How to Invest in Your 20s
What Is Investing?
If you are in your 20s, investing may not yet feature at the top of your priority list. As well as lacking the excitement of other spending options, the landscape of financial investing may seem complex and overwhelming.
Your 20s are, however, an excellent time to start building an investment portfolio to provide maximum returns over your lifetime.
The good news is that you are likely already investing in your future. If you have a savings account (such as an ISA) or have opted into a pension scheme, you are already making low-risk investments.
There is, however, opportunity to expand your investments – and their returns – through acquiring other financial assets.
Diversifying your investment portfolio through stocks, other equity investments such as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), bonds and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) will likely help you to reach your long-term financial goals.
Higher-risk investing can be more profitable than saving your money in a traditional savings account - particularly if the interest you are gaining on the account is low, as is unfortunately the case with most.
Even if you are earning a modest salary, investing is possible, as there are viable options available for all income brackets. Through making smart and informed investment decisions you can optimize your money – and it is never too late to begin.
Why Should You Start Investing in Your 20s?
The earlier you expand your education on financial planning and investment opportunities, the more confident you will feel in handling your finances effectively.
Gaining knowledge on appropriate investments gives you the chance to optimize your finances – balancing return and security.
The generation now in their 20s have been hit hard financially. Recession, student fee hikes and now the global pandemic have left many young people feeling overwhelmed about their financial futures. The good news is that investing in your 20s gives you time to grow your capital and support your future self and family.
Thanks to compound interest, you will earn interest on both your initial principal investment and the accumulated interest from previous periods. Compound interest results in faster growth than simple interest, which is a fixed amount calculated from the value of the principal.
This means that time in the market is an important factor in generating returns – and when you’re in your 20s, you have time on your side.
While it is prudent to do your research and gain knowledge on investing, it has become increasingly accessible in recent years. Thankfully, you don’t need to know every technical detail to get started.
How to Start Investing in Your 20s
Investing in your 20s may seem overwhelming, particularly if you have not focused much on your personal financial planning until now. Fear not, however, as there are small steps you can take to improve the health of your finances over the long term.
Create Financial Goals
The first stage of managing your finances is to identify your own financial goals over the short, mid and long term.
To identify and set these goals, consider the savings you have and what purpose(s) you would like to put your money towards. Decide how and when you plan to use the money, as this will be important when deciding how to invest your funds.
Examples of common financial goals may be to create an emergency fund, save a deposit for your first home or to get your retirement savings on track.
Earmarking money for an emergency fund is a good first goal, as it ensures you are protected in the event of a change of circumstances – such as having to leave your current job. A financial buffer of around three to six months of rent and living expenses is recommended.
Maintaining this fund should always take priority over debt repayments or additional investing. You will also need to adjust your fund accordingly, so it reflects any changes to your cost of living (such as supporting a partner or child).
Saving for an emergency fund or to book a trip away within the year is a short-term goal. Putting money away for a house deposit or for raising a family is likely a mid-term goal when you are in your 20s. In contrast, having adequate retirement savings is a long-term goal.
While separating out your goals according to temporality is useful to form your financial plan, it is important that you seek to save for these goals in tandem. While some may take priority, the key to generating the returns to meet your long-term goals is both the diversity of your portfolio, and the time spent generating wealth.
Open a Retirement Plan
Although retirement may seem distant when you are in your 20s, saving for retirement early is not just prudent, but essential. Choosing a retirement plan and making regular deposits will help to guarantee a comfortable lifestyle in your 70s and beyond.
There are several different types of retirement plan available:
This is the retirement plan offered by most companies. With this arrangement, employers are required to make contributions to your pension each month, to supplement the contributions you make as an employee. For example, you may make a 6% pension contribution, to which your company adds an extra 3%.
You have the flexibility to select your contribution amount, up to a certain limit. For an individual below the age of 50, the contribution limit for 2021 is $19,500. Note that increasing your contribution early on, if possible, will significantly boost your pension pot over the long term.
The amount an employer contributes to your pension can vary – with most offering to match 50% of contributions up to 5% of your salary. If this is the case, the more you can put into your pension account each month, the more money you will receive from your employer (up to the 5% limit).
Your 401(k) contributions are taken from your monthly paycheck before taxes, so you receive a tax break in the year you make the contributions, and any earnings amass tax deferred.
If you leave your job, a rollover IRA allows you to transfer the money in your 401(k) to a protected, tax-sheltered account.
Employees tend to be automatically opted into their workplace 401(k) plan. It is worth checking that you have been opted into yours and confirming the contribution you are making.
After research, you may wish to follow your company’s procedures to select an alternative 401(k) plan, but always ensure you have an active pension plan to make the most of employer pension contributions.
Individuals who work within a non-profit organization or a government agency will be eligible for a 403(b) plan, instead of a 401(k). It works in the same way.
