Millennials: Here’s How to Get Started on Becoming a Millionaire

Jeff Wilson II wants to be a millionaire in 10 years. “I’ll be surprised if it takes that long,” says the optimistic 22-year-old. Wilson received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Bowie State University in December 2006. A month later he landed a job at the major international accounting firm KPMG as an associate auditor earning $50,000 a year. He credits professional groups such as the National Association of Black Accountants and his mentor, Willie Hughey, former vice president at Bowie, for helping him. Wilson says Hughey encouraged him to keep pace with the business world by reading the Wall Street Journal, which led to his interest in the stock market.

In 2004, Wilson purchased his first stock, Lucent Technologies, for $400. Although the investment fizzled when the company fell on hard times, Wilson wasn’t discouraged. He continued reading books and magazines to learn as much as he could about stocks and investment strategies. To date, he has $10,000 invested in individual stocks, including Apple Computer (Nasdaq: AAPL), Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG), and Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI). In addition, he has $1,300 in an IRA and nearly $4,000 in savings accounts.

Unlike many of his peers, Wilson managed to graduate from college without tremendous debt, although he does owe $12,000 in student loans. Today, he has only $300 in credit card balances after whittling down roughly $3,000 in credit card debt in 2005. “I started crunching it down, using stock earnings to make big payments,” he says. Wilson worked part time throughout college and full time during summers off from school. After living on campus for two years, he moved back home to help keep expenses down.

Now fresh out of school, Wilson pretty much has a clean slate. His first order of business is to pass the CPA exam and eliminate his school loans. In the next year or so, he wants to buy his dream house. “I figure it’s going to cost me at least $300,000 to $400,000 to get what I have in mind in Maryland,” he says.

He once had his dream car, a 1996 Cadillac De Ville with chrome wheels, but repairing it proved expensive; that’s how he ran up his credit card. “I decided it was too big a liability and sold it. I didn’t even have it a year.” Today, he drives a 1990 Toyota Corolla. “It’s one thing to be rich, to drive a Lexus, but creating wealth is another. That’s why I’m looking to get my first house — that’s creating wealth,” says Wilson.

To build wealth, he knows he has a lot of hard work ahead of him, but that’s OK by Wilson. “I want to do what’s not expected, to be a really good auditor, to do the extra work,” he says. After all, he’s looking to make partner or eventually to be chief financial officer of a firm one day. He’s pumped, looking forward to life in a big company with boundless opportunities. “I had to give school [most]of my attention,” says Wilson. “Now that school is out of the way, I’m going to be dangerous.”

Financial Advice for the Future Millionaire

Walt Clark, president of Clark Capital Financial in Columbia, Maryland, examined Wilson’s financial situation. “There is much to applaud, though there is still work to be done,” says Clark. The following are his recommendations:

Use contest winnings to reduce debt. Wilson’s credit card has a 13% interest rate. He needs to pay off the balance and invest the rest of the contest winnings in stock holdings. He doesn’t need to close the account, however; keeping it active will help build his credit. When it comes time to buy his house, he’ll likely qualify for a low interest rate on his mortgage. In terms of his school loans, he doesn’t have to begin making payments for another year.

Pursue that dream home. The early bird may indeed get the best house at the best price. Since the real estate market has slowed considerably and it’s now more of a buyer’s market, Clark recommends that Wilson start his house search in the second quarter of 2007. “There should be some bargains then.” Wilson should aim to save 20% for a down payment, says Clark. Doing so will eliminate paying an additional fee and private mortgage insurance. Clark suggests that Wilson look at homes in the $200,000 range, not the higher priced homes Wilson suggested. Given his salary, minimal living expenses, and low debt, Wilson ought to be able to save $30,000 to $40,000 within a year. “Purchasing a less expensive home will put less strain on his financial resources,” says Clark. “Most new home buyers stay in their homes for the first five to six years and then [trade] up.” Wilson’s income is likely to increase as he builds equity in his starter home, Clark adds, meaning he could then afford a larger down payment on his next home purchase, which would lower mortgage payments.

Maximize 401(k) contributions. Wilson should focus on taking advantage of his company’s 401(k) retirement plan once he becomes eligible. Clark recommends that he contribute the maximum allowed, or 15% of his salary. Wilson should select a combination of large — and mid — cap growth stock mutual funds to invest within the plan.

Diversify stock holdings. Wilson has shown some savvy with his investments. Clark recommends, however, that he diversify his stock holdings into several industries such as technology, transportation, pharmaceuticals, and consumer durables in addition to some international exposure. Clark suggests such companies as (Nasdaq: BIDU), a search engine in China comparable to Google; Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM), the Canadian developer of the popular Blackberry line; American Airlines (NYSE: AMR); Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL); Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ); Best Buy (NYSE: BBY); Home Depot (NYSE: HD); and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY). Wilson also needs to consider adding some aggressive growth mutual funds to the mix. Two that Clark suggests are the Van Kampen Technology Fund (VTFAX) and AllianceBernstein Small Cap Growth Fund (QUASX).

Save systematically. At age 22, Wilson has the advantage of youth. By investing early, he gives himself many years to prosper in bull markets as well as to withstand occasional declines during bear markets. Using a hypothetical 8% return, if he invested $100 monthly into a growth mutual fund, his investments would grow to more than $57,000 in 20 years and $140,000 in more than 30 years.