When college graduates hit the workforce, they're faced with piles of paperwork and life-altering decisions about major financial issues. Insurance, debt repayment and savings accounts all seem far more pressing than retirement.
But they couldn't be more wrong.
Today is the day for the young to start concerning themselves with retirement planning. Unfortunately, the easy option of a 401(k) isn't always available -- particularly to freelancers and the self-employed.
For those without access to a 401(k), or those just interested in expanding their retirement investments, the simple solution is an IRA.
What Is an IRA?
According to IRS.gov, "IRAs allow you to make tax-deferred investments to provide financial security when you retire."
Thanks, IRS! That really clears it up for us.
"IRA" stands for Individual Retirement Arrangements (or accounts), which are available to anyone with taxable income who is younger than 70½ years old.
What Types of IRAs Are Out There?
There are multiple types of IRAs, but the most common are the traditional and the Roth. Similar to a 401(k), an IRA offers people a variety of investment options, including stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
In simplest terms, a traditional IRA allows people to invest money to reduce their taxable income now, and the funds are taxed when the money is withdrawn in retirement. If you're making $40,000 a year and put $4,000 in an IRA, your taxable income will drop to $36,000. On the other hand, the Roth IRA gets taxed now, but the money will not be subjected to taxation when making withdrawals in retirement.
There are a few other major differences between the traditional and the Roth. The Roth IRA only allows people filing single with an adjusted gross income under $114,000 to contribute the full amount. People making more than $114,000 but less than $129,000 can contribute a reduced amount.
For those married and filing jointly, the maximum income is a bit higher -- $191,000. Those couples with an adjusted gross income of $181,000 or less can contribute the full amount; above that, the gradual reductions kick in.
If you're rolling over funds from a 401(k) into an IRA, you still can contribute the $5,500 in the same year. Rollover funds don't count toward your contribution limits.
How Do You Start an IRA?
Most millennials who are interested in this subject have probably already Googled this question, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%and what they saw was a flood of offers from Bank of America (BAC), Ally Bank, TD Ameritrade (AMTD), USAA and Fidelity -- just on the first page.
A wide variety of IRA options are available from banks, life insurance companies, mutual fund companies, stock brokers and other financial institutions. Be sure to shop around first to find the best investment choice for you.
Should You Have a 401(k) and an IRA?
It truly comes down to personal preference and disposable income. People who are already contributing to a 401(k) but are also battling debt might not want to start investing in an IRA until they're out of the red. Those who are debt-free might want to invest in other options, such as a mutual fund, to allow them easier (and earlier) access to their money.
When to Start?
Ultimately, now is the time to be preparing for retirement -- especially if you're young. Time (and compound growth) is an investor's best asset. The sooner millennials begin preparing for retirement, the less likely they'll be forced to work into their 70s.
(Correction: A previous version of this article had the 2013 numbers for Roth IRA income limits, and did not mention the option of a "backdoor" Roth conversion. We apologize for those errors, and thank our readers and Twitter followers for pointing them out.)
Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers.
Interest rates are low, but that's no excuse to accept 0.01 percent interest rates on your savings. Just a little shopping can find you many FDIC-insured savings accounts paying as much as 1 percent in interest, usually with no fees and easy availability to your money through electronic funds transfers. Compared to the near-zero rates that uninsured money-market mutual funds and other alternatives pay, high-interest savings accounts are a much safer way to save.
Banks still try to get customers to pay more for less, with one recent threat to charge fees for basic deposit accounts if the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates further. But many online banks not only offer fee-free options on their checking and savings accounts but also pay interest, and many have extensive fee-free ATM networks or reimbursement arrangements. If your bank follows through on threats to raise fees, taking your business elsewhere is your best move.
Bankrate reports that the average credit card charges around 16 percent in interest. That's a guaranteed money-maker for the banks that issue cards, but a big loser for those who carry balances on their cards. With many cards offering promotional interest rates as low as 0 percent, using them to get rid of high-interest cards is a no-brainer move and can help you pay your debt down faster.
