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The Journey: Millennials think too narrowly about benefits, especially retirement contributions

Janet Kidd Stewart, Tribune News Service on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Asked to name their highest priority benefits for a new job, more than half of millennials in a new survey ranked health insurance highly. Just 36% included a company retirement plan match in their top three.

This, despite the existence of a federal health insurance marketplace that guarantees coverage and offers subsidies for lower income workers.

While it's understandable that young adults on limited budgets would value anything that helps them get ahead today -- many of them are strapped with onerous student loan debt -- it's also an ominous sign for their long-term futures, said Gregory Anton, chairman of a financial literacy commission within the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).

"A mentality of 'I'll start saving when I get a bit older' often results in retirement savings being put on the back burner," he said in announcing the survey. "Time is an asset, and those just starting their career are in a prime position to take advantage of it."

The survey of adults between 18 and 34 years old identified a group of millennials who graduated within the last 24 months or will graduate within the next year and are looking for jobs. Nearly two-thirds of them had student loan debt, with an average debt load of $33,332. That's a lot of dough, particularly for recent graduates, but at the averages it's still manageable on most grads' starting salaries.

Asked about a hypothetical $100 that their prospective employers would pay in benefits, respondents overwhelmingly valued employers paying off their student loans. They would assign $65 to student loan forgiveness and just $35 to a company 401(k) match.


Paid time off and working remotely also figured higher on the priority list than retirement funds, AICPA found.

To be sure, there is value in paying off loans. There even is value in alleviating some stress in the workplace by enhancing work flexibility and vacation time.

But what's clearly overlooked is the value of compounded savings and what it can do for workers over the course of their careers.

Consider the old game of asking someone if they'd like $1 million, or 1 penny, doubled every day for a month. Doubling just a penny every day for 30 days, results in $5.3 million.


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