5 Biggest Ways Millennials Risk Their Retirements

If you're stressing out about whether or not you're saving enough for retirement, you're not alone. Millennials are among those struggling the most with this dilemma. According to a 2016 study, 64 percent of working millennials believe they'll never save a $1 million nest egg.

Why are millennials so worried? Sadly, this age group is prone to making less-than-ideal money moves that could hurt them later in life. Let's review the five biggest ways in which millennials are risking their retirement. (See also: 4 Things Millennials Should Do Today to Prepare for Retirement)

1. Delaying the start of retirement savings

Nearly four in 10 millennials haven't started saving for retirement. The same 2016 survey found that 61 percent of females and 50 percent of males belonging to the millennial generation have their finances stretched "too thin" to save for retirement. Even worse, 54 percent of women and 43 percent of men of this generation are living paycheck to paycheck.

However, delaying retirement contributions has a serious impact. If a worker were to deposit just $50 per month into a 401(k) with an 8 percent annual rate of return for 10 years, they would end up with around $9,200 at the end of the 10-year period. The IRS sets a cap on how much you can contribute to a retirement account per year, which for 2017, is $18,000 to a 401(k) and $5,500 to an IRA. If you keep delaying your contributions to your retirement accounts, you'll never be able to fully make up that gap.

2. Taking out high student loans

Student Loan Hero estimated the average student loan balance for a member of the Class of 2016 at $37,172, up 6 percent from the year before. With so many Americans still believing in the importance of postsecondary education, it's easy to see how the average student loan continues to climb. Studies have shown that higher education still leads to better earnings potential, after all.

Still, loans are rising too fast. Back in 1993, only 45 percent of college graduates had a student loan and their average balance was $15,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars. By having to pay down a high student loan, millennials are foregoing sizable contributions to their retirement accounts.

Assuming a $30,000 balance on a federal direct loan with a 4 percent interest rate, you would pay about $304 per month. That's $3,648 in missed retirement contributions every year. By the time that a millennial pays back that standard loan (10 years), they would have missed out on $54,259 in retirement savings, assuming an 8 percent annual return.

3. Putting their kids' college fund before their own retirement fund

Given the tough time that they're having paying back their own student loans, 19 percent of millennial parents say education for their children is their top financial priority, according to TD Ameritrade. Those millennial parents are socking away an average $310 every month for their children's college fund.

Every month, these millennial parents are hit with the double whammy of paying down their own student loans and then putting money away for their children's education. No wonder millennial parents ranked saving for retirement third on their list of financial priorities. (See also: Why Saving Too Much Money for a College Fund Is a Bad Idea)

4. Not setting a retirement savings goal

If you don't know where you're going, you'll never know when you get there. According to the Employment Benefit Research Institute, across all generations, workers age 25–34 are the smallest percentage of individuals who have tried to calculate how much money they'll need to live comfortably in retirement.

By not setting a retirement savings goal, millennials may be misjudging how much to contribute from every paycheck toward their retirement accounts. This explains the low average contribution levels per paycheck from millennial men and women — 7.3 and 5.7 percent, respectively. In 2016, 75 percent of workers age 25–34 said their total savings and investments were under $25,000.

5. Accepting a first-job salary offer without negotiation

Faced with a countdown to start paying back student loans, many millennials are so eager to start generating income they skip salary negotiations. According to a survey from NerdWallet and Looksharp, of 8,000 recent grads that entered the job market between 2012 and 2015, only 38 percent negotiated their salary offer from a new employer. The same survey revealed that 74.4 percent of employers had room for a 5 to 10 percent salary bump, 8.6 percent of them had room for a 11 to 20 percent salary bump, and 1.3 percent of them were willing or able to go above 20 percent.

Do millennials skip negotiations over fear of having their job offer retracted? Not really: Close to nine out of 10 employers in the survey had never done such a thing.

Failing to negotiate a starting salary is one of the biggest ways in which millennials are shortchanging their retirement. Let's crunch some numbers to see why. In 2016, The Collegiate Employment Research Institute found that the average starting salary for holders of a bachelor's degree was $41,880. Negotiating a 5 to 10 percent raise on your first-job salary offer would have yielded a starting salary ranging from $43,974 to $46,068. That would have been an extra $2,094 to $4,188 per year, enough to cover six to 13 $304 monthly payments on a $30,000 federal direct loan with a 4 percent interest rate.

Saving for retirement may seem like a big hairy monster, but it doesn't need to be that way. By understanding what's keeping you from starting or saving enough for your retirement, you'll have a better chance of meeting your retirement saving goals. (See also: How to Face 4 Ugly Truths About Retirement Planning)

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