A traditional Individual Retirement Account, or IRA, is similar to a 401(k). You don’t pay income tax on your contributions but are instead taxed upon withdrawal once you reach retirement age.
If you do not have a workplace 401(k), a traditional IRA is a sensible option. You can save up to a limit of $6,000 in the 2021 tax year (providing you are not receiving pension cover from work).
A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA is designed for small business owners and the self-employed. Business owners use SEP IRAs to provide pensions for themselves and/or their employees. For self-employed individuals with no staff, there are no major administration costs.
The contribution limits for a SEP IRA are higher than those of the traditional IRA or 401(k), with contributions allowed up to $58,000 for 2021.
Alternatively, you may wish to start a Self-Employed 401(k)/Solo 401(k), which is a similar but newer type of plan. Contributions (up to a set limit) are made with pre-tax dollars and grow tax-free until they are withdrawn during retirement.
With a Roth IRA, instead of receiving tax deductions upon making contributions, making a qualified withdrawal (and therefore the growth of the account) is tax-free.
As you will have already paid tax on the money filling your Roth IRA come retirement, this plan can be beneficial for individuals currently in low tax brackets who foresee wealth and spending growth in their future. You won’t pay income tax or capital gains tax on the money, regardless of its growth by the time you reach retirement.
Like a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA has a contribution limit of $6,000 for 2021. Unlike the traditional IRA, however, a Roth IRA is subject to income limits. If you earn above $140,000 (for single tax filers) or $208,000 (for joint tax filers), you will not be eligible.
The Roth 401(k) is a new type of retirement plan, which has the benefits of the Roth IRA as it is funded with after-tax dollars. It is offered by your employer, like a 401(k), and has the same contribution limits.
Regardless of the plan you have, the golden rule is – regardless of external circumstances – never stop contributing to your retirement plan.
Create a Savings Plan
To keep track of – and maximize - your monthly and annual savings, create a personal savings plan.
While you may not be able to save a lot each month, making a start (however small) is the first step towards taking control of your finances and planning for your future.
Consider your earnings (after tax and deductions) and review your expenses (including rent, food, utilities and costs for leisure and socializing). Decide upon a baseline amount you could comfortably save each month.
It is good practice to set up a standing order to transfer this amount automatically to your savings account. This will ensure you make monthly deposits into your savings and cannot be tempted to spend the money.
If in doubt, always have the highest amount of money possible going into your savings. You can easily make a transfer if you find you need the money, but will think twice about any unnecessary purchases that take you over budget.
Develop Financial Discipline
Reaching your financial goals may take a shift in mindset. Building restraint into your financial handling is a practice that can quickly become habit, improving your savings rate.
Financial discipline involves investing for mid- and long-term goals over the gratification of immediate spending. While it can be hard to save on the lower-end-of-the-spectrum paycheck familiar to most twentysomethings establishing their careers, it really does pay to avoid unnecessary expenses.
It is likely possible to make small adjustments to your daily routine and habits that will have a positive impact. For example, simply taking a packed lunch to work most days and switching your morning café coffee for a flask from home could save you upwards of $50 a week (likely more in city centers).
Remember, though, that the parameters of your financial discipline need to be realistic to be successful. Allow yourself the occasional treat, such as lunch from that tempting farmers’ market. Spending a little in a regular, measured amount is much better than the binge spending that unrealistic goals can trigger.
Decide Where to Put Your Money
When thinking about where to place your hard-earned money, think about your financial plan and the short-, mid- and long-term goals within it. You will need to place your money into accounts or investments (such as stocks, bonds or funds) that fit with your personal financial timeline.
Note that it is sensible to diversify your investments – and place your money in different mediums depending upon its end purpose. For the best return, do not keep all your savings in a single account or investment. If that is your current arrangement, the following will help you to understand more about the type of investments that may suit you.
Money that serves your immediate needs, such as living expenses like food, utilities and rent, should be kept in a checking account so it can be withdrawn on a regular basis. It is also good practice to have a buffer amount in the account, to prevent you from entering your overdraft – and potentially incurring costs – in the case of an unforeseen expense.
Savings for your short-term goals (aka money you plan to spend within the year) should also always be kept in cash. So should your emergency fund, so it is available if/when you require it.
Funds for mid-term goals, such as traveling, a wedding or a house deposit can be kept in a savings account. While it is right to seek the account with the highest yield, consider carefully when you will need access to the funds.
If you plan on spending the funds within the next year, you will want flexibility in terms of withdrawal. If you are a way away from making these commitments, you can afford to use a different approach.
Note that online banks sometimes offer a higher interest rate than traditional high street banks, due to their lack of overheads, so it is worth shopping around. While it is temptingly easy to open a savings account with the bank you have a checking account with, make sure you are not missing out on a better deal elsewhere.
