Dear Liz: I am 22, single, work full time and have no outstanding debts. I have $18,000 in a savings account and am contributing 15% of my paycheck to a 401(k). How do I invest my savings to get a better return? I’ve been looking into certificates of deposit, money market accounts, IRAs and Roth IRAs, but don’t know enough to start.
Answer: Let’s first get clear on some terminology. CDs and money markets are types of investments, while IRAs and Roth IRAs are types of accounts — specifically, they’re retirement accounts. Think of IRAs and Roth IRAs as buckets into which you put investments, such as CDs, money markets, stocks, bonds or mutual funds.
The next thing you need to get clear about is your plan for your savings. If the money is meant to be an emergency fund, to tide you over in case of job loss or a large expense, then you probably shouldn’t put it in a retirement account, which could have penalties or restrictions on withdrawals.
You also shouldn’t put your emergency fund into investments that could lose value in the short term, such as stocks, bonds or most mutual funds. The best place for emergency money is usually a federally insured bank account. If your bank isn’t paying much interest, you can check with others, including online banks and credit unions, to see if you can get a slightly better return.
If you don’t need the whole sum as an emergency stash, however, then you might want to think about taking more risk to get more return, and perhaps using an IRA or Roth IRA as your savings vehicle. To learn more, check out Kathy Kristof’s “Investing 101″ or Eric Tyson’s “Investing for Dummies.”