Gen Y’s Concerns with Retirement: How to Start Small but Smart

By ColumnsFOXBusiness

Turns out baby boomers aren’t the only ones worried about retirement. Despite being more than three decades away from leaving the workforce, Generation Y is paying rapt attention to the sluggish economy and labor market and how they could impact their future retirement and savings plans.

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Bank of America’s Fall 2012 Merrill Edge Report shows that Gen Y (ages 18-34) is the most concerned generation over the impact of the economy on their ability to meet financial goals at 83% compared to the national average at 75%.

When asked what would increase their confidence in meeting their financial goals, 78% said more knowledge about financial products and services, 75% said having access to a complete picture of finances and investments in one place and 74% said receiving advice from a qualified financial advisor.

After watching their baby boomer parents and co-workers struggle to regain financial footing after the financial crisis hit retirement funds, recent grads and young professionals may have more in common with their grandparents than they think, says Pat O’Connell, senior vice president, Ameriprise Advisor Group.

“They tend to have similar attitudes about saving and investing as those who lived through the Great Depression,” he says. “They recognize and avoid the dangers of credit debt, they tend to save more and they’re less aggressive with their investments.”

While past generations relied on pension plans and Social Security for financial security in their golden years, Gen Y savers must have a steadily paying job and a retirement investment plan to support themselves after leaving the work force, says Jonathan Clements, Citibank’s director of Financial Education.

“That means shoveling money into their 401(k) plan or IRA and putting away as much money as they possibly can,” he says. “For the people who are now in their 20s and early 30s, the rules have become crystal clear—they have to do it on their own.”

For young adults looking to establish a sufficient post-work-life fund, here are four expert tips to keep in mind.

Tip. No.1: Take Advantage of Compound Interest

It can be scary for young adults to jump into the investment world as many are still feeling the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, but they have time on their side with compound interest, which can substantially bolster their savings.

“Over time with the compounding effect of money, you’re going to see that that makes an enormous difference and the important thing is to start it early,” says Linda Shelby, west division executive for Bank of America’s Preferred Banking and Investments business. “One year [between] a 25 year old versus a 26 year old could make a difference of $100,000 for retirement.”

Especially when adjusting to the expenses of a post-college lifestyle, experts urge grads to put money away each month, even if even it’s just the amount of eliminating their daily latte.

“You look at $5 a day and saving that would end up being $150 a month that could go into a savings plan for retirement, into an IRA or contribute that to an employer plan,” says Shelby.

Tip. No.2: Ask for Advice

The BofA report shows that Gen Yers are most likely to seek financial advice from friends and family well above the national average (58% compared to 35%) and 84% are also seeking expert guidance to help manage financial tasks compared to the national average of 76 %.

Financial markets are volatile and largely unpredictable, and O’Connell advises young people seek professional financial advice as they begin to accumulate savings for retirement and other financial goals.

"They also need to understand how much risk they are willing to take with their retirement dollars and understand that they could have 20, 30 or even 40 years to accumulate funds for retirement.”

Tip No.3: Use Employer Retirement Plans

Grads fortunate enough to have an employer offering a retirement plan should start contributing to it as soon as possible and determine if there is an employer match, says Shelby.

“If there is a match, they’re leaving money on the table if they’re not taking advantage of that plan that the employer offers—[it’s] really getting a disciplined habit around saving and controlling expenses.”

Companies may offer several retirement vehicles and investing in a 401(k) plan can make sense for some grads but not everyone. Clements says young workers need to do the research to find out what plan best suits their lifestyle and savings needs.

“When you invest in a 401(k) plan, you essentially get what I call the ‘investor’s triple play’—you get an upfront tax deduction, you get the tax deferred growth, and you may get the employer contribution.”

Tip No.4: Don’t Get Discouraged

It’s easy for grads to get discouraged early on when starting to save and invest but it’s important they maintain a long-term view.

“If you can save $250 a month, that’s only going to be $3000 in the first year and even if you get good markets, your investment gains are not going to amount to very much in dollars and cents,” Clements says. “But if you keep at it for 10 or 15 years with the amount of money you have sufficiently saved, you really do start to benefit from the interest compounding.”

Watching the market rise and fall can be nerve-wracking to young investors as Baby Boomers feel the pressure, but Gen Y savers should give themselves more credit, says O’Connell.

“The challenges they’ve observed in the past – and those they are a part of now – are opportunities to learn financial lessons with time on their side, and possibly gain more rewards in the future than they expect.”