Placing a portion of your savings into a long-term, high yield savings account may be a beneficial move. You will likely be able to secure a higher interest rate on your savings if you place them into an account with restricted access.
Think carefully about your timeline and need before putting large amounts of money in an account of this kind, however, as you will not be able to make free withdrawals until a set period has elapsed. As well as withdrawal limits or penalties, there may also be a monthly account fee.
Another option is a Certificate of Deposit (CD). CDs are time limited, earning interest on your deposit over a set period of time. Once the CD expires, you can withdraw your money and the interest accrued.
CDs range in term from 30 days to 10 years, with longer CD terms usually corresponding to higher interest rates and greater annual percentage yield (APY).
Be aware, though, that CDs tend to have significant penalties for early withdrawal. You may also be charged a percentage of the interest if money is extracted early. Think carefully about whether you can confidently do without accessing any money you choose to invest in CD accounts to avoid penalties.
Mid- and long-term funds that you will not access for at least five years can be placed in stocks and bonds. As a rule, do not place any funds you may use within the next five years in the market, as it can be volatile. This protects against the negative impact of losses that may need time to recover.
Money for long-term goals, such as your children’s college tuition or your retirement can be held in plans that provide tax benefits. Your retirement funds should be protected in a retirement plan, as discussed above.
A 529 savings account is a vehicle in which to invest funds for a qualified beneficiary (such as a child or grandchild), which can be withdrawn tax-free for use against qualified education. If you are in your 20s and are considering continuing your education in the future, you can also set up a 529 account for your own use, as well as one for your child.
A Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) works in a similar fashion but has a contribution cap of $2,000 a year (up to the beneficiary’s 18th birthday) and withdrawal rules, as it must be withdrawn before the beneficiary turns 30.
Education savings contributions are non-deductible but will grow through tax deferment.
What Can You Invest In?
When it comes to higher-risk investing in your 20s, knowing and understanding the options available to you is key to lucrative decision-making.
The different options below will vary in suitability according to the volume of funds you have and your attitude towards risk. It is important to calculate your risk tolerance before deciding upon your investment strategy.
All investment involves a balance of risk and reward. As a rule, you should only invest money you do not intend to spend for at least a decade in higher-risk assets, due to their volatility. This volatility does, however, come with an increased earning potential.
Always research any financial product or investment opportunity in detail before proceeding to invest your money.
Invest in Bonds
A bond is a debt investment and represents a loan made by an investor to a borrower. It is a fixed income instrument, with the money in the bond loaned for a fixed amount of time. The return on your investment is the interest paid by the borrower over that period.
The details of the bond will include when the principal of the loan is due and the terms for variable or fixed interest payments. If you have invested in a bond, you do not have to hold it until it reaches maturity. You can sell the bond at any time.
Treasury bonds are backed by the US government, while corporate bonds are issued by companies and municipal bonds by state and local governments. Bundles of mortgages or other financial assets are available as mortgage- or asset-backed bonds.
Bonds are considered less risky than stock investments because they are a contract with a stated rate of return. Government bonds are considered the safest bond investment as there is little to no chance of the issuer going bankrupt.
Invest in Stocks
Stocks are equity investments and represent ownership of a portion of a publicly traded company.
Returns are gained as the value of the stock increases over time, known as capital appreciation. To reap the benefits of the company becoming more profitable, you must sell your stock for more than you paid for it.
Money may also be earned through dividends – when the company periodically pays out money to shareholders. Dividends may also take the form of additional stock shares. Not all stocks pay dividends but, if you are comparing company stocks that do pay dividends, look at the earnings per share (EPS) to select the best investment. Note that the EPS will differ substantially across sectors.
The stock market is volatile, with prices fluctuating according to supply, demand and external market forces. This means there is the chance for high returns, but also significant losses. Due to the risk stocks carry, your investment portfolio should not rely upon stocks alone, but be diversified with other asset classes to decrease your risk.
Stocks do, however, offer great earning potential and are easy to buy and sell through a brokerage account. Investing in stocks in your 20s increases the chances of high long-term return.
Terminology Check: Stocks and Shares
The terms “stock” and “share” are often used interchangeably, which can cause confusion if you are new to investing. While there is a minor distinction, they tend to be used to refer to the same thing.
Equity stock in a firm is represented by shares. When you invest in “stocks”, you are technically investing in shares of a company's stock.
In common parlance, the term “stocks” tends to be used when referring to investments across companies, whereas “shares” tends to refer to ownership of a particular company.
Invest in Exchange Traded Funds
An Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) is a basket of securities that can be traded on a stock exchange. It is composed of multiple assets, such as stocks, bonds or commodities – and may contain a mixture of different investment types. ETFs track indexes, commodity prices or other assets.
ETFs are popular as they offer exposure to different asset classes and provide diversification. They are also cost-effective, as they have low expense ratios (the cost to operate and manage the fund) and involve fewer broker commissions than purchasing individual stocks.
