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The Best IRA Strategy for Young Adults

By David Kretzmann – Updated Oct 12, 2018 at 2:08PM

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It's never too early to begin a lifetime of fruitful investing. Here is a simple strategy for young adults to begin investing in an IRA today.

It's never too early to start building a saving and investing mentality. Warren Buffett, for instance, bought his first stock when he was 11 years old. With the support of my father, I started investing my own funds and managing my custodial account independently at age 12.

But Buffett and I are exceptions. For most kids, once they begin considering options for further education (potentially leading to thousands of dollars of student loan debt) or commence a vigorous job search, there are surprisingly few resources geared toward supporting teens and young adults in their investing -- and retirement -- pursuits.

Investing strategies for retirement should not be put off until you are 25 or 30 years old or have full-time employment. IRAs are painless to open and require no minimum contributions. Even contributing $300 each year to an IRA now is far better than sitting on the sidelines until every factor is aligned perfectly. You can learn much more about IRAs and how to get started investing in them by visiting our IRA Center, but today we're also embarking on something new. This is the beginning of a new series on -- including a real-money personal IRA portfolio and ongoing insights into IRA investing -- for young investors focused on long-term results.

Why a Roth IRA makes sense 
Among the plethora of choices with investing accounts, I personally prefer a Roth IRA for younger investors. Roths are pretty straightforward: You are taxed on the money you contribute to a Roth in the present day, but, so long as you follow the guidelines, down the road you are not taxed on funds you withdraw once you hit retirement age. For younger individuals, a Roth IRA is particularly beneficial if you invest in businesses that go on to crush the market's returns over the long run. Beating the market over a long period of time and having the option to withdraw those funds tax-free further down the road sounds like a good deal to me. 

With this in mind, I am starting the Pencils IRA Project. Why this name, you ask? "Pencils" is the username my father chose when he first joined The Motley Fool in 2002, and I have stuck with that username more than a decade later. Given that my interest in investing stems from my father's inspiration, it is only fitting that I stick with his name for this project. To see how he helped me learn the importance of saving and investing at an early age, read my detailed account on The Motley Fool's discussion board.

The Pencils IRA Project is fairly simple. Each month, I will make a new investment within my Roth IRA. Ideally I will be able to contribute the maximum amount to the Roth ($5,500 this year), but the amount isn't relevant for this project. I will contribute a regular amount of money to the Roth, whether it is $100 or $450 a month, and each month I'll invest in a business that offers significant long-term potential to beat the market. 

Piggy bank wearing glasses sitting on a pile of coins, with a blackboard in the background

Image source: Getty Images.

Criteria for Pencils IRA holdings 
Here are the five necessities for the "megagrowers" to be added to this IRA portfolio:

  1. Purpose-driven business. The company must be driven by a deeper purpose, e.g. Chipotle and Food With Integrity. If "financial profit" is the only reason a company exists, then it's time to move on.
  2. Innovative products and services. This goes hand-in-hand with a purpose-driven business. Businesses like Netflix, Chipotle, and Facebook are continually reshaping their respective fields. We want businesses with innovation in their DNA. Further, these should be products and services that are understandable and relevant to us in our daily lives; we're not looking for a hidden Chinese microcap. 
  3. Visionary, experienced, involved leadership. We want leaders who think beyond the next quarter and the short-term performance of the company's stock, focusing instead on the long-term potential of a business. We want leaders capable of admitting when an error was made and redirecting course before further damage is done (e.g., Netflix's Reed Hastings and Qwikster). We want business leaders who are personally invested in a business financially, ensuring that their interests are aligned with those of fellow long-term stakeholders. We want leaders who either founded the business or have worked within the business for an extended period of time while demonstrating their commitment to maintaining an innovative and adaptive company environment.
  4. Consistently increasing cash-flow production. The company must have a demonstrated record of consistent and increasing cash-flow generation, preferably with positive free cash flow as well. This ensures that a company's prospects are backed by consistent and sustainable improvement in its financial position. 
  5. Strong company culture. Each business must have a minimum rating from employees of 3.5/5 on workplace review website The CEO "approval rating" on Glassdoor must meet or exceed 70%. I'm interested in investing in visionary leaders who are also effective in inspiring others in the business to perform at their highest potential. 

These five points, while seemingly simple, actually weed out quite a few subpar businesses.

Foolish next steps 
This experiment will help us build a disciplined, long-term-focused IRA portfolio that can easily be tracked and modeled by other young investors. This is a small step to fill what seems to me a glaring void in investing education and services.

Each month I aim to invest in a business that demonstrates the five attributes mentioned above. After each investment I will provide a write-up detailing how the company meets these criteria. This provides for a simple and trackable long-term IRA portfolio of promising businesses. 

The IRS will weep over our non-taxable gains in the coming decades. Here's to Foolish investing for people of all ages!

You can follow Foolish contributor David Kretzmann on his Foolish discussion board, Pencils Palace, on CAPS, or on Twitter @David_Kretzmann. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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