5 Smart Questions Young Adults Are Asking to Super-Charge Their Retirement Savings

Learn from the money-management questions asked by young adults and answered by professional financial planners in our latest Jump-Start Your Retirement Plan online chat.

So you’ve started saving for retirement. Now what?

We've showed you how much saving early and often can net you later, and many young adults are following our advice. According to a recent Transamerica survey, 70% of millennials are already saving for retirement and those who are participating in a 401(k) or similar plan contribute, on average, 8% of their annual salary.

We were beaming like proud parents when we saw how many Starting Out-ers joined our latest Jump-Start Your Retirement Plan online chat to learn how to save even more—and do so in tax-advantageous ways. You asked smart questions about various savings options and showed interest in other topics such as student loans and home buying.

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In case you missed the chat (don't worry, there will be another later in the year), we rounded up (and lightly edited) some of the best queries from young adults like you. Read on to see what advice professionals from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors offered. Maybe their answers can help you on your path to retirement, too.

(For all of this month's expert retirement advice, check out the chat transcript.)

Traditional vs. Roth IRAs

Q: I'm 25 years old and get no 401(k) match from my employer. I'm curious about holding both a traditional and a Roth IRA. Is it a good idea to spread the tax liability around and secure some withdrawal flexibility for the future? What would be the major downside?

A: Roth IRAs are fantastic. At 25, hopefully you have a lifetime of paying higher employment taxes ahead of you, so it often makes the most sense to look at paying taxes today and never in the future with Roth accounts. I also think if you are comfortable managing your money with or without an adviser, then my preference is control over your available investments, in which case a Roth or traditional IRA—as opposed to a 401(k)—gives you the most control to choose where and how you invest. – Robert Schmansky, Clear Financial Advisors, Livonia, Mich.


Other investment account options

Q: I do not have access to a 401(k) through my employer, and I have maxed out my Roth IRA last year and this year. Without a 401(k), what are my other options for saving for retirement? Fully funding a Roth IRA alone will never be enough! I'm 30 years old and recently (2013) finished grad school, so I'm starting saving late as it is.

A: I would encourage you to save in a taxable account for now in addition to your Roth IRA. You can add to a taxable account any and all that you'd like (no limits). You are taxed as you go on any realized gains (when you sell and on dividends), and those are taxed at a capital gains rate, which is lower than an income rate. If you have realized losses (when you sell), you can take up to $3,000 of them annually on your return. If you have more than that in a year, you can carry forward the loss over $3,000 to use on your next return. – Bonnie Sewell, American Capital Planning, Leesburg, Va. and Miami, Fla.

MORE FROM KIPLINGER: Where to Save After Your 401(k)

Saving for a home vs. saving for retirement

Q: I'm 24 years old. Since I plan on buying a home in a couple years, should I sacrifice saving for retirement (fortunate enough that my company does make contributions for me) until I sock away enough money to make a nice down payment?

A: It's great that your company socks away money for you. Could you save for both a down payment and retirement? The compounding effect on your retirement savings would be enormous for someone in his or her twenties. How about saving 3% or 4% for retirement and putting the rest away for a down payment? – Frank Boucher, Boucher Financial Planning Services, Reston, Va.

MORE FROM KIPLINGER: How to Stretch Your Money

Paying off student loans vs. saving for retirement

Q: I am 36 and have a lot of student loan debt. Will having this much debt prevent me from saving as much as I need for retirement, buying a home or just in general? (Also, I work at a nonprofit and am eligible for loan forgiveness after ten years of prompt payment.)

A: That is a question I see many struggle with. I would encourage you to try to both save for the long-term and make payments at the same time. At the very least, if you have a match from an employer retirement plan, I'd like you to get that. Try to have 20% of your income go toward financial priorities, including paying down debt and saving. If it's a struggle to save much with that, then try to look at the income-based [loan repayment] plans. You can perhaps lower your payment below the ten-year schedule with these options, which are meant to help if your payment is too much for your budget. (However, certain plans, such as extended repayment, will not be qualified for forgiveness.) - Robert Schmansky, Clear Financial Advisors, Livonia, Mich.

MORE FROM KIPLINGER: Don't Stress Over Student Loans

Mutual funds for young investors

Q: I am 27 years old. I currently have a Roth that I opened a couple of years ago, but I am not sure I am investing in the appropriate funds for my age. I am curious if there are any recommended funds that focus on long-term growth I can look into?

A: You want to maintain a diversified portfolio. A simple way to do this is to use a Vanguard Target Retirement Fund. For instance the Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 fund (VFIFX) has just over 10% in cash and fixed income and the remainder in equities. The expenses are a low 0.18%, and the fund minimum is only $1,000. If you want to be more conservative (and even though you are young, you only want to take as much risk as you can stand as you do NOT want to sell when the equities markets decline), you would look at a fund with a shorter target date, perhaps 2035. – Bobbie Munroe, Fraser Financial, Atlanta, Ga.

MORE FROM KIPLINGER: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Rebecca Dolan
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger.com
Before joining the Kiplinger team as Online Community Editor in 2013, Rebecca was associate travel editor at the Huffington Post, where she also handled the travel section's social media. She landed at AOL/HuffPost after earning an MS in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School, with a concentration in health and science journalism. Prior to that, she covered lifestyle at Jacksonville Magazine, in Jacksonville, Fla., preceded by a stint at American Cheerleader magazine. She holds a BA from the College of William and Mary.