Gen Z Needs Opportunity to Save for More Than Just Retirement

Gen Zers likely had a great start to saving for retirement, but they are facing near-term financial challenges.

401(k) plans have always existed for Generation Z, and it’s likely that most members of the generation were automatically enrolled in their company’s retirement plan when they were hired. Furthermore, industry experts say Gen Zers are tech savvy and are conscious of their futures—most begin saving for retirement as soon as they start their career.

But, despite Gen Z’s potential great start to saving for retirement, it’s worth noting the setbacks this group faces. Aside from rising student loan debt, younger employees are more likely to have less emergency savings than their older counterparts, and they are more likely to be unemployed or laid off, especially in the COVID-19 economy.

Employees are encouraged to save between 12% to 15% of their income a year for retirement, but many Gen Zers are falling off track, says Sandra Pappa, principal consultant at Buck Global LLC. “For that group of employees who may have had to tap into their retirement savings because they were furloughed or took a cut in pay, all of those factors reduced their ability to stay on track with that 12% a year,” she notes. “When those things happened, they have to make up for lost time.”

Dan Keady, chief financial planning strategist for TIAA, says a TIAA survey found that across all age groups, employees are listing paying off debt, saving into an emergency fund and saving for retirement as top priorities. And, Gen Z employees are looking to their employers to assist with their financial futures. “People are looking at their employers, and plans, to provide more than just retirement savings, to be the starting point to really creating financial wellness and getting rid of as much financial fragility as possible,” Keady says.

Pappa points out that some employers offer benefits to help employees with their finances, including student loan debt repayment solutions, after-tax Roth accounts and investment advice.

Chris Keller, a partner at Kingman Financial Group, explains that having a Roth account helps with overall finances because rising tax brackets influence a worker’s retirement savings. “If our taxes are going to go up in the future, we need to pay attention to what the taxes will be on it when we retire,” he says.

In addition, Pappa says some employers offer a Roth account that employees might use as an emergency savings vehicle. Having an account in a 401(k) or 403(b) offers professional oversight and investment management that most employees can’t get on their own on that same level, she adds.

Keller says individual retirement accounts (IRAs), Roth IRAs, fixed-income annuities and life insurance are additional vehicles that can help Gen Zers safeguard their financial futures. Keller recommends Gen Zers look into life insurance in particular because of its growth potential for tax-free income. He suggests that younger employees contribute up to their employer-sponsored match in their defined contribution (DC) retirement plans, and then invest savings into some other assets. Gen Z employees should think about risk in their portfolios, taxes and how their savings would be affected if they have a family one day.

Employers should recognize that Gen Zers grew up in the digital world. A Morningstar study found most Gen Zers use at least one financial app for budgeting, investing or everyday banking, and most use these apps every day. “They want to have budget apps that help them with their cash flow. They want to be able to keep up on their emergency funds and their retirement savings. You’re going to see more of these basics are done through technology,” Keady says.

Despite their dependence on technology, the Morningstar research found Gen Zers trust human interactions with financial advisers more than robo-advisers. Thirty percent reported that they’ve met with an adviser at least once before. It’s likely that despite their tech-savviness, Gen Zers still value the expertise an adviser can offer. “Most don’t have the ability to do the in-depth research,” Pappa says.