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You don’t necessarily need to max out your retirement investments — it depends on how much money you think you’ll need in retirement, and what your other goals are. You can’t easily pull money out of your retirement investments, so if you have goals that are 10 to 15 years away, it might make sense to invest for those in tandem with retirement. In that case, you might not be able to max out your retirement savings.
For 2018, Lowry didn’t max out her SEP IRA contributions, but she invested more than what a 401k would have allowed, since 401ks have lower limits. She feels comfortable with a high level of risk for these investments, since she’s 35 or more years away from retirement. So she invests about 90 percent of her portfolio in index funds.
She and her husband also invest less than 5 percent of their monthly income into taxable investments they may use for a down payment on a house — a long-term goal for them. “It’s a modest sum because we’re focused on paying off my husband’s student loans right now, but I still like to balance in some investing,” she says.
Step 3: Take the plunge
Once you’ve organized your financial life and you’re saving for retirement, you’re poised to start investing on your own. Here’s what to do next:
1. Educate yourself
Lowry says there’s plenty of credible information out there, no matter how you like to consume content — podcasts, books, blogs, magazines, or TV shows.
She thinks the educational portals the brokerages provide are great tools, and you don’t have to be a customer to access them.
“And I say this with a huge caveat — Reddit is always a place to go. The advice is worth exactly what you paid for it, but it’s a good jumping-off point for resources and a variety of opinions,” she says.
2. Decide how much you want to invest
Some funds have minimum initial investments, so if you know you want a certain fund at a certain brokerage, check to see how much money you need to get started.
If you don’t have much money to start with, microinvesting — investing small amounts of money — is an option. But Lowry says to watch out for fees. “A lot of apps only charge $1 a month. That sounds like such a bargain, and frankly it is,” she says. But if you’re only investing a couple of dollars a month, the fees can eat up all your returns. She recommends that you put in at least $25 to $50 a month.
3. Understand fees
“Every dollar you pay in fees is a dollar less that’s compounding for the future,” Lowry says. The expense ratio, for example, is a common fee. But it can range from .04 percent to 1 percent. It’s not necessarily bad to pay a higher fee, but you need to be sure you’re truly getting value out of it.
“I compare prices on different funds to ensure I’m getting the best value for my money,” Lowry says.
4. Do your research
To find the right fit for your investments, ask friends, parents, and coworkers what they recommend, and look at online reviews. From that list, play around with the web sites and apps. “Especially for millennials, the user experience of the site can be make it or break it,” Lowry says. And make sure your investments are secure — look for two-factor authentication.
Make sure whoever is working for you has your best interest in mind. That’s called the fiduciary standard. Another standard, the suitability standard, simply means that investments are suitable for you — they aren’t necessarily the best choices for you.
5. Contact your top choices
“When you’re starting out, the process can feel really intimidating,” Lowry says. “Pick up the phone and call someone who works at the brokerage.” They can talk you through the nitty-gritty like how you’ll connect your bank account to your brokerage account. Plus, it will show you what their customer service is like.
Not sure if investing is right for you?
If you’ve followed all these steps you’ve likely overcome the biggest barrier to investing: fear.
Still, if you’re just not comfortable with investing, that’s okay, Lowry says. She shares something she learned: You don’t have to invest. You just have to understand that when you do invest, your money does the heavy lifting for you. If you don’t invest, you’ll have to save a lot more to meet your goals.
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