"I don't even have one K, let alone 401 Ks" said 23 year old Zack Teibloom in a recent New York Times article.
I had to laugh when I read that quote but what wasn't so funny was the rest of the article that said that only 49 percent of eligible workers in their 20s participate in the 401(k) plans offered by their employers. Less than half! That is pretty discouraging, especially when you consider that most employer's plans provide some form of matching. That means that many workers in their 20s are turning down totally free money.
This is an incredible shame because, as a financial adviser, I know that the people who are well on their way to a secure and fulfilling retirement are almost always the people who started saving even a small percentage of their income as soon as they started their first professional position. It is amazing what saving even 5 or 10 percent of your income can amount to if you start when you are 22. We are talking about four to five DECADES of compounding growth. People who don't start early and wait until they are in their late 30s and early 40s can usually never catch up. The amount they need to save is just too great.
And now is an incredible time to start saving for retirement. When we see a market downturn like we are seeing today, everything you buy is at a reduced price.
My advice to young investors:
Absolutely sign up for your employers 401(k) plan as soon as you are able.
Contribute as much as your budget will allow, ideally enough to capture the full employer match.
You will be saving for 40 years, so a high allocation to equity mutual funds is appropriate.
Whatever you do, don't cash out your balances when you change jobs. Forty percent of workers in their 20s do and that is a huge mistake even when it doesn't seem like a lot of money is involved.