In today’s ultra-candidate focused market, job benefits are all the rage. And not the benefits you may be thinking about. Health insurance and 401(k) have given way to ice cream parties, unlimited leave, and pet friendly workplaces. These unorthodox benefits can be great job perks, and an ideal way to sell your company culture (if dog hair in the office is your thing). But a disturbing trend is the increasing number of young people who say they are prioritizing short-term benefits – including worthwhile benefits like student loan repayment – over traditional retirement savings.
Research conducted by the American Institute of CPAs found that when asked which benefits would help them reach their financial goals, millennials listed health insurance first (54%), followed by paid time off (45%) and student loan forgiveness (41%). 401(k) match was fifth on the list, and cited by just over a third of respondents (36%).
It makes sense that millennials would be focused on paying off their student loans – the rise in student loan debt has created financial burdens many millennials are eager to offload. An employer who can help pay off high-interest debt is certainly attractive. But by ranking student loan repayment and time off over 401(k) benefits, millennials may be taking a short-sided approach to their career.
Financial Planning 101
The issue is compounding interest. Every year retirement savings are delayed is another year where the benefits of compound interest are lost. Delay retirement savings by a few years, and you could miss out on tens of thousands of dollars.
“My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” – Warren Buffett
The mindset is not a good one for the sake of your long-term financial health. It’s a simple numbers game – the earlier you begin saving for retirement, the longer those dollars have a chance to grow, and the greater the return from your initial investment. Obviously you can’t save what you don’t have, but placing student loan repayment and paid time off above retirement is a choice you may question when you hit your 30s and 40s and the idea of retirement because a possibility, not a fantasy.
I’m an (old) millennial, so I get it. I don’t buy into the notion social security will still be around when I retire, and I’m not planning to retire. Ever. (When ClearanceJobs finally kicks me to the curb I’m going to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a Starbucks barista and part-time spin instructor). But I have one thing in my favor when it comes to retirement planning – my first ‘real’ job was with the federal government.
The Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) provides retirement benefits to federal employees. The Thrift Savings Plan automatically makes deposits into an employee’s account for those who qualify. And while I didn’t make it 30 years (more like three), I made sure my savings were vested, and I had the stage set for being a lifelong retirement saver (once you’ve gotten used to opting in, you don’t tend to think about opting out).
Is It Negotiable?
In fairness to those who are not choosing to rank 401(k) benefits high on their list, there may be a clear reason – 401(k) is an assumed benefit, rather than one that seems negotiable. Most employees can’t negotiate their way into a higher employer match, but it’s worth asking. Employees can also adjust their own benefits to make sure they’re getting the most out of the benefits offered, and can add additional savings options. Don’t assume 401(k) will be provided, and consider what your employer offers in terms of match-back, stock options and employee stock purchase plans along with your benefits. If you have the choice between student loan repayment and 401(k) benefits, talk to a financial planner. Not all debt is created equally, and saving a little today may give you the financial freedom to pay off your student loans sooner than you think.
Work-life balance benefits are great. If telework is more important to you than retirement, you do you. But keep in mind your priorities may change in the future – and retirement savings is one benefit that will not pay off as high tomorrow as it will if you begin to invest today.