By Brad Sherman
Learn more about Brad on NerdWallet’s Ask An Advisor
Millennials are nervous about investing. Recent surveys have shown that 70% of millennials keep their savings in cash rather than invest it in the stock market.
But by not investing early on, these people in their 20s and early 30s miss out on the key advantage they have at a young age: time. Because your investment returns are compounded, the earlier you start investing the more — and longer — will the returns add up, ultimately leaving you with more money in the bank.
So what are millennials waiting for? Many of the concerns holding them back from the market boil down to a lack of information about investing. Some of the most common fears are:
‘I have no idea where to start’
Many potential young investors have no idea where to start even if they wanted to buy just one stock. And then they don’t know how to choose which stock or fund to invest in. Since most people don’t get personal finance education as part of their schooling, investing can seem enormously daunting and precarious.
A little online research can demystify many of the basic investing concepts, such as how compounded interest works, how patience can be beneficial, and how to not overreact to temporary dips in the market. Working with a financial advisor to develop a plan and ease into an investing strategy also can help reduce your stress and anxiety about entering the stock market.
‘I haven’t even paid off my loans — I can’t start saving’
Concern about debt, particularly student loans, is understandable and widespread among millennials. Student loan borrowers have an average debt of almost $30,000 for undergraduate loans. The question of whether to pay off student loan debt more aggressively or use the extra money to start saving is a tough one because people don’t have the same financial situations. Your debt, cash flow and spending circumstances are unique and will require a plan that’s customized to you.
Keep in mind, however, that your years as a young professional are your prime saving period. If you can stomach not using all your extra money to pay off loans, you could reap the long-term benefit of investing early. Paying down a high-interest loan is a priority. But if the interest is low enough, consider creating a financial plan that allots some of your savings to an IRA or 401(k). Over time, the return on that investment, with the help of compounded interest, can make the trade-off worthwhile.
If you don’t have high-interest loans, creating a long-term, comprehensive financial plan that includes saving and investing is the best way of making sure you’ll have the funds you’ll need in the future, whether it’s to pay down debt, buy or rent a house, or make any other important expenditure. If you live on a tight budget, controlling and mapping out your spending becomes even more important.
‘I don’t trust, or can’t afford, financial advisors’
Many advisors require high asset minimums that may be well out of reach for young investors. And even then, the advisor could put your money in inefficient investment products that could generate commissions and other hidden fees for the advisor and inflate your investing costs.
Many advisors are not legally obligated to act only in their clients’ best interest; they merely have to suggest “suitable” investments. In many cases this means investments for which they are paid a commission. But those who uphold the fiduciary standard are required to put their clients’ interests first. And fee-only advisors are paid solely for the advice they give you, and not through commissions on the products they recommend.
Millennials are right to be wary of the industry, but there are advisors who won’t put their profit goals ahead of yours. Look for a fee-only fiduciary advisor. You may also want to work initially with a fiduciary advisor who charges by the hour if advisors with asset-management minimums are out of reach.
You need a financial plan that’s customized for your own situation and goals. But that doesn’t mean you can afford a delayed start. The sooner you map out a financial plan and start saving and investing, the bigger the payoff will be down the road.