“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m upending this column’s usual question-and-answer format and posing a question of my own to the experts this week. In a couple of days, I turn 30. Besides pondering the existential stuff (Am I where I thought I’d be? Did I wear enough crop tops when I was 22?), I want to know this: What should I focus on financially in the coming decade?
Here are four tips for embracing financial adulthood.
STEP UP RETIREMENT SAVINGS
If you heeded advice to start saving for retirement in your 20s, look for ways now to kick it up a notch.
“If you’re just dabbling in retirement savings in your 20s, you should be maxing out by your 30s,” says Bobbi Rebell, the author of “How to Be a Financial Grownup.”
You can contribute up to $18,000 a year to a workplace plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b). If that feels unattainable, contribute at least as much as your company’s match, if offered.
Try a Roth individual retirement account if you don’t have a workplace retirement plan, or the plan has limited investment options or high fees. You can save up to $5,500 a year in a Roth IRA if you’re single and earn less than $118,000 in modified adjusted gross income. Married? The income limit is $186,000 for joint filers contributing the maximum to a Roth.
If you earn more, you can contribute a reduced amount. Or save $5,500 a year in a traditional IRA instead. Those contributions are tax-deductible now, whereas you pay taxes upfront on your Roth contributions.
WRAP UP OUTSTANDING DEBT
No house or kids yet? Those delightful but money-sucking milestones might be around the corner. Think child care, college savings, a car upgrade and home maintenance. You’ll also need life insurance when you have children and homeowners insurance when you own property.
Rebell recommends getting rid of other debt before your family expenses mount. Use portions of bonuses or tax refunds to pay off your high-interest credit cards or student loan debt. If you have good credit and a solid income, you may be able to refinance student loans to get a lower interest rate.
STREAMLINE YOUR FINANCES
Now is the time to automate your financial life, including setting up recurring transfers to a savings account and putting your bills on autopay. Additional family responsibilities and moving up the career ladder might limit the time available in your 30s to track bills and expenses.
“You’re not going to have more time to devote to all this stuff,” says Cristina Guglielmetti, a certified financial planner and owner of Future Perfect Planning in Brooklyn, N.Y. “So keep things as simple as possible.”
Consider using an automated investment adviser for your Roth IRA, which will pick investments for you based on your risk tolerance and rebalance them as you age. Look into rolling over old workplace retirement accounts to a single IRA, which means fewer statements and, potentially, lower fees than a 401(k).
CHECK ON YOUR PARENTS’ FINANCIAL HEALTH
As an ultimate sign of being a grown-up, you can talk to your parents about whether they are on track to meet their retirement savings goals. The discussion may be uncomfortable, but you should figure out whether they’re counting on your financial help in the future. An analysis by Fidelity, a financial services company, says people should aim to have savings of at least 10 times their salary by age 67. A retirement calculator can offer them a more customized target.
Long-term care insurance also should be on your parents’ radar, Rebell says. It will help pay for at-home assistance with daily activities or residency in a nursing facility if needed. Premiums increase as people age, so they should buy long-term care insurance by their early to mid-50s, AARP recommends. But such policies are expensive, and your parents’ premiums may increase.
For help with these potentially difficult conversations, consider paying a fee-only financial planner to meet with your parents for a one-time checkup. Your parents can weigh retirement savings and long-term care options, and you can pay them back for helping you get to 30.