If you are in your first "real" job and starting to make decent money, odds are that you're focused on enjoying your life, your friends, and your new freedom. You probably don't think about an event that's 40 or 50 years down the road -- your retirement. Yet strangely, now is probably the best time to start laying the financial groundwork for the time you'll leave the workforce.
Here's why you should jump at any opportunity to sign up for a retirement savings plan at work as soon as you can.
- You'll be in control. When you enroll in your employer's plan, you choose how much to contribute and where you want your contributions invested (from a menu of investment options). You won't be locked in to your choices -- you'll be able to change them if you want to.
- You are young, and that's an advantage. As investment earnings are reinvested along with your plan contributions, you'll have a bigger pool of money invested for potential growth. The longer your money is invested, the more you may benefit. So starting early is very smart.
- You'll get tax benefits. Every dollar you contribute to your plan account on a pretax basis really costs you less than a dollar in take-home pay. Here's how it works: Your contributions are subtracted from your pay before federal (and often state) income taxes are calculated. That means you pay tax on a lower amount of income. You contribute more to your plan account than you give up in spendable pay. The earnings on your plan investments are also tax deferred. You won't pay income taxes on pretax contributions or plan earnings until the money is distributed to you. These tax breaks can make it easier to build your savings.
- You'll enjoy a more secure financial future. The money you set aside in your retirement plan account will be your money no matter what -- yours to spend as you choose when you exit the working world.
Sure, looking so far into the future can be a little strange and may be intimidating. But given increasing life spans, uncertainty surrounding the future of Social Security, and the always looming possibility of inflation making everything more expensive, it's smart to do a little planning now to help ensure your future financial security. For help with your planning, talk to a financial professional.