investors’ products. “Gen Y should listen to what parents have to say. But at the end of the day, financial decisions are personal matters and best made after carefully considering a number of factors and doing research.” From Millennials: Stop Taking Financial Advice From Mom and Dad. She concludes that Millennials really need to do is find ethical professionals for help.

So, how do they do this? They search the internet of things, of course! But, wait, is that how to find truly ethical professionals? Yes, if you search with care.

Look for:
Credentials – check out their bio, are they CFP, JD, or CPA? these help validate the advisor;
Content – are they providing original advice that is sound, helpful?
Website design – professional, kept up-to-date?
Clients – who is using them for advice?;
References – who is willing to put their own reputation at stake for this website?;
Community – who are their partners and advisors?;
 followers, fans, subscribers and user testimonials – more validation;
Website design – professional, kept up-to-date?
Avoid:

Tacky websites that don’t pass the “smell test” – if it “smells bad,” then it probably is;
Old content and closed comments;
Too many ads and pop up ads directing you to buy life insurance, etc.; and
No links to anyone you have ever heard of.

For example, companies like LearnVest and Workable Wealth provide general advice to educate before you pay. Workable Wealth has stated in blog posts the hope that educating will lessen the stress of handling your finances.

Don’t Rush to Pay off Your Student Loan – make a plan first

This may surprise you: you should worry more about saving for retirement than paying off your student loan. Yes, there are many bloggers testifying to how they paid off their loans, and many trying to tell you that you need to too. The frequency of such posts does not mean that they are right, or that they have factored in all that you need to for a “best use of cash flow over time” plan. In fact, paying off student loans that have relatively low interest rather than investing will be a costly mistake.

Compare student loan payoff blog posts to the many advisors who encourage paying off your mortgage. The urgency to retire your mortgage belongs to the Silent Generation, who survived the Great Depression and are risk adverse. Paying off a mortgage is usually not the way to maximize your net worth. (Watch for a post on “rent vs. buy” discussing investing and use of mortgage debt.) Furthermore, tying up so much capital in a house lacks for diversification and liquidity – you cannot sell your daughter’s room to cover tuition when she goes off to college.

How do you decide what loan to pay off when? Start with this rule:

Whenever the interest rate on debt is less than the annualized return on investments, only pay the minimum on the loans

because the investments will grow faster than using the same cash to pay off debts

The term “annualized” returns is key here, as one good year is not a good measure, nor is a recent bad year; you want the 5 or better 10 year average return.

Next, when applying this general rule to yourself, be sure to use after-tax values. You can deduct home mortgage interest in most cases, a portion of student loans in some cases, and credit card debt in almost no cases, while you can deduct your investment in your retirement plan and what you invest grows tax-free until withdrawn. Roth IRAs do not give you a deduction now, but do grow tax free and withdrawals are tax-free.

Here is a quick example: say your retirement plan is all in ETFs, so it grows at about 7% per year over time, say you have a student loan with an interest rate of 3%, because you consolidated all your undergrad loans, and it has a minimum payment of $500 per month, and say you have $1,000 per month for which you want to devise the best plan. Apply no more than the required minimum to student loan and invest all the rest, maxing out your 401(k) or 403(b) plan first, and then investing in a Roth IRA next. In 10 years, you will be so much better off than the person who used the full $1,000 to pay her student loan. What if you had a loan with an interest rate of 8%? Tough call. However, because the loan is compounding over time at a higher rate, that persuades me to apply more to the loan, provided that doing so did not give up an employer match on a 401(k) plan.

These examples are overly simple, I realize. Many of you face the quandary of student loan vs. retirement funding vs. rent or buy a home and more. I am working on that …. (Watch for a post on integrating decisions on buying a home, paying off student loans, investing for retirement and all the other issues you are likely to face.)

Scam alert: your secrets are not safe with the IRS

The IRS recently announced that the tax information of 104,000 filers was stolen by hackers and used to file false returns. The same thieves attempted to steal tax data from an additional 100,000 filers, but were unsuccessful.

