Young investors fear for retirement funds

Published May 30, 2012

FORT LAUDERDALE — The stock market has recently been on a roller coaster — again — with the S&P 500 losing almost 4 percent in the past month. That has made many workers worried about their 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement accounts.

In Charles Schwab's latest nationwide quarterly retirement study, younger workers are especially nervous: 29 percent of those ages 18 to 34 plan to pull money out of the market, compared with only 11 percent of older Americans who say they would do so.

"Most of my friends aren't thinking about (investing) in stocks," said Dan Tobias, 30, an associate financial planner in Plantation.

They don't have much spare cash to invest in retirement or brokerage accounts, he said. They also don't want to risk losing what they do have while they save for a wedding or a first house, added Tobias.

Jenny Rothstein, a Fort Lauderdale financial consultant for Charles Schwab, suggested that younger investors are becoming more risk-averse as many have seen their own parents' retirement savings take hard hits in the past four years.

They have experienced "very volatile times" — and not the boom times of the 1990s when stocks rapidly climbed in value, she said. But in the past 10 years, the S&P 500 has increased only about 2 percent.

Young workers also could want to pull money out of their retirement accounts because they want to buy a house or need the money to pay bills after losing their jobs, Rothstein added.

Overall, the national Schwab study found Americans concerned about protecting their retirement accounts: 35 percent consider that more important than growing their retirement assets. Only 8 percent consider growing their retirement savings more important, the survey found.

Even experienced investors are becoming wary of the declining stock market, with the S&P 500 down about 7 percent from its height in April.

"Investors are particularly frustrated that the European debt situation keeps popping up like dandelions," said Deerfield Beach financial adviser Charles Nichols.

The situation isn't likely to look better in the short term, with Nichols predicting another "dramatic" year.

"We hope it isn't a redo of last year," when stocks plummeted in the summer before regaining their value in the fall, said Boca Raton financial planner Mari Adam.

Still, Tobias thinks he has time on his side and is investing in stocks. "They can sit 30 to 40 years and grow," he said.