There is no shortage of bad information out there—and falling for some of it can cost you money. It could be other people who steer you in the wrong direction, or it could be the things you tell yourself. Whatever the source, believing these myths could be hazardous to your financial health.
Get the truth behind these bits of financial misinformation.
Myth #1: All debt is bad.
In reality: It's true that carrying a balance on your credit card or a high-interest loan can cost a lot—significantly more than the amount you initially borrowed. But not all debt will hold you back. In fact, certain types of debt, like mortgages and student loans, could help you move forward in life and achieve your personal goals.
They're often thought of as "good" debt because the debt is funding an investment—a home or an education, which can be financially beneficial. The interest rates on mortgages and student loans are typically much lower than those on personal loans or credit cards, and the interest may be tax deductible. Even so-called "bad" debt like using a credit card can be beneficial in some cases. (See Myth #3 below.)
No matter what kind of debt you take on, make sure you shop around for the best rates and never borrow more than you can afford to pay back on time.
Myth #2: It's not worth saving if I can only contribute a small amount.
In reality: If you start early, around age 25, saving 15% of your paycheck—including your employer's match to your 401(k) if you have one—could help you save enough to maintain your current way of life in retirement. It sounds like a lot, but don’t lose your motivation if you can’t save that much.
Save as much as you can while still being able to pay for essentials like rent, bills, and groceries. Think of it this way—running a marathon is an impressive accomplishment, but that doesn't mean a three-mile run isn't worthwhile!
Myth #3: Credit cards should be avoided.
In reality: As long as you pay off your card balance in full each month to avoid interest, making purchases with credit can be worthwhile. Many credit cards offer a rewards program. If you make all your everyday purchases with your card, you could quickly rack up points you can redeem for cash, travel, electronics, or to invest.
Also, demonstrating that you use credit responsibly will help you increase your credit score, making it easier to buy a car or a home later on. It may even earn you a lower interest rate when you borrow in the future.
It can be difficult to dig out of credit card debt, but if you control your spending and pay the card off every month, it could pay you back.
Myth #4: The stock market is too risky for my retirement money.
In reality: It's true that money in a savings account is safe from volatility—unlike money invested in the stock market. But it won't grow much either, given that current interest rates on savings accounts are so low. When it's time to withdraw that money for retirement a few decades from now, your money won't buy as much because of inflation. The stock market, however, has a long history of growth, making it a more appropriate choice for most or part of your savings in the long term.
For instance, for a young person investing for retirement, a diversified investment strategy based on your time horizon and risk tolerance could provide the level of growth you need to achieve your goals. You don't need to invest only in stocks to benefit from stock market growth though. Choosing an investment mix of stocks and adding securities that are less volatile than stocks, such as bond mutual funds or certificates of deposit, can reduce the overall level of risk in your portfolio. That means you won't experience as much volatility in your investment mix as an all-stock portfolio could.
There are a variety of ways to invest. Building a diversified portfolio based on your needs and the length of time you plan to be invested can be as complicated or as simple as you prefer. You can build your own portfolio with mutual funds or exchange-traded funds—or even individual securities.
If you find investing daunting or don't have the time to figure it out just yet, you might consider a robo-advisor or a target-date fund for savings that are earmarked for retirement. With a target-date fund, you pick the fund with the target year closest to when you want to retire. The target-date fund manager selects, monitors, and adjusts the investment mix to match the target retirement date. Whatever gets you into the market and helps you stay there could be better in the long run than procrastinating and suffering the opportunity cost of not being invested.
Myth #5: I'm young, so I don't need to save for retirement now.
In reality: It's tempting to put off preparing for retirement while you work on paying off student loans and saving for a house. These goals feel immediate, while retirement is so far away.
But being young and having time on your side can actually be one of the best reasons to start saving for retirement now. That's because you may not be considering the opportunity cost of not being in the market. Opportunity cost means the missed benefits of the option you didn't choose. For instance, let's say you don't save for retirement at all until you're 35. Instead you save up for a house and pay off your student loans. But you’re not just forgoing 10 years of saving—you're giving up potential compound growth for the entire length of time you’re saving for retirement.
Compounding happens when you earn interest or dividends on your investment. As interest is reinvested, the value of your investment grows—because the value is slightly higher, it earns even more interest, which is then packed into the investment and it grows even more. Over time, the value snowballs. But time is the secret ingredient—if you aren't able to start saving early in your career you may have to save a lot more in order to make up for the value of lost time.
You can start by contributing to your 401(k) or other workplace savings plan. If your employer matches your contributions, make sure you contribute up to the match—otherwise you're basically giving up free money. If you don't have a workplace retirement account, don't worry. You're in good company. Many people don't have the option but you still have options for saving for retirement. Consider opening an IRA to get started.
Myth #6: There's no way of knowing how much money I'll need in retirement.
In reality: How much you'll need depends entirely on your situation and what you plan to do when you leave the workplace. It's pretty likely that your lifestyle could change dramatically between age 25 and 65, so it may be hard to picture how you'll live in retirement or how much money will be required.
But Fidelity did the math and came up with some guidelines. Aim to save at least 15% of your pretax income every year—including employer contributions. To see if you're on track, use our savings factor: Aim to have saved at least 1x (times) your income at 30, 3x at 40, 7x at 55, and 10x at 67.
Don't worry if you're not always on track. Saving consistently, increasing your contributions when you're able, and investing for growth in a diversified mix of investments could help you catch up over time. The important thing is to keep saving and investing no matter what life throws at you through the course of your career.
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
Use this tool to give your budget a check-up and to be sure you're not falling for any of these money myths.