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. Data shows that significantly fewer young people are investing today (37%) as a little over a decade ago (52%), according to a Gallop survey.¹
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.
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 the contributions.
Keep in mind that taxes may apply on gifts, depending on the amount gifted. In 2019, 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). Especially if the young person isn’t yet working for a company that offers a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k), opening an IRA now is a great way to jumpstart retirement investing.
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 retirement²—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Roths also provide flexibility, since contributions can be withdrawn at any time without tax or penalty.3 (But encourage your grad to keep the funds invested for retirement!)
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. And you’ll also want to consider potential gift tax liability—although the annual gift-tax exclusion is greater than the maximum allowable contribution for a young person ($6,000 in 2019), if funding the IRA is your only gift.
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 they’ve got time to recover if a high-growth stock runs out of steam or a portfolio begins its life a bit unbalanced.
Consider piquing their interest in investing by gifting individual stocks in companies that they like or shares in a mutual or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that invests in sectors that interest them, such as technology or biotech. (You may want to help the recipient establish a brokerage account as part of the gift.)
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. Automate investing
One of the newest financial innovations on the market is the automated investment advisory service, or robo-advisor, which provides algorithm-based portfolio management advice and can help build a portfolio that is appropriate for various goals and time horizons. Some, like Schwab Intelligent Portfolios®, also offer automatic rebalancing to help keep your investments in line with your risk tolerance as different assets move up or down in value.4
For young people, robo-advisors have a lot of appeal. It’s easy to get started—new investors just answer an online questionnaire to help determine risk profile and time horizon and then review the recommended portfolio. There’s no need to speak to a human investment professional (unless they want to). Many robo-advisors have additional tools to help track performance and progress toward goals and can be monitored easily on a mobile device.
1 Gallop, “Young Americans Still Wary of Investing in Stocks,” May 4, 2018.
2 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.
3 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.
4 Schwab Intelligent Portfolios requires a minimum investment of $5,000. Accounts that fall below $5,000 may deviate further than the amount specified in Schwab’s rebalancing parameters, as well as the target allocation of the selected investment profile.