Finding the right gift for a college graduate can be tough. It's nearly impossible to pick out the latest gadget—let alone the latest fashions—and just cash may strike you as too impersonal. So what can you give a young person, just starting out, that would be useful and meaningful?
Consider opening up the world of investing.
Many young people find the idea of investing intimidating or figure they’ll wait until they have more money to put away. That’s a shame, because they often miss out on one of the most powerful drivers of return: time in the market. Compounding can have a substantial impact on the value of money, and the earlier your college grad starts, the greater the potential benefit.
Compounding makes a lifelong difference
Source: Schwab Center for Financial Research. This example is for illustrative purposes only and does not indicate or guarantee future performance. It is not intended to represent a specific investment product. Assumes 6% average annual growth and does not account for any fees, costs or taxes. The actual annual rate of return and values will fluctuate with market conditions.
How can you help a young person start down the path to a lifetime of saving? Consider the following gift ideas:
1. Match savings contributions
Saving can be hard to do on a small salary, but it’s such an important skill to learn. Encourage your new graduate to open a savings account to stash away money for an apartment, a new car or some other goal—and as an incentive, make the initial deposit and offer to match a portion of their contributions.
Keep in mind that taxes may apply on gifts, depending on the amount gifted. Currently, you can give up to $15,000 per recipient without being subject to the gift tax ($30,000 if you’re giving as a couple). Check with your tax advisor the IRS website for more information.
2. Fund an IRA
Help your new grad open a tax-advantaged individual retirement account (IRA) to help jumpstart retirement investing. IRAs can be effective savings tools, especially if your grad isn’t yet working for a company that offers a workplace retirement plan like a 401(k).
Roth IRAs, which are funded with after-tax dollars and offer tax-deferred growth and earnings—as well as tax- and penalty-free withdrawals in retirement1—are particularly practical for younger investors, who are likely to be in a lower tax bracket today than they will be in retirement.
Roths also provide flexibility, since contributions can be withdrawn at any time without tax or penalty.2 However, grads should be encouraged to keep the funds invested for retirement.
One thing to keep in mind, you’ll have to make sure that the graduate has earned income that’s greater than or equal to any contributions made to the account. You’ll also want to consider potential gift tax liability unless funding the IRA is your only gift, as the annual gift-tax exclusion is greater than the maximum allowable IRA contribution ($6,000 in 2021 for all under 50).
3. Give stocks with youth appeal
The stock market can be intimidating to young people, who often don’t know where to start. The great thing is that time is on their side. They will have plenty of time to recover if a high-growth stock runs out of steam or a portfolio begins its life a bit unbalanced.
To help pave the path, start by helping the recipient establish a brokerage account as part of the gift if they don’t have one already. Once that’s out of the way, consider piquing their interest in investing by gifting individual stocks in companies they like, or shares in a mutual or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that invests in sectors that interests them like technology or biotech.
If they’re socially conscious, consider gifting them shares of a socially responsible investing (SRI) fund. There are dozens of funds in the market that seek to invest in companies engaged in “green” technology, social justice, or other themes.
In each case, be sure to impart the importance of an emergency fund that allows the young investor to leave investments positioned for the long term when times get tight.
4. Automated investing
One of the newest financial innovations on the market is the automated investment advisory service, or robo-advisor. These tools provide algorithm-based portfolio management advice and can help build a portfolio that is appropriate for various goals and time horizons.
For young people, robo-advisors have a lot of appeal and funding an account could be a great gift for new grads. It’s easy to get started. Typically, most investors only need to answer an online questionnaire to establish their goals, risk profile, and timeline before reviewing their recommended portfolio. There’s no need to speak to a human investment professional (unless they want to), and many robo-advisors have additional tools to help track performance and progress toward goals—all monitored easily on a mobile device.
1 Withdrawals from a Roth IRA are generally tax- and penalty-free if the account has been open for at least five years and the withdrawals are taken after age 59½.
2 Earnings are subject to taxes and/or penalties depending on the individual’s age, how long the account has been opened, and the purpose of the withdrawal. Read more about IRA withdrawal rules.