Retirement planning for 20-somethings

It's easy to understand why retirement doesn't loom large on the horizon for 20-somethings. Young workers are more concerned with kick-starting careers, not ending them in the long-distant future.

But it's worth noting that the very fact that you're young gives you a huge edge if you want to be rich in retirement. That's because when you're in your 20s, you can invest relatively little for a short period and wind up with far more money than someone older who saves much more over a longer period.

Consider this scenario: If you begin saving for retirement at 25, putting away $2,000 a year for just 40 years, you'll have around $560,000, assuming earnings grow at 8 percent annually. Now, let's say you wait until you're 35 to start saving. You put away the same $2,000 a year, but for three decades instead, and earnings grow at 8 percent a year. When you're 65 you'll wind up with around $245,000 -- less than half the money.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Save a little now and reap big rewards later.

Unfortunately, many of today's youngest workers pass on the opportunity to save for retirement early, when the beauty of compounding interest can work its magic and maximize savings. A recent study by human resources consultant Hewitt Associates found that just 31 percent of Generation Y workers (those born in 1978 or later, now in the thick of their 20s) who are eligible to put money into a 401(k) retirement savings plan to do so. That's less than half of the 63 percent of workers between ages 26 and 41 who do invest in employer-sponsored savings accounts.

1. Start saving ASAP

There are plenty of reasons you may have yet to save, such as cash flow. If you're struggling to pay off student loans or cover rent, funding a 401(k) may seem difficult, if not downright impossible.

But be wary of letting expenses become an excuse, says Brian T. Jones, a Certified Financial Planner and author of "Getting Started: The Financial Guide for a Younger Generation."

"These years of saving in your early 20s are your prime years. If you deny yourself the opportunity, it will just set you back with retirement planning in the long run," says Jones. "You've got to have balance."

2. Sign up for that 401(k)

Make the most out of those few dollars you can get hold of by allocating them wisely. Don't squirrel them away under the mattress. You will want them to be invested in a way that will encourage your assets to grow as quickly as possible.

Where to start? If you're eligible to participate in a 401(k) at work, do so. There are plenty of reasons to love these plans but No. 1 by far is that most employers match your contributions in order to encourage your participation. The hitch: Oftentimes, you'll need to save enough to trigger the match.


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