A young professional asks: “I am 27 years old and have finally worked myself into a well-paying job. I want to make the most of it by setting myself up for success down the road. I am currently investing into my thrift savings plan (TSP) once a month with the drill paycheck I receive for being in the National Guard and I also will be joining my company’s retirement plan. Other than these two methods of saving that I am currently contributing to, what is the best way for me to save for the future? I don’t want to put all of my money into a standard savings account which will not grow much over time. Should I consider online savings accounts with higher interest rates? I am also intrigued by dollar-cost averaging. Should I consider index funds?”
Here’s my answer:
Thank you for your question and congratulations on being so forward looking. At age 27 you have about three decades of saving and investing before retirement. Your future is in your hands in more ways than you may know. For example, by the time you retire the Social Security Trust Fund may well be exhausted and your benefits may be a lot lower than current retirees.
You should put as much as you can into your TSP and participate in your company’s retirement plans, which probably includes either a regular 401(k) or a Roth 401(k) plan. At your age I would consider contributing to a Roth plan. A Roth plan does not reduce your current taxes, but when you retire you can get your money out tax free, and meanwhile your money grows tax free.
You should try to save about 15% of your income for retirement. You should first create an emergency fund. You may be surprised to learn that four in ten people in this country can’t afford a $400 emergency without borrowing. An emergency fund equal to 6 months of your net income should be adequate. After funding your TSP and 401(k) plans you should open an investment account with a discount broker. Fund it with extra savings beyond what put in your tax-free accounts. Keep in mind that tax free accounts like IRAs, TSPs and 401(k) plans are not readily accessible without taxes or penalties.
Over the next few decades you will need money for things such as a home purchase, weddings, children, vacations, etc. That’s why taxable investment accounts are needed. Your tax deferred, tax free and taxable accounts all provide you with the assets you need to retire when you are ready. Based on your question I am assuming that you are not an experienced investor. Few people your age are. In fact, most people of any age are poor investors. I suggest you shop around for a good fee-only financial advisor who is willing to spend time teaching you the basics of investment management. He will charge you a fee, but it will be well worth it because learning by making mistakes is a lot more expensive.
Good luck and give me a call if you need more advice.