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Millennials Crushed By Debt Delay Saving For Retirement

Kerry Hannon

How’s this for troubling news. A survey released yesterday by the nonprofit Investor Protection Institute (IPI) reports that fewer than two in five millennials are saving for retirement.

The new online survey of 1,016 millennials is worth sitting up and paying attention to for many reasons. I will fill you in on the findings in a minute.

As I wrote in my recent Next Avenue column, I was intrigued by the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults: Work, Education and Identity which surveyed a thousand 21- to 29-year-olds.

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The poll found that 66% of respondents felt uncertain about navigating personal finances. (My niece, Caitlin Bonney, expressed this sentiment perfectly in a Next Avenue blog she wrote after graduating from the University of Richmond: “As a finance major, I was initially embarrassed to admit [to my aunt] how much I didn’t know about credit cards, renter’s insurance and bank accounts.”)

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, the Clark psychology professor who coined the term “emerging adults,” told me in an interview: “You don’t have to panic because at 22 they don’t have a 401(k). That’s the last thing on their minds, honestly. They have more immediate concerns and more immediate needs.”

Maybe so, but as I wrote, I firmly believe it’s the responsibility of parents — and aunts, uncles and grandparents — to push young adults to ramp up their financial smarts and save for their futures. OK, so they can wait to age 23 to start putting money into a 401(k) or a Roth IRA.

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Nonetheless, the findings of the new survey lay the blame in large measure to crushing student loan debt.

About half of millennials are carrying college-related student loan debt, including 20 percent with debt of $1,000-$20,000, 16 percent with $20,000-$50,000 in such debt, and 13 percent with $50,000 or more in college debt.


A hefty 40% of millennials say they are “concerned” about their delay in saving and investing for retirement. And more than half (56%) of millennials worry “about having to work longer as a result of having a late start on saving/investing for retirement.”
In my opinion, they will probably have to anyway, but that’s another story.

“Saving and investing for your retirement should not be viewed as optional, said Don Blandin, president and CEO of the Investor Protection Institute. “These are the years that will make the difference between comfortable and lean golden years.”

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Here are my top tips for millennials... and the mantra I deliver repeatedly to my nieces and nephews who are in this cohort:

Pick up a book or two on money basics.

Start getting educated about investing. The Investor Protection Institute’s site, iInvest.org, offers free guides that explain stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

You can also learn the basics by taking a personal finance course at a community college or by attending investment seminars sponsored by a nonpartisan group like the American Association of Individual Investors. Some companies bring in outside financial advisers to offer investment talks over lunch. Check with your employer—and sign up.

Pencil out a budget. After working for a few months and getting used to the amount of take-home pay (after taxes) you’re earning, figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month.

Mapping out your budget is a great way to help you quickly uncover whether you’re on the rocky road to spending more than you make. Sites like Mint.com and YouNeedABudget.com can help you track your personal finances and discover ways to save.

Steer clear of credit card debt.

Take advantage of your employer’s 401(k) or similar retirement plan. If possible, invest enough in your 401(k) to qualify for the full match (the amount your employer puts in as a result of how much you contribute).

If you earn enough and have money to save outside of that plan and don’t earn so much that you are capped out by the IRS income limitations, contribute to a Roth IRA. The 2015 adjusted gross income phase-out range for Roth IRA contributions is: $183,000 to $193,000 for married couples filing jointly and $116,000 to $131,000 for singles and heads of households.

Most employers require workers to save between 4% and 6% of pay to get the maximum match. Whatever the match, try to take your company up on it. Take advantage of the automatic feature of a 401(k) trumps those concerns. You’ll save for the future without having to think about it—and the penalties for early withdrawals will help keep you from dipping into the money.

Set a target savings amount. Ideally, you should save at least 15% of your salary every year and that includes your employer match. If you’re not ready for that, your plan might allow you to schedule automatic increases each year. So if you are at 6% this year, bump up to 7 or 8% next year. Then steadily ratchet it up bit by bit until you ultimately get to the 15%.

You’ll save for the future without having to think about it—and the penalties for early withdrawals will help keep you from dipping into the money.

Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon Visit me at Kerryhannon.com

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