The Millennial wealth plan: Four keys to your future

Sep 12, 2019 | RBC Wealth Management


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Millennial investors in the U.S. say growing their wealth is a top priority. Here are four tips for getting started with a wealth plan.

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In the first few years of your career, creating a spending plan may feel like a foreign concept. Who wants to think about a wealth plan when you've just outgrown a shoebox dorm room? What was it all for if not to earn money and spend it how you'd like?

That's a sentiment Matt Kassera, CFP®, and product manager for the Advice & Solutions group at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., understands.

“It seems like once you start talking about planning, that's how you have to live,” says Kassera, who considers himself a part of the older shoulder of Millennials — a generation roughly defined as those born between 1981 and 1999.

Kassera says he suspects that's why Millennials - a demographic accustomed to change — may not think they need a financial plan. For that reason, when he's working with young professionals just starting to amass their wealth, Kassera tries to approach the conversation in a more open-ended fashion.

“Life is going to continue to change,” says Kassera. “What's important to you at 22 is going to be different than what's important to you at 32 or 42 or 52 ... if making the most out of the time you have today is what's most important to you, that's where you have to begin.”

According to a 2019 survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), commissioned by RBC Wealth Management, 61 percent of young professionals say the cost of living is a top concern around creating, preserving or managing their wealth.

The New wealth rising survey, which targets high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs), adult children of HNWIs and high-earning professionals across the U.S., Canada, UK, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, explores the shifting landscape of global wealth. It looks at where wealth will be, what it will be invested in, how it will be invested and who is investing.

Millennial investors in the U.S. say growing their wealth is a top priority (59 percent), while 82 percent of young professionals believe they have enough time to accumulate significant wealth.

When first putting pen to paper, young professionals should think of a financial plan as a cushion, rather than a rigid framework for finances. For example, it might be a way to enable you to take a trip to Europe while saving for the business you're hoping to launch.

A wealth plan should be malleable, though there are elements that need to be in place to make it effective, says Angie O'Leary, head of wealth planning at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., who breaks a plan down into four pillars: an emergency fund (consisting of at least three months of savings), debt management, future savings, and expenses. In other words, "the key things (you) need to be thinking about," she says.

Here are four tips for getting started:

1. Divorce your debt

Debt is something Millennials have become well-acquainted with. According to the New York Federal Reserve, this generation carries $1 trillion in debt. But it's not due to home ownership or credit cards — a separate report by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank found that Millennial mortgage debt is about 15 percent lower than Generation X, and Millennial credit card debt is only two-thirds that of the previous generation. Student loans, on the other hand, are 300 percent higher for Millennials, due in large part to the rising cost of education.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, the average undergraduate tuition and fees at private schools can be above $50,000 — the University of Chicago, for example, is $55,000 per year. Graduate degrees carry higher costs. Obtaining an MBA at the University of Chicago costs $72,000 per year.

HNW families, who often don't qualify for financial aid, aren't immune to the cost of getting a degree. And as a result, the high levels of student loan debt are delaying further wealth accumulation, O'Leary says.

“Eighteen years is the average length of a student loan payoff,” she says. “Because of that, we're seeing a big shift in the latency of wealth created through buying homes, investing outside of retirement accounts and the savings rate in retirement accounts compared to the Boomers.”

She recommends having a plan to pay off student debt at a reasonable rate while being cognizant of the interest and one's ability to set aside savings. “Do a little bit of both, and maybe early on you're tilting more towards paying off the debt," she says. “And then as your salary increases a couple of times you can tilt it the other way.”

High-interest debt, though, should be prioritized, says Kassera. He points to “predatory lending practices” on college campuses, where firms seek out students and give them access to credit at 18 “before they've ever been trained on how quickly that can add up.”

According to the New wealth rising survey, 31 percent of Millennial investors in the U.S. say minimizing their reliance on debt is a priority for their investment strategy.

2. Save for the future (both near and far)

As Millennials begin their wealth journey, both short- and long-term goals can play an equally important role, Kassera says.

“It's really important to have that long-term goal ... something you think about,” he says, adding that he also sees value in “small steps that you need to take in order to be able to achieve that long-term outcome.”

Having goals helps to clarify some of the abstractions that come with saving for major financial milestones, such as buying your first car, purchasing a home, getting married, having a child and retiring.

“I think some of the fear with folks defining what's important to them and trying to even think about retirement is it's so far away — it feels like an illusion,” says Kassera.

401(k) retirement plans and Roth IRAs are a prime example of how savings can grow.

“Don't look at it for the first year if you can - put it in something that's going to be rebalanced regularly,” says Kassera. Then, over time, "you can see how quickly your savings can build up."

3. Manage your expenses

For Millennials, one of the largest expenses can be related to health care. According to the 2017 U.S. Census, Millennials in the 26 to 34 range were the least likely to have medical insurance among working-age adults.

It's common for adult kids to stay on their parent's health insurance until they're 26. But even if you fall into that category and have your insurance covered by your parents, it's still a good idea to plan ahead for when your health insurance becomes your responsibility.

“Getting ahead and planning for that is super important,” O'Leary says, pointing to Health Savings Accounts (HSA), tax-advantaged medical savings accounts, as a tool that can help prepare for future medical expenses.

“It's a triple tax benefit, so you fund it pre-tax, it grows tax-deferred and when you spend it on health care and retirement it's tax-free,” says O'Leary. “If you can afford to save in this HSA and actually cashflow your medical expenses, it's an awesome savings account."

HSAs may only be attached to high-deductible insurance plans, which means what you pay every year could be more than the other plans. But Kassera points out that it has the added bonus of reducing your taxable income. “(And) also build those savings for any unforeseen medical event in the future,” he adds.

4. Review your plan

As your wealth evolves, Kassera recommends revisiting your plan at least annually to keep pace with changing priorities and life's milestones. You also want to make sure you're saving for the right things, he adds.

Kassera says he often tells young professionals they've earned the ability to live where they want and join a high-end gym. “But here's what you need to do to ensure you can take that dream trip to Europe next year,” he adds.

Because a plan should enable you to live your life, not impede it.

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Wealth planning