MONEY Savings

This Is the Smartest Way for Millennials to Build Wealth

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Alamy

Millennials may lack financial knowledge, but automatic investing plans can keep them on track.

For a highly educated generation, Millennials show surprising ineptitude in certain areas of money management, a new report shows. This raises questions about their ability to get an early start saving for retirement, which a generation that lacks secure pensions will sorely need.

In general, Millennials are not happy with their current financial condition; they are burdened with debts and lack the kind of knowledge they will need to pull out of their rut, according to research from business services giant PwC. For example, just 24% demonstrate basic financial knowledge around concepts like inflation and risk diversification.

Other research has shown that Millennials are doing a decent job of saving in diversified accounts, thanks in large measure to innovations that include 401(k) auto enrollment programs and target-date mutual funds. The generation also demonstrates an interest in learning more about money management.

But the PwC analysis shows how little Millennials really understand about the money world. It points up the importance of turnkey savings vehicles that manage risk and invest for growth for them, along with the need for ongoing financial education programs that start in school and continue in the workplace.

Noteworthy is the level of debt that Millennials carry. Two-thirds of all Millennials and 81% of those that have graduated from college have at least one long-term loan, and about half as many (in both cases) have at least two sources of long-term debt.

Student loans account for much of this indebtedness, though mortgages also play a role. These findings aren’t necessarily alarming—such debts may go hand-in-hand with greater earning power and home equity over time. Yet student loans especially are a drag on the economy, leading many young people to put off big purchases. And without the financial knowledge to dig out of their debt hole, this can become a permanent setback.

“Young people who have a college degree today are much more likely than previous generations to start their economic life in debt,” says Annamaria Lusardi, academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University. “Universities can do a better job providing students, in particular those with student loans, with financial education.”

More than half of Millennials with student debt are concerned about their ability to pay it off. That includes more than a third earning at least $75,000 a year. A third are not satisfied with where they are financially. That may be because more than one in four with a college degree— and one in two of all Millennials—have used a high-cost financing source, such as a payday lender. Meanwhile, 17% of those with a retirement account borrowed from it in the previous 12 months.

“We need to help them become more satisfied in managing money and asking for help when they need it,” says Shannon Schuyler, corporate responsibility leader at PwC. “Simply put, we need to ensure that these behaviors do not become irrevocably established.”

Young people saving for retirement do have one big advantage: time. With traditional pensions disappearing and Social Security imperiled, saving now is their surest safety net—and young people have a head start in this category. Compound growth over an extra 10 years may double your nest egg at age 70, which is why some savvy Millennials are outpacing previous generations in building wealth. (To see how quickly your savings will grow, you can try this calculator.)

Always strive to save at least 10% of pre-tax pay—even more, if you can—and contribute enough to your 401(k) plan to get the full company match. Then add to your contributions with every pay raise. To stay on track and keep things simple, sign up for (or do not opt out of) the auto enrollment and auto escalation of contributions feature in many plans.

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