Moderator: Jennifer Daurora, Vice President Consumer Banking, PNC
Featured Webcast Speakers:
Brenasia Ward-Caldwell, Cloud Security Analyst, PNC Enterprise Technology and Security
Lynne Herndon, West Region Credit Risk Executive, PNC
Melodie Jermont "MJ" Roach, Financial Advisor, PNC Investments
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to welcome you to our fifth webcast in PNC's 12th Annual Women in Business Week titled, Financial Freedom: Getting Savvy About Money. Before we get started, I'd like to mention that today's session is being recorded, and you are currently in a listen-only mode. It is my pleasure to introduce your moderator for today, and that is Jennifer Daurora, Vice President Consumer Banking, PNC. Jennifer, you have the floor.
Great. Thank you, everyone. Thanks for joining us today for what I believe is going to be a great panel discussing the ways that women can get savvy about their money. Again, my name is Jennifer Daurora, and I'm a member of the Solution, Design and Delivery team within Consumer Banking here at PNC. And today I'm joined by an esteemed panel of colleagues, and we're going to dive deeper into the way women think about money and then ultimately make financial decisions.
Over the next hour, we're going to discuss recent trends in personal investing. We're going to discuss how we can leverage debt and share our own observations and experiences. Today, our goal is that through engaging in conversations like this, we can inspire other women to take control of their financial lives.
So let me introduce today's panel. Today we have joining us, Lynne Herndon, who is our Credit Risk Executive for the West Region. Hi, Lynne. Thanks for being here.
Thank you, Jen.
We also have MJ Roach. MJ is a Vice President and Financial Advisor with PNC Investments. Great to have you, MJ.
Thank you for having me.
And finally, I'd like to welcome Brenasia Ward-Caldwell. Brenasia is a Security Analyst on the Cloud Security team within our Enterprise Technology Security organization. Welcome, Brenasia.
Brenasia Ward-Caldwell: T
Thank you, Jen. Thanks for having me.
Well, I wanted to thank you all for joining me today. Really happy to have this group. You're all such great role models for me personally and for other women across the bank, certainly.
For the last two decades, here at PNC, we've been working to help level the playing field for women when it comes to our finances. Recently, you might remember that we launched Project 257: Accelerating Women's Financial Equity, by which PNC plans to make a more meaningful impact across four areas that are largely driving the economic gender gap as we know it today. And those four areas are access to capital, unpaid domestic work, underrepresentation in high growth or high paying jobs, and finally, pay disparity.
These four areas were identified as key drivers that will help close the economic gender gap as part of the World Forum's 2020 Global Gender Gap Report. However, if we don't do anything at all and we continue at our current pace, it will take women an additional 257 years to economically catch up with men. And I know that we can all agree that that's just not acceptable and it's just not an option. So as we think about how we're going to move forward in life and with PNC, I'm really excited to gain some insights and some perspectives from our panelists as we think about this challenge overall. So let's go ahead and just dive right in.
One thing that's of interest to me is that for the first time in history now, women are predicted to control more personal wealth than men. In 2016, women controlled around $14 trillion of wealth, but that's projected to increase to $30 trillion of wealth . And this is really great news. But as I think about the financial advice we've received over the years, myself in particular, my mom passed down to me, Jennifer, you need to pay yourself first, but often we don't think about what does that mean.
So MJ, I know I've heard that women are great savers, but we lag behind our male counterparts when it comes to personal investing. So from your perspective, what do you think holds women back in this area? And how can we gain the confidence to make decisions that will help us meet our financial goals in the long run?
You know what, you're absolutely right. It is the confidence. So if you think about women, we have a tendency to work really, really hard, and then we want to know everything there is to know before we are able to ask for a promotion. Where our male counterparts, that's not the same. If they can check off 2 of the 10 boxes, then they'll go ask for that raise, where we're not that way. We have to know everything.
