Dear Dr. Don,
I am a 23-year-old recent graduate looking to start investing heavily soon. I will gross $180,000 this year.

What percentage of my earnings should I invest, and what do I invest in with the market being so unpredictable? I have a traditional IRA and am thinking about investing something like 30 percent of my earnings. Is this wise?

Also, what are your feelings about hiring a financial adviser?
— Justin Time

Dear Justin,
Your ability to contribute tax-deferred monies to a traditional IRA may be limited by several factors, including whether your employer offers a qualified retirement plan, and your filing status and income levels. See IRS Publication 590, “Individual retirement arrangements,” or consult with a tax professional about your eligibility to contribute.

Even if you aren’t eligible to contribute on a tax-deferred basis to a traditional IRA, you can contribute after-tax dollars. This can make sense because you will be able to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA when the income limitations for contributing to a Roth IRA are eliminated in the 2010 tax year. Work with your tax professional to see if this option is right for you.

It’s hard for people in their 20s to invest for their future because they have so much pent-up demand for consumption. Your ability to put aside 30 percent of earnings is wise.

Finding tax-advantaged ways to invest $54,000 can be a bit problematic. I’d shy away from annuities at this point to preserve the flexibility of how and when you can tap these funds, even if it means some of it is invested in taxable accounts. If you can invest more than 30 percent of your income, it’s likely that some of these funds should be in taxable versus tax advantaged accounts.

Working with a financial adviser is a great idea. Shop around by interviewing a few to find one with whom you are comfortable and who understands your financial goals.

The Bankrate feature “Financial planners: not just for millionaires anymore” provides a nice primer on the topic. I can also recommend, “How to Choose a Planner” from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Web site.

Bankrate can help you search for a Certified Financial Planner in your area. I recommend fee-only planners when shopping for a financial planner.

The market is always unpredictable. Sitting on the sidelines in cash virtually guarantees you’ll miss the recovery. You shouldn’t swing for the fences when investing but you don’t need to sit on the bench either.

You’re just starting out. Recessions aren’t forever. Buying at depressed levels gives you a lot more upside then getting in at the top — even if we haven’t seen a market bottom. Your adviser will help you develop an asset allocation appropriate for your life goals.