The unauthorized access of records occurred between February and May of 2015, when hackers used the IRS’s “Get a Transcript” web tool to access filers’ tax return transcripts. The hackers had previously obtained social security numbers of these 200,000 filers from other sources. The IRS pointed out that their servers were not hacked, but their online service allowed resourceful thieves to access filers’ information.

This breach is especially alarming because IRS Transcripts contain sensitive information about filers. Specifically, they include much of the information reported to the IRS on 1040 and the supporting forms, such as W-2s. The stolen information was then used to file 36,500 fraudulent tax returns seeking refunds. As many as 13,000 of those phony returns were accepted by the IRS, for a total of $39 million in refunds paid.

The IRS acted after discovering the breach by closing down the “Get a Transcript” tool for individual filers. Filers may still request their transcripts, but must do so by mailing in a completed form 4506. The IRS has not indicated when it will provide the online service again.

Their next step was to notify all 200,000 victims, informing them that their social security numbers and possibly other personal data was stolen. For those 104,000 whose tax information was stolen, the IRS is offering credit monitoring services. These victims will receive instructions to sign up for the credit monitoring note: these outreach letters will not request any personal identification information from taxpayers). In addition, the IRS will continue to monitor those tax accounts.

As always, victims may apply for identity protection numbers to prevent the filing of future returns using their information. Additionally, the IRS plans to strengthen its authentication procedures.

The hackers were able to answer many of the “out of wallet” security questions by using information that can be easily found on credit reports and social media sites like Facebook. As a result, the IRS will use questions that are more difficult to answer.

The IRS plans to employ a more proactive approach to prevent future breaches by partnering with private tax software companies, payroll companies and state agencies to share data on uncovered scams. Congress may act as well and may move up the date that W-2 forms must be filed with the government to January 31. This change would make it more difficult for scammers to e-file fake 1040s.

If you were affected by this breach, you will receive a notice in the mail from the IRS. If you do not receive a notice, we still recommend you access your free credit reports annually and stay vigilant about keeping your sensitive data protected.

Investment advice on saving for retirement – now!

Start your investment plan – now! Your future portfolio will thank you

“There’s no time like the present”, especially when it comes to investing. Young adults have a great advantage over other investors: time.

Compounding – The benefit of time is that is allows for interest to compound, which is the ability of an investment to grow by reinvesting earnings. Consider that a single $10,000 investment at age 20 would grow to over $70,000 by the time the investor becomes 60 years old (based on a 5% interest rate). By comparison, the same investment made at age 30 would yield about $43,000 by age 60, and made at age 40 would yield only $26,000. The longer money is put to work, the more wealth it can generate in the future.

Matches – If your employer offers an employer-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k), we suggest you enroll in their plan. Not only is savings made easy through automatic payroll deductions, but your contributions are made with pre-tax dollars. Additionally, many employers offer 401(k) matches, which means they will contribute money into your account. If you don’t take advantage of this benefit, then you are leaving money on the table.

Resources – Another advantage young people have is there are now, more than ever, many low-cost services available to make saving and investing easy.

  • Consider the Acorns app. This app rounds up each transaction you make with your debit or credit card to the nearest dollar and invests the change into a diversified portfolio.
  • Robinhood is another useful resource. This app offers commission-free trading of listed stocks and ETFs. They run a lean company which allows them to operate for less. They make their money by accruing interested on investors uninvested cash balances and through fees charged in their upgraded version. This is a low-cost means of entering the investment world.
  • Check out Betterment.com, a robo-planner website for investing using ETFs that holds down fees. You use this to invest your taxable funds and your retirement plans, like IRAs.
  • Also check out earthfolio.com, a robo-planner for investing “with a social conscience.”

Whichever form of investment you decide to take, the earlier you begin, the better. Start building your wealth now! See also: Young people, don’t let this happen to you. Plan for retirement now!

 

[As we have stated in past posts, we recommend investing passively, using ETFs or index funds, so you save fees. You can buy a diverse set of ETFs, set up your portfolio and sleep until you rebalance next year.]