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Motley Fool Answers' August Mailbag: Where to Invest -- a 401(k) or a Brokerage Account?

By Motley Fool Staff – Sep 6, 2018 at 6:52AM

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Different investment vehicles have different strengths and uses, so allocate your funds accordingly.

Summer is just about over, but we expect most Motley Fool Answers listeners didn't "sell in May and go away" -- you've been keeping up with matters of finance and investing all along...right?

However, if you happened to take a break from thinking about your money during beach season, you might have missed a few of Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp's monthly mailbag shows. In which case, you wouldn't have noticed that Ross Anderson -- certified financial planner from Motley Fool Wealth Management, a sister company of The Motley Fool, and a regular on the mailbag podcasts this spring -- took a break from his guest hosting duties as well, so that other Fools could get their time in the sun. Now, he's back to help the podcasting duo address another batch of listener queries.

In this segment, a recent college grad has a great question for the Fools. He's got his first job, and he's at the point where he qualifies for the company 401(k). But this young man has already been accruing healthy returns by investing through a brokerage account. Now that he has more options, should he focus his allocation on the tax-advantaged account, the brokerage account he can control more effectively, or perhaps, a third choice?

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Aug. 28, 2018.

Alison Southwick: The next question comes to us from Clark. "I'm 22 years old and graduated from college in 2017. I just reached the six-month mark at my current company and I'm now eligible to benefit from the 401(k) match." Hooray! "I have been subscribed to Rule Breakers and Stock Advisor for almost a year and put as much as I can of my paycheck into a brokerage account." Oh, that's awesome! "I also have an emergency fund, per the advice from this podcast." Hey!

Robert Brokamp: I know! That's nice!

Southwick: High-five, Bro! "With the help of Motley Fool, in my first year of investing I have an overall return of about 19%." Wow! "My question is should I contribute to my 401(k) just enough to receive the match and then continue investing in my brokerage account, or should I transition to aggressively contributing to my 401(k) and invest on my own less?"

Ross Anderson: First of all, Clark, congratulations!

Brokamp: Yes, absolutely!

Southwick: Way to go, Clark!

Anderson: At 22, to be asking the question and to be thinking the way that you are, I love it! You're on the right track. The first thing I would tell you is that certainly you should contribute enough to the 401(k) to receive the match. It's free money. Take it. Don't let them leave that on the table.

Beyond that my instinct [and I don't know your salary or anything like that] would be that you should be looking at a Roth IRA first and then to the brokerage account. And I say that for two reasons. No. 1, at 22 you're likely going to have a lot of goals that come up between now and retirement; things that you're going to want to use some of those investment dollars for like a down payment on a home. Like anything else that comes up along the way.

Southwick: A tuba!

Anderson: Right. It could be a tuba. Probably not. But you're going to have a lot of things that you're going to ultimately want to invest for, even if you don't see them immediately on your horizon. The 401(k) is just not going to give you the flexibility to get to those funds.

The Roth IRA, for example, has a provision where you can take that money out as a first-time home buyer or a portion of that money out as a first-time home buyer, so it gives you a little bit more room to work. It's going to give you, also, tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals assuming we wait until retirement or use one of those exceptions. And you're probably at 22 [again, I no idea what your salary or income is], at the front end of your earnings career. Your salary is probably going to rise making some of those pre tax deferrals like the 401(k) more beneficial to you later in life. So I'd say Roth IRA probably first and then the taxable account because it's going to give you the most flexibility for the things that I think you're going to use the money for.

Ross Anderson is an employee of Motley Fool Wealth Management, a separate, sister company of The Motley Fool, LLC. The information provided is intended to be educational only, and should not be construed as individualized advice. For individualized advice, please consult a financial professional. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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