I think most of us would agree that young people today face an uncertain future in regard to Social Security benefits. Many suspect that tomorrow's payouts won't be as generous as today's. Given that, it would seem rather important for young people to be making smart financial moves in their daily lives and their retirement planning. But the folks at CCH have recently released the results of a survey showing that many youngsters are screwing up in many ways.

Here are some of their findings:

  • While 21% of taxpayers participated in a medical FSA in 2006, only 10% of those aged 18-24 did so. (Although to be fair, young people probably have far fewer health expenses and are likely are in less need of FSA benefits.)
  • While 56% of all taxpayers contributed to a company-sponsored retirement plan (think 401(k) or similar arrangements), only 28% of young people reported doing so. While 23% of taxpayers contribute enough to get the maximum match from their employers, only 16% of young people do so.
  • While three in 10 taxpayers overall are funding a 2006 traditional or Roth IRA, only two in 10 young people are doing so. In fact, fully 57% of young taxpayers don't even know whether they qualify for such accounts.

These are troubling statistics, but not surprising ones. After all, most of us learn about critical financial topics later in life than we'd like. I myself got a wake-up call when I was well beyond the 18-24 age range, thanks to an employer-sponsored information session. Employers should consider beefing up the financial education they offer employees, and in the meantime, all of us would do well to regularly read and learn about financial matters.

Young people actually even have the most to gain, as money a 25-year old invests today can grow for 40 years before retirement. That's enough to turn a single $5,000 investment into $226,000, if it grows at 10%. (In a Roth IRA, that income could all be tax-free.) If the money were invested in a simple S&P 500 index fund or ETF like the SPDR Trust (AMEX:SPY), it would be instantly invested in 500 companies that span the entire economy, from home products giant Home Depot (NYSE:HD) to kid-favorite Disney (NYSE:DIS).

For more on paying less to Uncle Sam, spend a little time in our Tax Center. I also recommend our Rule Your Retirement newsletter, which offers sound guidance on planning and reaching a comfortable (and perhaps early!) retirement. You can try it out for free, too. It offers specific stock and fund recommendations.

Home Depot is an Inside Value pick, while Disney is a Stock Advisor pick.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Home Depot. The Fool has a disclosure policy.