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Why You Should Start Retirement Planning in Your 20s

By Austin Kilham · January 29, 2024 · 8 minute read

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Why You Should Start Retirement Planning in Your 20s

When you’re in your 20s, the last thing on your mind may be the end of your career and the retirement that comes after. But thinking about retirement now can ensure your financial security in the future.

The longer you have to save for retirement, the better. Here’s why you should start thinking about retirement planning and investing in your 20s.

Main Reason to Start Saving for Retirement Early

When you start investing in your 20s, even if you begin with just a small amount, you have more time to build your nest egg. Typically, having a long time horizon means you have time to weather the ups and downs of the markets.

What’s more — and this is critical — the earlier you start saving, by opening a savings vehicle such as a high-yield savings account or a money market account, for instance, the more time you’ll have to take advantage of compound interest, which can help boost your ability to save. Compound interest is the reason small amounts of money saved now can go further than much larger amounts of money saved later. The more time you have, the more returns compound interest can deliver.

Compound Interest Example

Imagine you are 25 with plans to retire at 65. That gives you 40 years to save. If you save $100 a month in a money market account with an average annual return of 6% compounded monthly, at age 60, you would have saved about $200,244.

Now, let’s imagine that you waited for 30 years, until age 55 to start saving. You put $1,000 a month into a money market account. With an average annual return of 6% compounding monthly, you’d only have about $165,698 by the time you’re ready to retire, far less than if you’d started saving smaller amounts earlier.

The lesson? The longer you wait to start saving for retirement, the more money you’ll have to save later to make up the difference. Depending on your financial situation, it could be difficult to find these extra funds when you’re older.

Though it may not sound fun in your 20s to start putting money toward retirement, it may actually be easier in the long run.

💡 Quick Tip: Before opening an investment account, know your investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. These fundamentals will help keep your strategy on track and with the aim of meeting your goals.

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How to Start Saving for Retirement in Your 20s

If you’re new to saving, starting a retirement fund requires a little bit of planning.

Step 1: Calculate how much you need to save

Set a goal. Consider your target retirement date and how long you’ll expect to be retired based on current life expectancy. What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead? And what do you expect your retirement expenses to be?

Step 2: Choose a savings vehicle

When it comes to where to put your savings, you have a number of options. For example, as of early August 2023, you could get around 4.5% APY on a high-yield savings account.

Many retirement savers also opt to use an investing account, such as a taxable brokerage account or tax-advantaged retirement savings account instead.

Keep in mind that investments in equities or other securities are riskier than savings accounts, but that allows for the possibility of better returns. Young investors may be better positioned than older investors to take on additional risk, since they have time to recover after a market decline. However, the amount of risk you’re willing to take on is an important consideration and a personal choice.

Step 3: Start investing

Once you’ve opened an account, your investment strategy depends on age, goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. For example, the longer you have before you retire, the more money you might consider investing in riskier assets such as stock, since you’ll have longer to ride out any rocky period in the market. As retirement approaches, you may want to re-allocate more of your portfolio to less risky assets, such as bonds.

Types of Retirement Plans

If you’re interested in opening a tax-advantaged retirement plan, there are three main account types to consider: 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, and Roth IRAs.

401(k)

A 401(k) is an employer sponsored retirement account that you invest in through your workplace, if your employer offers it. You make contributions to 401(k)s with pre-tax funds (meaning contributions lower your taxable income), usually deducted from your paycheck. Your 401(k) will typically offer a relatively small menu of investments from which you can choose.

Employers may also contribute to your 401(k) and often offer matching contributions. Consider saving enough money to at least meet your employer’s match, which is essentially free money and an important part of your total compensation.

Some companies also offer a Roth 401(k), which uses after-tax paycheck deferrals.

Individuals can contribute up to $23,000 in their 401(k) in 2024. Individuals can contribute up to $22,500 in their 401(k) in 2023. And those aged 50 and up can make an additional catch-up contribution of $7,500.

Money invested inside a 401(k) grows tax-deferred, and you’ll pay regular income tax on withdrawals that you make after age 59 ½. If you take out money before then, you could owe both income taxes and a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

You must begin making required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your account by age 73.

Learn more: What Is a 401(k)?

Traditional IRA

Traditional IRAs are not offered through employers. Anyone can open one as long as they have earned income. Depending on your income and access to other retirement savings accounts, you may be able to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA on your taxes.

As with 401(k) contributions, you’d owe taxes on traditional IRA withdrawals after age 59 ½ and may have to pay taxes and a penalty on early withdrawals.

In 2024, traditional IRA contribution limits are $7,000 a year or $8,000 for those aged 50 and up. In 2023, traditional IRA contribution limits are $6,500 a year or $7,500 for those aged 50 and up. Compared to 401(k)s, IRAs offer individuals the ability to invest in a much broader range of investments. These investments can then grow tax-deferred inside the account. Traditional IRAs are also subject to RMDs at age 73.

Roth IRA

Unlike 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, savings go into Roth IRAs with after-tax dollars and provide no immediate tax benefit. However, money inside the account grows tax-free and it isn’t subject to income tax when withdrawals are made after age 59 ½.

You can also withdraw your principal (but not the earnings) from a Roth at any time without a tax penalty as long as the Roth has been open for five tax years. The first tax year begins on January 1 of the year the first contribution was made and ends on the tax filing deadline of the next year, such as April 15. Any contribution made during that time counts as being made in the prior year. So, for instance if you made your first contribution on April 10, 2023, it counts as though it were made at the beginning of 2022. Therefore, your Roth would be considered open for five tax years in January 2027.

Roths are not subject to RMD rules. Contribution limits are the same as traditional IRAs.


💡 Quick Tip: The advantage of opening a Roth IRA and a tax-deferred account like a 401(k) or traditional IRA is that by the time you retire, you’ll have tax-free income from your Roth, and taxable income from the tax-deferred account. This can help with tax planning.

Investing in Multiple Accounts

Individuals can have both a traditional and Roth IRA. But note the contribution limits apply to total contributions across both. So if you’re 25 and put $3,250 in a traditional IRA, you could only put up to $3,250 in your Roth as well in 2023.

You can also contribute to both a 401(k) and an IRA, however if you have access to a 401(k) at work you may not be able to deduct your IRA contributions.

Retirement Plan Strategies

The investment strategy you choose will depend largely on three things: your goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. These factors will help you determine your asset allocation, what types of assets you hold and in what proportion. Your retirement portfolio as a 20-something investor will likely look very different from a retirement portfolio of a 50-something investor.

For example, those with a high risk tolerance and long time horizon might hold a greater portion of stocks. This asset class is typically more volatile than bonds, but it also provides greater potential for growth.

The shorter a person’s time horizon and the less risk tolerance they have, the greater proportion of bonds they may want to include in their portfolio. Here’s a look at some portfolio strategies and the asset allocation that might accompany them:

Sample Portfolio Style

Asset allocation

Aggressive 100% stocks
Moderately Aggressive 80% stocks, 20% bonds
Moderate 60% stocks, 40% bonds
Moderately Conservative 30% stocks, 70% bonds
Conservative 100% bonds

The Takeaway

Even if you don’t have a lot of room in your budget to start investing, putting away what you can as early as you can, can go a long way toward saving for retirement. As you start to earn more money, you can increase the amount of money that you’re saving over time.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.

Photo credit: iStock/izusek


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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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