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You have just secured your first job with benefits. College, or the entry level job(s) that brought you here are still fresh and close in your burgeoning career’s rear-view mirror. What is the most important thing you can do to help yourself? Sign up immediately for 401(k) participation. 10%. No questions, write it down on the form. If you’re informed there is a waiting period, still ask for and complete the paperwork right there, right out of the gate.

“What’s the rush?” you might ask. “I’ve got student loans, I’m not in my own place, yet you want me to save 10% for some far off date?” The answer to that is an unequivocal “Yes!” After showing up on time and making sure that tattoo from junior year spring break is adequately covered, there are few things that will provide more value to you in the years to come than participating in a Qualified Retirement plan right away.

10% seems a lot? Well, by starting with 10%, you can avoid needing 20-30% 10 years from now just to make up for it. Why sign up right away? Two reasons. The first, you teach yourself the habit of paying yourself first, before even addressing debt, which should also be a high priority on your financial “to-do” list. Second, by signing up immediately, you, in a way, won’t miss what was never in your paycheck in the first place, but instead, will have begun laying a financial foundation for your future.

Not sure what to invest in, not really sure you understand how it works? Ask. It won’t be seen as a weakness that you don’t know, and will more likely be viewed as the question of someone looking to initiate a career, not just a job. And again, what better time than right now as you start with your new firm. At this point, it is far more important that you participate, than necessarily understand all the particulars of investing. There are ample resources online, as well as plan providers to help walk you through the process.

Your company may even provide a matching contribution, to further entice you to participate. This is what’s known as free money, and the number of people who pass it up is jaw dropping. But lack of a match is still an extremely poor excuse not to take the reins yourself.

“The market seems pretty volatile right now, or it’s down,” you say? I’d argue all the better, you can start out buying cheaper shares, which will pay off nicely when the market eventually does recover. And it will. But odds are extremely high that if you wait for that to occur first, whether the market is down or as is currently the case near an all-time high, you’ll likely miss most of the corrections or continued improvement. Be in it for the long haul, just like you wish for with your new career.

Contributed by Michael Lares, CFP®. Mike joined Chemung Canal in 2004 as a Portfolio Manager and was promoted to Vice President in 2010. His work includes portfolio management, technical analysis, and extensive work with not-for-profits and retirement plans. He is a CFP® (Certified Financial Planner ™) professional currently providing financial planning services to Wealth Management clients and institutions, utilizing his analytical skills and broad financial experience.

For additional guidance, please contact Marci Cartwright at 607-737-3754 or