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How to Motivate Young Employees to Save For Retirement

Planning for retirement often takes a backseat for many young workers, much to the chagrin of their parents and employers.  But given that the number of pension plans in the United States continues to shrink— and Social Security benefits are generally insufficient to replace a worker’s income in retirement— it is crucial for workers to build a retirement nest egg.  Furthermore, starting to save for retirement early has numerous advantages over kicking the can down the road until later in one’s career.  Setting aside a portion of one’s income for retirement early in one’s career ensures not only more years of saving but allows the investments to benefit from decades of compounding and establishes a lower level of expenses (as compared with spending every dollar that one makes) that a young worker will need to sustain in retirement.  Whether you aim to educate young employees or secure a prosperous future for your child, here are three tips to emphasize the significance of retirement planning and motivate action.

1. Educate Young Employees about the Available Options

Recent college graduates often find themselves uncertain about retirement planning due to their lack of knowledge about available options. They may feel daunted and unsure about where to begin and how much they should save. However, by providing them with information about their investment choices and helping them identify the approach that suits them best, they are more likely to consider contributing to retirement accounts.

How Much to Save:  As a general rule of thumb, if you start saving for retirement in your 20s, you should aim to save 10% to 12% of your salary (including any employer match) toward retirement.  Therefore, if your employer offers a 3% match and you are able to save 9% of your salary, you are on a good trajectory toward having an adequate amount of retirement savings.  Obviously, it is helpful to check with a financial planner a decade or two later to make sure that you are still on a sustainable path in light of your particular circumstances (level of income, kids, etc.), but this rule of thumb is a reasonable starting point. 

Where to Save:  If a young worker has access to a retirement plan through work, that is generally their best option.  It will likely be the easiest to set up and (most importantly) may include an employer matching contribution.  If not, they could consider setting up a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA.  Below is an overview of the most common retirement savings options:

  • 401(k) and 403(b) Plans:  401(k) and 403(b) plans operate as defined-contribution plans, wherein employees contribute a predetermined amount each pay period. The contribution is deducted pre-tax, which allows the employee to pay less in current year taxes and to set aside a higher dollar amount that will enjoy decades of compounding before needing to be taken out as a taxable withdrawal in retirement.  For these plans, the employer takes care of administrative tasks such as deducting the contributions, depositing them into the designated accounts of employees, and making additional contributions as specified in the plan document, including matching or profit-sharing contributions.  Many of these plans now offer target date mutual funds (e.g. “Target Retirement 2060” fund) as easy investment options that tailor the level of risk to the projected investment time horizon.  These are generally appropriate investment options for young workers.
  • Traditional or Roth IRAs:  If workers do not have access to a retirement plan through work, they can set up a traditional or Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) through a brokerage or financial advisor.  Traditional IRA contributions can be deducted on one’s taxes, so they enjoy a current-year tax break similar to the 401(k) and 403(b) plans discussed above.  The contributions are subject to an annual limit though (currently $6,500 for those under age 50) and cannot exceed the amount of one’s earnings for the year.  Roth IRAs function similarly to traditional IRAs, with the key distinction being that all contributions to the plan are made using after-tax funds. This means that when withdrawals are made at retirement age, they are tax-free.
  • SIMPLE or SEP IRA Plans:  For self-employed workers or those working for small businesses, they may have the option of setting up a SIMPLE or SEP IRA.  SIMPLE, which stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees, is an employer-offered IRA plan primarily utilized by smaller businesses instead of more intricate retirement plans. Under this arrangement, employees can make tax-deductible contributions to the plan, while the employer is obligated to provide either matching contributions, up to 3% of the employee’s salary, or nonelective contributions.  SEP, which stands for Simplified Employee Pension Plan, is an IRA for self-employed or small business owners in which the contribution is made by the employer.  SIMPLE and SEP IRAs have higher contribution limits than traditional IRAs.

2. Educate Young Workers on the Benefits and Necessity of Retirement Savings

Ensuring access to reliable educational resources is crucial as many individuals hold the misconception that they can solely rely on Social Security benefits for their retirement.  It is essential to assist young workers in understanding when it is appropriate to retire and the financial requirements necessary to support their desired lifestyle during retirement.  They must take into consideration, for example, the need for investment returns that exceed inflation and number of years that they might want to spend in retirement prior to life expectancy. By equipping employees with the knowledge of what it takes to secure their future, they are more likely to actively engage in proactive retirement preparation.

3. Inspire them to Invest by Integrating ESG Strategies

According to a Stanford research study, a significant majority of millennials have concerns regarding the environmental and social issues, like carbon emissions and income inequality, and most think that mutual fund managers should consider these views when voting on environmental or social issues.  In light of this, offering fund options that include environment, social, and governance (ESG) investment strategies can be influential in motivating workers to save for retirement. By incorporating ESG strategies, individuals can better align their retirement planning investments with their personal values, which may hold appeal for millennials and Gen Z.

Final Thoughts

Motivating young employees to save for retirement may seem daunting, but it is not impossible. By providing education and resources on financial planning, educating young workers on retirement options and benefits, and creating a culture of financial responsibility, employers can help their young workforce build a strong financial future.  The earlier employees start saving, the better off they will be in the long run.  So, let’s work together to empower our young workforce to take control of their finances and plan for a bright future ahead!

Author Bio

Rick Pendykoski is the owner of Self Directed Retirement Plans LLC, a retirement planning firm based in Goodyear, AZ. He has over three decades of experience working with investments and retirement planning. Over the last 10 years, he has turned his focus to self-directed accounts and alternative investments.


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