A perfect storm of rising rents, student loan debt and a genuine fear of investing have driven the retirement age for new college graduates up to 75, new research from NerdWallet shows. That’s more than a decade later than the average retirement age of 62.
NerdWallet started predicting the retirement age for college graduates in 2013. At the time, graduates could expect to retire by age 73. Much has changed in the last couple of years, however, including an 11% surge nationwide in the cost of rent and a $5,500 increase in the amount of debt students carry after graduation ($35,051 in 2015 vs. $29,400 in 2014). Rising expenses wouldn’t be too much of a concern if it weren’t for the fact that, like workers in other generations, millennials’ wages have remained pretty stagnant over the same time period (they earned an average $45,478 in 2014, the latest year data is available, compared with $44,259 in 2012).
Overall, rising expenses could amount to $684,474 in lost retirement savings for 2015 grads, up from $560,657 for the class of 2012.
“These things affect your ability to save early in your career, which has a compounding effect over time,” says Kyle Ramsay, investing manager at NerdWallet.
Yahoo Finance recently sat down with a group of 20-somethings to ask them what their hangups about investing are. Many cited student debt, rent and general wariness of getting into the market. Ramsay says it’s the third of these barriers — fear of the market — that could cause the most damage to millennials’ retirement prospects.
When it comes to saving cash they won’t need for at least 10 years, 40% of 20-somethings said they would rather put that money in a regular savings account than gamble it in the stock market, according to a study by Bankrate. Staying out of the market seems like a safe bet, especially for a generation who watched their parents struggle through the 2008 financial crisis. But as we’ve shown before and as NerdWallet illustrates in its study, young people tend to forget about the powerful advantage they have over older investors: time.
Today’s college graduates are saving only 6% of their income in retirement accounts that are invested in the market. A 23-year-old college graduate who starts saving 10% can retire at age 70*, five years earlier than her peers, NerdWallet found. Boosting that savings rate to 15% could potentially shave a full 10 years off retirement age, while a really aggressive saver tucking away 20% could retire as early as age 62. Thanks to compound interest, the longer money has to grow, the better.
“The two most important things millennials can do is save more and save early,” Ramsay says.
How to get started
After graduation, expenses can quickly outpace income. To find room to invest, start by looking for ways to reduce costs. That may mean spending a few years living with roommates or family or jotting down a rudimentary budget to help you spend only what you can afford. Racking up a bunch of credit debt is, obviously, not a wise step. Start a small emergency fund — three to six months’ worth of expenses, minimum — so you’re not as likely to lean on plastic when you’re in a pinch.
When you’ve finished building up your rainy day fund, don’t stop. By this point, hopefully you’ve learned not to miss that money. Now is a good time to start saving for long-term goals like retirement by enrolling in a 401(k) through your employer or an IRA on your own. Does your employer match your contributions? You’re leaving free money on the table if you don’t take advantage of that match.
And yes, monthly student debt payments are a heavy financial burden, but they shouldn’t preempt retirement savings. The exception here is for people whose student loan interest rates are higher than, say, 6% to 7%, which is more than what you might earn by investing in the market. Check out this 60-second guide to balancing student debt and retirement savings for a few tips. There are flexible repayment options available to those with federal student loan debt that can reduce those payments. There are also student loan refinancing services like SoFi or CommonBond, which can help if your interest rates are on the higher side.
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*In this example, the data folks at Nerdwallet factored in a 50% employer 401(k) match up to 6% of your salary, and 3% annual wage increases to account for inflation and salary growth.