As millennials toss their graduation caps and hope to soon land their first "real job," they will be managing their finances while in the red.
More than half of them (54%) told us in our recent Wells Fargo survey that debt is their biggest financial concern, even more than day-to-day expenses. Moreover, 42% said their debt is "overwhelming," twice as many as baby boomers, in percentage terms.
More than six in 10 (61%) consider themselves to be savers, although slightly less than half (49%) have started to save for retirement.
The rest are putting it off until their 30s. Why? Most say they either don't have enough money to start saving or instead focus their attention on paying down their debt first. (Our study surveyed millennials between the ages of 22 and 32; Boomers surveyed were between the ages of 48 and 66.)
We believe in the value of regular, disciplined saving at every age. Saving shouldn't be an 'either or' option.
It's crucial for millennials to both manage their debt today and start saving for the future. This is a way for them to apply their multi-tasking expertise to their finances.
Given that they are at the beginning of their journey, there is a limit to the advice or services that a financial advisor can offer. Still, the benefits of youth are hard to make up later when it comes to savings.
The first thing they can look at is taking advantage of their 401(k) plan, if they have one, and contribute the maximum. If they don't have one, they can consider opening a contributory IRA. A Roth can be a good option if the idea of "locking up" money until retirement seems overwhelming, as the Roth offers other withdrawal options (home purchase, for example).
One thing advisors can do is to build a relationship with existing clients' children by offering guidance, whether 401(k) choices or (if they do have extra money) opening a basic IRA or brokerage account. This generation switches jobs so they may also potentially need advice on rollovers.
If advisors are in teams, they should utilize the younger members who can relate and draw in the new business from their networking or through relatives and friends.
Our research suggests that while this generation is viewed as very tech savvy with social media as a preferred method of communicating, they also want face-to-face interactions when initially establishing a new account or relationship. And many value experience in a financial advisor.
We outline a few savings steps that millennials should consider as they begin their journey.
Begin saving as they pay down debt. Set up an automatic deposits into their savings account so it builds up on a regular basis.
Create a retirement roadmap, either online or with a financial advisor, to set clear goals for saving and spending in order to accumulate enough for their future. If they're already in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, they should consider setting annual automatic increases to ensure that this remains a priority over time.
Invest a small amount in the stock market to illustrate first-hand how compounding returns help as they build for the long-term.
HOPEFUL AND CAREER-MINDED
No matter the method, millennials need to take ownership of their finances in order to build a foundation for a more secure retirement decades from now. Ultimately, the key for millennials is to put a financial plan into action, so their beliefs become a reality.
Interestingly, millennials are career-minded. Three out of four surveyed feel the best way to get ahead financially is to work for a company that offers a career path, while just 25% say the best way is to "break out on my own and start a business." These attitudes could trace back to the recent financial crisis and uneven financial recovery causing continued uncertainty.
We're hopeful that millennials will be able to thrive, despite the economic odds they may face when first entering the job market. And they are themselves hopeful. In our survey, 70% saying they are "very" or "somewhat confident" that they will be able to save enough to afford the lifestyle that they hope to have in retirement.
It's time for this generation to translate their optimism into action by taking some basic steps to build a financial foundation.
Karen Wimbish is the director of Retail Retirement at Wells Fargo.