Financial boot camp encourages students to start saving now for retirement

By Tom Moore
Staff Writer

The University of West Florida Executive Mentor Program, with Pen Air Federal Credit Union, presented a Financial Boot Camp on Wednesday, focusing on retirement plans.

While students might not think they need to be planning for retirement while still in college, the professionals said that assumption is false. The time to start saving is in your 20s, so you have a long time to accrue savings, said John Heckmann, finance and investment manager for Pen Air.

Heckmann described the four types of accounts used to plan for retirement. The first two are available to individuals directly: IRAs and Roth IRAs. The other two are available only through the employer, which are 401(k)s and Roth 401(k)s.

IRA simply stands for Individual Retirement Account. These are savings accounts that allow contributions to be sheltered from taxes until withdrawal. The balance cannot be withdrawn until the account holder reaches 59.

A traditional IRA limits the account holder’s yearly contributions to $5,500, and, while the contributions aren’t taxed, the withdrawals are. In Roth IRAs, contributions are taxed at the regular rates, but when retirement rolls around, the withdrawals are tax-free. Either way, the taxes must be paid. What IRAs do is allow the account holder a choice of paying the taxes now, or deferring them until retirement.

The other types of retirement accounts Heckmann discussed were company-sponsored 401(k)s. These accounts, named after the section of the IRS tax code, allow up to 15 percent of a employee’s paycheck to be saved pre-tax. In many cases the company will match the worker’s contribution up to a certain amount. While the amount matched varies considerably from company to company, the average employer match is a 100 percent match of up to 3 percent employee contribution.

“These matching funds are free money,” Heckmann said. “The only caveat is the employee must work a certain number of years, called the vesting period, before they can have access to the company’s contributions. The vesting period is usually about three years. After that, if the employee quits or is fired, they have access to all the monies in their retirement accounts.”

Steve O’Riley, certified financial planner for Pen Air, spoke about plans he uses when advising clients about sound money management. He counsels families and businesses on how to invest, save and manage their money.

O’Reilly’s gave five smart investing principles:

  • Estimate your time horizon. Break your times into long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals. Short-term goals are three to five years; mid-term goals are five to 10 years; and long-term goals are 10 years or more.
  • Know your risk profile. Put simply, your risk profile is how much risk you feel comfortable with. If you had the opportunity, would you rather get a $50,000 immediate payout, or would you rather wait and have a 50 percent chance of getting a $200,000 payout? “By knowing your risk profile, it is then possible to determine what types of investments you are comfortable with,” O’Reilly said. “Or if you should invest at all. If you have little or no risk tolerance, you should look at other ways to save for retirement.”
  • Diversify. “Diversification is one of the few ways to protect yourself from the ups and downs of the stock market,” O’Reilly said. “If you have a well-rounded, well-diversified portfolio, if one stock goes down, the other will go up. You can’t eliminate the risk of investing, but you can determine your level of risk aversion, then learn to manage risk within your tolerance.”
  • Consider taxes and inflation. “Some people ask me, ‘Hey Steve, I’m really averse to risk, why don’t I take my money, put it in my bank account, and save it myself? That way I don’t have to worry about the market, the risk, or what stocks are making money and which ones are losing.’ This is where taxes and inflation come in,” O’Reilly said. “The problem with just putting your money in the bank is called inflation. Average inflation is about 3 percent every year, so, if you put your money in the bank for 35 to 40 years, it will be nearly worthless.” O’Reilly then used a chart comparing wages and prices in 1964 to today, to drive home the point of what impact inflation has had on the average American. In 1964, a new home cost $13,000; in 2014 a new home cost $278,700. In 1964, the average household income was $6,000 a year; in 2014, the average income was $51,000 a year. In 1964 gas was 30 cents a gallon; in 2014, gas is $3.44 per gallon. In 1964 a new car was $3,500; in 2014 a new car is $32,000.

“As you can see, inflation has gone up exponentially, while wages have gone up only modestly,” O’Reilly said. “What may not be quite as obvious, but even more notable, is debt-to-income ratio in 1964 was 30 percent. Today, the debt-to-income ratio is around 80 percent. This means that while prices and incomes have gone up, they have both been largely outflanked by overall consumer debt.”

  • Get started now. “The most important thing about investing for retirement is to start,” O’Reilly said. “People who start early get the advantage of time and compound interest. In a matter of just 10 years, you can double your retirement simply by starting in your 20s rather than your 30s or 40s. The longer you wait, the longer and harder you will have to work. Take it from me, you don’t want to spend your retirement years playing financial catch-up.”