They are considered to be more cost-effective than mutual funds and have higher liquidity.
ETFs may be actively or passively managed. Actively managed funds will have a higher expense ratio, so ensure you assess the extra cost against the rate of return.
Types of ETF include bond ETFs, industry ETFs, commodity ETFs, currency ETFs and inverse ETFs (that earn through shorting stocks).
You may also wish to invest in index funds. An index fund is a type of mutual or exchange traded fund that has a portfolio constructed to match or track the financial market index (such as the S&P 500 index). They have low operating costs, provide broad market exposure and match the risk and return of the market.
Target Date Funds are another option for retirement savings. They use an asset allocation formula based around retirement in a certain year, adjusting the strategy as it approaches.
Invest in Commodities
Traded commodities come in four categories: metals, energy, livestock and agricultural products. Investment in commodities is made through futures contracts, options or exchange-traded funds.
The futures markets for commodities are particularly volatile as the supply and demand for commodities is greatly impacted by unpredictable external factors such as weather, natural or man-made disasters and epidemics, alongside technological and manufacturing developments.
Commodities can, however, be a good way of diversifying your investment portfolio. Also, as commodity prices commonly move in opposition to stock prices, commodity investment can offer protection against the volatility of the stock market.
Invest in a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)
A REIT, or Real Estate Investment Trust, is an equity investment consisting of bundled real estate assets. The trust itself is a company that owns, operates or finances property that generates an income.
Modeled on a mutual fund, a REIT pools the funds of multiple investors who gain returns without having to buy or manage property. A REIT is a liquid form of property investment, as it is publicly traded like a stock on major securities exchanges.
REITs generate income for investors through dividends, but do not offer much in the form of capital appreciation.
Equity REITs, which own real estate and generate income through rents (rather than reselling), are the most common. They invest in commercial as well as residential property.
Mortgage REITs hold mortgages, or mortgage-backed securities, on real property. Mortgage REITs make money on the net interest margin (NIM) and are therefore sensitive to interest rate changes.
REITs make investment in property feasible for a larger number of young people, as minimum investment limits as low as $1,000 are offered.
Invest in Cryptocurrencies
Cryptocurrency is online, digital currency – the most popular form being Bitcoin . There is no third party involved in trading cryptocurrency, with users making a direct financial exchange themselves. It can be bought and sold on cryptocurrency exchanges.
Investments in these digital assets are risky but diversifying your cryptocurrency portfolio spreads your risk. Cryptocurrency is not yet a fully regulated financial product but offers exciting potential for growth – with many believing it will play an increasing role in the future of finance.
Invest in Fractional Shares
If you cannot afford to invest in full shares, investing in fractional shares is an alternative option. These are portions of shares, which can be purchased for a lower price. They allow investors to acquire equity in a company, even though its share price is currently out of reach.
Stock splits often result in the creation of fractional shares, as do mergers and acquisitions, as common stock is combined using a set ratio. Fractional shares are also formed through dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs), the reinvestment of capital gains distributions and through dollar-cost averaging (DCA) programs.
You can only trade fractional shares through a brokerage, as they do not trade on the open market.
Note, though, that not all brokers will allow you to invest in fractional shares. If the approach is of interest, check the provisions before you select a brokerage account.
Although they make for affordable investments, selling fractional shares can be trickier than parting with complete shares. Demand for fractional shares is lower, so brokers seek to combine them to form a whole share.
If you find investing daunting or lack the time to manage your portfolio, using a robo-advisor may be beneficial. Robo-advisors are automated, digital platforms that provide investment services.
They can create your investment portfolio, strategically diversifying your investments through bonds, funds, stocks and REITs. They also manage this portfolio for you – balancing the risk, reinvesting any dividends and minimizing your taxable gains.
You can also use a robo-advisor for handling your retirement IRA.
Buy Your Own Home
If you are in your 20s, purchasing your own home is likely one of your personal goals. Investing in property allows you to build equity as you pay off your mortgage and house prices increase.
Buying a home means the money you put towards accommodation each month contributes to paying your mortgage, rather than lining the pockets of your landlord. The issue around home ownership is, however, that the large deposit needed to secure a mortgage on a property can be prohibitive for young people.
If you have enough money for a deposit and purchasing a home fits with your career and personal situation, buying your own home is a solid choice of investment.
Investing in your 20s is a practical and constructive step you can make towards your financial future. With the benefits of compound interest, investing is the best way to see a substantial return upon your hard-earned savings – and reach your long-term financial goals.
It is, however, important to understand the risks involved in different types of investment, and to invest at your own pace. It is sensible to be cautious until you gain a familiarity with higher-risk investments, and essential to diversify your portfolio to protect against losses and accrue the highest gains.
WikiJob does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.