3/27/2012 2:00 AM ET|
20-somethings worry about retirement
They believe they'll be on their own to provide for a comfortable old age, but many young adults wish they had access to some advice tailored to their needs.
Getting a car, finding a date and starting a career are common concerns for your average twenty-something.
But today's 20-year-olds, often called Generation Y or the Millennials, are also busy thinking about retirement.
Young American workers are not expecting Social Security or traditional corporate pensions to provide for their retirement. Their parents' lack of retirement readiness is also increasing their awareness -- and acting as a wake-up call.
"My dad would love to retire at 65, but he's putting it off because of the swings in the aviation business. I'm concerned," said JoAnne Farrell, a 29-year-old Web manager at a design firm in San Francisco.
Retirement readiness is decreasing with time. According to a new study by State Street Global Advisors, 2012 is the first year that assets invested in pension plans top those invested in 401k retirement savings plans. At the same time, the study finds that members of Generation X, or people in their late 30s and 40s, are not nearly as prepared for retirement as their older counterparts, the baby boomers.
"Clearly it is the young who have the understanding that 'somebody else isn't worried about this for me. I have to do this,'" said Dallas Salisbury, the CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
It is up to 20-somethings to fund their own retirements. The trouble is, they're not quite sure how to do it. (Are you saving enough for retirement? Find out with this MSN Money calculator.)
Elena Nikolova, a 23-year-old associate for an energy consultancy in Washington, D.C., has a 401k plan available through her employer, but has not made a contribution yet.
"It's intimidating. First of all, I don't know what to invest in, and I'm not even sure this money is going to grow. I feel like I need to hire somebody to do it for me, which defeats the whole purpose," she said.
Jenny Stein, a 27-year-old senior tax accountant for Ernst & Young, shares similar concerns.
"I have a 401k with Fidelity through work, but it's confusing. People say you need to be aggressive with your asset classes when you're young. I don't know what that means," she said.
Even when employers don't offer 401k plans, young workers are seeking out other investment options. Stein's boyfriend, Matt DeTore, who works for a physical therapy office on Long Island, set up an individual retirement account on his own through a local bank. He's 26 years old. (Use MSN Money's 401k calculator to see if your 401k is likely to provide enough for retirement.)
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"After 2008, we've created a generation of people who want to put away for their future," said Kristi Mitchem, the head of global defined contribution at State Street Global Advisors.
What's the plan?
"Not only do employees not have the right tools to save, they don't know what the available tools are," said Mitchem.
For example, 28% of the employees surveyed didn't know whether their 401k plan offered automatic escalation. This tool offers employees the option to automatically raise their contribution level, typically starting at 3% of each paycheck, slowly over time.
The fault, says Mitchem, lies with employers who don't make 401k management easy, accessible or tailored.
"I think it would be really cool to talk about it with a counselor, so I can understand what to do and how much I should be contributing," Stein said.
Not only do young workers need to understand what contribution rate is best for them; they also need guidance on the basics of investing. Plans such as a 401k are simply investment vehicles that can include everything from mutual funds to stocks, bonds and cash. A 401k plan is an asset, and its effective management requires a working knowledge of asset allocation.
"Every year, Mass Mutual comes to give us advice, but it's so basic and general it's kind of offensive. It's not targeted or specific enough to be helpful," said Kerri Bernstein, 30, product manager at an e-commerce firm in Manhattan.
Ideally, young, conservative savers want a tough-love savings coach rather than a coddler.
Seventy-four percent of survey respondents said they would welcome auto-enrollment in a plan-sponsored "bootcamp," pushing them toward a 10% savings rate.
"Two (percent) to 3% auto-enrollment is standard, but there's no reason why companies need to start that low. There is a lot of tolerance for an increase to 5 to 6% of pay from employees, and companies should match that," said Brigitte Madrian, a professor of public policy at Harvard University who contributed to State Street's research.
(In full disclosure, State Street Global Advisors are benefit managers, meaning that the more employees are enrolled in their retirement plans, the more fees they will earn from participating companies. That said, Mitchem is urging companies with any benefit manager, not just State Street, to raise their contribution matching rates and promote retirement readiness.)
"I would love for my employer to match my contributions," said Bernstein. Her e-commerce firm does not offer a match.
Apart from contribution rates, Madrian mentions another crucial point: "The lion's share of retirement funds is lost when young participants decide to cash out early when they leave a job."
The younger generations are more prone to cash out, because, on average, they change jobs more frequently. The temptation is also higher, given life-stage needs like buying a home, paying for an education and other expenses that leave this group at risk.
In this economic mix of uncertain job security, high unemployment and high market volatility, young retirement savers need to know their options and act on them. Luckily, they do have one advantage: the time to save.
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