Gen Y's $2 Million Retirement Price Tag

Twentysomethings will need to save much more than their parents did for retirement.

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Retirement won't be impossible for Generations X and Y, but they will need to save considerably more than the baby boomers to make up for less employer and government help. Fewer young people have access to generous retirement benefits, including traditional pensions and retiree health insurance. And anyone born in 1960 or later must wait an extra year, until age 67, to claim the full amount of Social Security they are entitled to. Those who claim at the same age their parents did will get less. Here are some ways 20- and 30-somethings can get on track to retire comfortably.

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Set a worthy goal. In a 2010 survey of 226 registered investment advisors commissioned by Scottrade Advisor Services, more than three–quarters (77 percent) suggested a retirement savings goal of at least $2 million for members of Generation Y, defined by the study to include those ages 18 to 26. Sixty-eight percent of the investment advisers said members of Generation X should also aim to save more than $2 million. "For a generation Y person who thinks she wants to retire at around age 70 who is going to have slightly above-average annual expenses, $2 million is probably the right number," says Michael Farr, president of the Washington, D.C., investment firm Farr, Miller, & Washington and author of A Million Is Not Enough: How to Retire With the Money You'll Need. But he cautions, "Most people who have high incomes and the ability to set aside $2 million will likely have more expensive lifestyles."

However, other studies have found that young people may be able to get by on less in retirement. Human resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt calculated that Generation Y workers, who it defines as people ages 18 to 30, will need 18.7 times their final pay for retirement, including Social Security, traditional pension plans, and personal savings, to maintain their current standard of living after retirement at age 65. For someone whose final salary is $75,000, that's just over $1.4 million, and Social Security will provide part of that. For Generation Xers ages 31 to 45, Aon Hewitt estimates they will need 16.1 times their final salary to pay for retirement. "A higher earner will probably continue to spend more in retirement," says Janet Tyler Johnson, a certified financial planner and president of JATAJ Wealth Management in Fitchburg, Wis. "It's really dependent on how much you need in retirement."

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Take advantage of employer help. Getting to $2 million will take some effort, even if you start saving early. A 25-year-old will need to save about $7,405 annually, or $142 per week, to get there over 40 years, assuming an 8 percent annual return. Retirement account contributions from your employer will make it much easier to hit your retirement savings goal. If your employer matches your 401(k) contributions with $2,000 per year, you'll only need to save $104 per week to have $2 million by age 65, again assuming an 8 percent annual return. (These industries have the best 401(k) matches.)

Control costs. Minimizing investment fees and expenses will help you to grow your nest egg faster. That's because high expense ratios on mutual funds can have serious drag on your long-term returns. Getting a 7 percent annual return instead of 8 percent over a 40-year career (because you are paying 1 percent in yearly fees) means you will need to save $2,255 more per year to still hit $2 million by age 65. Index funds generally charge much less in annual fees than actively managed mutual funds. "If I didn't manage my own money, I would buy a S&P 500 index fund because it is low cost," says Farr.

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Get a Roth IRA or 401(k). Roth 401(k)s and IRAs allow young people, who are likely to be in a low tax bracket, to pre-pay taxes on their retirement savings. "Young folks are in a lower tax bracket now than they will be in the future, including when they begin to tap into their retirement savings," says Joe Alfonso, a certified financial planner for Aegis Financial Advisory in Lake Oswego, Ore. "You're giving up the current tax deduction, but you are basically getting tax-free retirement income that would otherwise be taxable in the future." Once your contribution is made with after-tax dollars, that money can continue to grow for the rest of your life without the drag of taxes. If you wait until age 59½ to withdraw the money, you won't have to pay taxes on any of the growth.