4 questions every millennial should ask themselves before they start investing, experts say

  • During Business Insider's Master Your Money roundtable on investing, financial professionals shared advice for millennials.
  • There are four questions every first-time investor should ask: Am I still paying off debt? What are my goals? How much can I afford to contribute? Do I have a 401(k) at work?
  • These questions can help millennials thoughtfully develop an investment strategy.
  • This article is part of a series focused on millennial financial empowerment called Master your Money.

Investing can be overwhelming for a beginner, but don't let that deter you.

During Business Insider's Money Council roundtable in August, which is part of the Master your Money series, we asked financial experts if there were signs a millennial should start investing.

Here are four questions they say millennials should ask themselves to get organized and develop a strategy.

1. Am I still paying off debt?

Investing doesn't happen in a vacuum. There are moving parts to every person's financial situation, and things like debt and emergency savings should be taken into consideration before jumping into the stock market with both feet.

Eric Roberge, a certified financial planner and the founder of Beyond Your Hammock, says it's important for anyone with debt to target their high-interest balances before putting extra cash into investments.

"There's no sense in investing in something that potentially could earn you 4% to 6% return over the year when you're paying 17%, 18%, upwards of 25% on a credit card," Roberge says.

2. What are my goals?

Spending and saving with intention is the foundation of good money management. With well-defined goals, it's much easier to make a plan and follow through with it.

That's why Kristi Rodriguez, leader of The Nationwide Retirement Institute, encourages millennials to answer "the paramount question" before they get into the nitty-gritty of investment options and asset allocation: What are my goals?

With clear objectives for their money, Rodriguez says, investors can evaluate their time horizon, how much risk they can afford to take on (known as risk capacity), how much risk they can stomach (known as "risk tolerance"), which investment accounts would serve their purpose, and the fees and taxes associated with them.

3. How much can I afford to contribute?

A lot of millennials get tripped up on exactly how much of their money should go into investments, Joseph Edmondson, a certified financial planner at Equitable Advisors, says.

If you have extra cash coming in after your expenses and savings goals are taken care of, "whether it be $1 or $10 or $100 or whatever the amount may be," Edmondson says, it's a good time to consider putting all or a portion of it into the stock market, as long as you don't need the money within the next few years.

"You don't want to be silly about how you invest and incur costs that are perhaps not necessary, but I don't think there's any amount that's too small," Scott Pedvis, a financial adviser at Wells Fargo, says.

4. Do I have a 401(k) at work?

Workplace retirement plans that allow employee contributions are a great place to start investing. They're often tax-advantaged and allow you to put aside part of your paycheck effortlessly.

"Millennials realize that they're ready to at least think about investing and perhaps start doing it when somebody forces them to think about it," Pedvis says.

Find out if your company offers a 401(k) and what the rules and benefits are. If you can, contribute to that account before opening up a taxable brokerage account. Employer matches are "basically a 100% guaranteed return," Pedvis said, and you don't want to pass that up.

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