Mistakes on your credit history can keep you from getting a loan that you want to buy your next home or car, but they can also have consequences you'd never imagine. Increasingly, insurance companies, apartment rental agents, and even prospective employers order copies of your credit report to see if you're financially responsible. Be sure to take advantage of your free credit check at the government's annualcreditreport.com website to make sure the three big credit-rating agencies have everything right before mistakes come back to bite you.
Payday loans have gotten more tightly regulated recently, but banks and other financial institutions still offer ways to let you get quicker access at your cash -- for a hefty fee. Resorting to short-term money fixes can land you in even more problematic situations down the road, because those solutions often create debt spirals from which it's hard to emerge unscathed. Set up an emergency fund instead and be prepared in advance for the money woes that life throws your way.
Interest rates have risen during the last half of 2013, with a typical 30-year mortgage carrying a 4.5 percent interest rate. But many homeowners still carry higher-interest mortgages from before the financial crisis. Now that home prices have risen, you might be able to refinance for the first time, and many homeowners have used lower rates to cut hundreds from their mortgage payment or shift to a shorter-term 15-year mortgage to pay off their debt faster.
Too many people never update their insurance coverage to deal with changes in their coverage needs, whether it comes from changes in family status for life insurance, health conditions for health-care or long-term care insurance, or even what types of property you own for homeowners' insurance. Don't wait for disaster to strike; check with your insurer or agent to see if your current coverage meets your needs.
In the past, investors had to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars just to make a simple stock purchase. Now, though, the rise of discount brokers, low-fee index funds and exchange-traded funds, and freely available investment news and advice have made it silly to spend large amounts to get access to the financial markets. If you're still paying your broker too much to invest, look into alternatives that can help you avoid cutting serious money out of your retirement nest egg.
Everyone likes a tax break, and one of the best ones for you to use involves making contributions to a tax-favored retirement account. By putting money in an IRA or 401(k), you can reduce your current taxable income and save on your taxes while also preparing for the future. With 401(k)s, your employer might even chip in a bit on your behalf. Even when times are tough, finding even small amounts to save can put time on your side and make a big difference down the road.
Many investors found out the hard way this year that bonds aren't as safe as they thought, with some major bond funds posting double-digit percentage losses in 2013. Despite those losses, bonds still carry substantial risk in 2014, with many calling for imminent interest-rate hikes that would erode their value further. Even now, bond rates are so low that they don't compensate you much for their risk.
In contrast to bonds, stocks have soared in 2013. That has some investors finally piling into the market for the first time since 2008 and 2009, while others remain shell-shocked from the massive losses they incurred back then during the financial crisis. Even with the Dow Jones Industrials (^DJI) and other major market benchmarks near all-time record highs, it makes sense to have some stock exposure in your portfolio. Just don't go overboard in the false belief that gains of 20 percent and 30 percent will happen every year.
If you pay full price for just about anything these days, you're paying too much. The rise of deep-discount stores has led to falling prices at stores and shopping malls. Moreover, online tools like coupon sites, daily-deal offers, discounted gift cards, and cash-back credit-card deals can cut your costs as well. With all these tools, you won't find many situations in which you have no chance of getting a bargain on the items you want.
In the past, many young adults focused on getting into as strong a college as they could, figuring that their degree would pay them enough to make up for the costs they incurred. With college graduates facing a more challenging job environment than ever, smart students are thinking about college costs before they make a decision on a school. By maximizing financial aid and looking at lower-tuition schools with nearly as strong educational quality, you can avoid creating a big debt hole that you'll struggle with for years into the future.
If you don't have a will, a power of attorney for financial and health-care matters, and an advance directive to tell medical professionals whether you want certain life-preserving measures taken if something happens to you, then you're putting your family at risk. Many people don't have even these basic estate-planning documents, but getting them in place is easier and less expensive than most believe. Get your affairs taken care of in 2014 and save your loved ones some big future hassles.
Resolving to be more financially astute and to avoid common mistakes will help you get your finances in order more quickly. These tips should give you more money to help you meet all your financial goals.