Many people have suffered from deteriorating financial situations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Millennials have been hit particularly hard considering they have faced financial issues for several years. For many individuals in this generation, the pandemic has made it nearly impossible to reach financial goals and plan for the future.
According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of younger Americans said COVID-19 was more of a threat to their finances than their health. Millennials have also faced more pay cuts and terminations than any other generation, according to Advisor Authority. Moreover, this generation is more likely to have added pressures of caring for a family member or friend.
While the situation may seem dire, millennials can take several steps to take charge of their personal finances. Five key tips for this generation include the following:
1. Make the most of tax deferrals.
Millennials have decades before they retire, which means they can benefit the most from tax-deferred compounding. By taking advantage of tax deferrals, such as through a 401(k) or similar retirement savings account, millennials simultaneously lower their tax bill and increase the amount they will have down the road by an exponential amount.
The best way to do this is by contributing as much as possible to any qualified tax plan offered through an employer. It’s crucial to pay attention to any fees and other expenses, as every percentage point and dollar is important. It’s also smart to take advantage of any employer-offered match, even if it means making cuts elsewhere. If they max out their 401(k), then they can consider traditional or Roth IRAs.
2. Create and stick to a monthly budget.
Since people are spending more time at home, it is easy to make purchases with the click of a button and drive spending without realizing it. But it is more important than ever before to track spending and stay within a budget.
If they haven’t already, millennials will need to rebalance their budget in light of the pandemic. Since they are likely spending less on dining out and entertainment, the extra money should be put into savings rather than splurged on things like at-home comforts, at least to some extent.
Marketing and social media traps can have people spending more money than they intend, potentially eating away at their savings. Millennials, in particular, should pay attention to streaming services and other monthly costs to make sure they are not wasting money. If they do not regularly use a service, they should cancel it and direct that money to the bank.
3. Seek out some professional help.
For many millennials, the pandemic was a financial wake-up call that showed them they need help managing their money and investments. Millennials can work with a financial advisor or another financial professional to help them create realistic budgets and set achievable goals, as well as get direction on how they can pivot in the future as their financial situations change.
When looking for a trusted advisor, friends, family members, and even banks are great resources for recommendations. Before hiring anyone, however, millennials should ensure the best fit by doing their due diligence—this includes everything from the advisor’s fees to their background. Many advisors work on a sliding scale, as well.
4. Stay in contact with lenders.
Many companies and institutions have implemented hardship programs designed for people struggling due to the pandemic. For instance, lenders may reduce interest rates or approve a temporary payment deferral.
Even if they can make payments, it may make sense for millennials to take advantage of these programs and save some money in case of an emergency, potentially keeping them from going into more debt.
The other thing to remember is that interest rates are extremely low right now. Millennials may want to consider refinancing their private student loans or moving credit card debt to an account with a lower interest rate. Those with mortgages may also benefit from refinancing. With these deals, it is always important to consider the fees involved before making a final decision.
5. Take a long-term approach.
Because millennials are largely saving for the future, they are in a unique position to take on a lot of market risk. This risk comes with the potential for greater gains; plus, time provides the luxury of recovery if they lose money in the market. Staying invested in the market has historically produced the best long-term results even if the numbers are alarming in the short term. Millennials should focus more on building a solid, diversified portfolio than the actual value of their investments.
Millennials who are in a good position financially despite the pandemic may want to consider some of the more unique approaches to building wealth, such as an annuity. This investment is a long-term, tax-deferred vehicle for retirement savings. In the years leading up to retirement, annuities protect against market downturns while taking advantage of gains. Annuities provide guaranteed income in retirement, much like a pension.