Much—too much—has been said and written about the relative superiority of Roth IRAs versus Traditional IRAs. The debate over which is better too often involves the technical numerical merits. In truth, the Roth wins in almost every situation because of its massive behavioral advantage: a dollar in a Roth IRA is (almost) always worth more than a dollar in a Traditional IRA. This is true regardless of one’s age, but the Roth IRA is even more advantageous for Millennials.
I must first disclaim that you can disregard any discussion of Roth or Traditional IRA if you’re not taking full advantage of a corporate match in your employer’s 401(k)—free money is still better than tax-free money. But after you’ve “maxed out” the match in your corporate retirement account, here are the top three reasons Millennials should consider putting their next dollar of savings in a Roth IRA:
1) Life is liquid, but most retirement savings isn’t.
Yes, of course, in a perfect, linear world, every dollar we put in a retirement account would forevermore remain earmarked for our financial futures. But hyperbolic discounting—and the penalties and tax punishments associated with early withdrawal from most retirement savings vehicles—can scare us away from saving today for the distant future. The further the future, the more we fear.
The Roth IRA, however, allows you to remove whatever contributions you’ve made—your principal—without any taxes or penalties at any time for any reason. Therefore, even though I’d prefer you to generally employ a set-it-and-forget-it rule with your Roth and not touch it, if the privilege of liquidity in a Roth helps you save for retirement, I’m all for it.
As kids head back to school, adults spanning several generations set their sites on getting their financial house back in order. What are the most important financial planning considerations in three major demographics—Millennials, Generation X and Empty Nesters?
Millennials: First things first – Before making any big financial commitments, like buying a house, figure out what you want life to look like.
- Are you in a relationship and looking to “settle down,” or do you highly value freedom and flexibility? If the latter, you shouldn’t be buying a house or committing to a job that is geographically tethered.
- If you’re in your twenties, the primary factor that will influence your financial success is how well you establish yourself in a career. Invest in yourself, and that will likely help you invest more money in the future.
- Save as much as you can in tax-qualified retirement accounts at this phase of life, because once you get settled down and have kids, your expenses will rise dramatically.
- Don’t default to 100% equity portfolios just because you’re young. After getting burned by the market crash of 2008, many Millennials got scared away and didn’t benefit from the subsequent market rise. Your portfolio should likely be predominantly stocks at this age, but consider some fixed income exposure to keep from losing your shirt (and abandoning your strategy) in a downturn.
Historically, retirement planning has been likened to a three-legged stool — consisting of a corporate pension, Social Security and personal savings. Baby boomers saw the pension fade from existence, leaving them to balance on retirement planning stilts. For younger generations, however, the retirement situation can seem even worse. Sometimes, it feels like it’s all on us. We’re left with only a retirement planning pogo stick.
Further complicating matters, doctors suggest that the length of life Generations X, Y and Millennials can expect may exceed that of our parents and grandparents. We’re likely to live a long time, but our quality of life — to the degree that it is improved by cash flow — is in question because of the heightened savings burden.
Last week, I shared two “silver bullets” — MOVE and WORK— for hopeful boomer retirees who may fear that a 14-year stretch of economic uncertainty has put their goal for a comfortable retirement out of reach. Here’s how these two concepts can be applied to younger generations: