For young’uns like us, old age and retirement couldn’t seem farther away. And yet the thing about retirement is it goes way smoother if you prep for it in advance. Which is why all of us—yes, even you fresh-faced recent graduates—need a retirement plan.
The term “retirement plan” itself is a bit misleading. It suggests there’s a singular, one-size-fits-all tool for preparing to live out your sunset years in the lap of luxury. In reality, not only is there no one single retirement savings tool that works for everyone. But most people use multiple “retirement plans.”
Join me, dear readers, as I guide you through an entirely-too-detailed tour of the most common forms of retirement plans. Keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times and please don’t feed the wildlife.
If I had to rank all the things I love to do in my precious free time, where would opening a retirement account fall? Let me see, hmm… Above a root canal, but below politely accepting a religious tract from a door-knocking missionary. What can I say? Some of them have pretty nice artwork!
Have you been procrastinating on opening your retirement account? Feeling lazy? Avoidant? Afraid of the paperwork? Feel like you’d rather use that money on stuff right now? Obviously I feel you.
But buck up, son! I’m about to tell you why you can’t afford not to open a retirement account.
To recap: Americans have access to two main kinds of retirement accounts.
First, a 401(k)—or 403(b), if you work for a nonprofit—is a retirement fund facilitated by your employer. You set it up so they can take money directly out of your paycheck and squirrel it safely away for you to use when you’re terrorizing orderlies in the nursing home. That way you can focus on maintaining your record as Wheelchair Drag Race Champion of Shady Hills Retirement Community and not get distracted by petty financial concerns.
Second, there’s IRAs (individual retirement accounts). IRAs are very similar to 401(k)s, but they’re attached to you directly instead of your employer. There are other differences, but meh, they’re pretty minor. You can get acquainted with the finer points later.
Retirement accounts are powerful tools for growing wealth and stability for your future self. The trick is you have to opt into your retirement account. If you’re self-employed, or you work for a company that doesn’t offer 401(k)s, you need to go out and open your own IRA. And if you work for a company that offers 401(k)s, you need to sign up and voluntarily tell someone to NOT give you part of your paycheck every month.
As broke as you are right now, ignoring a perfectly good retirement fund is a terrible idea. Because if you do that, you’ll lose money in three different ways.