So when it comes to investing, we are very good at putting money away in a savings account. But given today's inflation at 7%, and you put money in a savings account at a 0.04, then you are doing yourself a disjustice in many ways for long-term savings.
So really the best way to get comfortable is to find an advisor that you're comfortable with. No question is a bad question, and no question is a stupid question. So you have to find someone that you're comfortable with that you can ask anything to, and they're going to explain it to you. So that's what's important. And you have to seek that out, because you can't stay in status quo and think that you'll be okay in the future because that's really not the case.
That is some great advice. And I think about confidence, it's a recurring theme of a lot of the conversations that we're having now within PNC, how do we create that confidence so that women can advocate for themselves. So I appreciate that insight.
To continue on on that thread, it's interesting now. Here we are where young women are graduating now at higher rates that our male counterparts for their undergraduate degrees and for graduate school as well, and yet, we're also seeing that young women, especially millennials, actually have lower personal median income than those male counterparts or are contributing at lower rates to their 401(k)s and then therefore have overall lower balances.
So Brenasia, as a young woman yourself and thinking from your own personal experience or maybe that of your peers, what do you think is holding us back? What is holding a young woman back in the way that we're thinking about our own personal income and then how we're thinking about investing in our 401(k)s?
Really, really great question, Jen. I think from my own personal experience, I did not have a lot of the knowledge fresh out of college in understanding when it came to investing and putting money away for my 401(k). But I knew that if I was going to go work at a bank, I should at least ask some questions of the people around me on what makes the most sense. And my first manager gave me the best advice that not necessarily was financial, but was to really consider starting now in putting money away into my 401(k). That was something that I was like, well, I would just like to do what -- to match what my company is offering me.
So I think what holds a lot of people back as well, as I discussed this with some of my peers, is that since women generally do make less than men, they want more of their take-home -- more money into their take-home pay. And I had to be okay with giving up that piece of my income that could help me later down the line. It really took a lot of discipline and being okay with thinking ahead instead of thinking about the now to assist myself. So I think that is really where a lot of the struggles come from when thinking about millennial women and their investing habits.
So MJ, you're our resident expert in investing. If someone waits and they delay being involved in their personal investment, whether that's in their 401(k) or other ways they can enhance their own personal investment, how does that harm you in the long run if you think about your overall career trajectory?
Time is your best friend. Time and consistent investing. Because in any market, it goes up and down. So the one nice thing about consistent investing is that you invest when it's up and you invest when it's down, and then you're able to ride that back up. Where the longer you wait, the less amount of time you have, and then the more money you have to put in.
So to Brenasia's point, so now later in life, I've got to put more money in, so now I really can't do anything that I want to do because I have to save for retirement. So now I'm really strapped. Where if I start when I'm younger -- and if you think about it, if you start when you get that first real job, and I call a real job the kind of job where I can actually think about, I'm going to have a little money left over. Because many of our jobs you're like, I don't have anything left over. Like nothing. So you have a little bit left over. If you can build that up, put money in your 401(k), and you continue to do that, then you're going to do it and you don't even see that money.
So therefore, you're investing behind the scenes all the time, whether the market's up, whether it's down. And when you're young, you don't even look because there's no reason to because you can't take it out, so what's the use of looking? It's almost like seeing that cake and you're on a diet, you can't have a piece, so what's the use. So you just continue to invest it.
Then what happens is it builds and builds and builds, and now you turn around and you really have something. And it's all because you have the time to invest. So you do that every two weeks, a little bit out of your paycheck, and it really adds up. Where if you wait until much later in life, then you have to put a lot more in to be able to have something when you retire.
That's so true. And Lynne, I'd love to get your thoughts on this topic as well, because I know in some of our recent conversations, we were discussing that this is important for women in any stage of life. Even if you're not currently in the workplace, thinking about the ways that you are thinking about your long-term financial goals, regardless if you're working or not, if you're taking time out to take care for family. What are some observations that you've seen over the years?
Great question there, Jen. So I 100% agree that right out of the gate, if you are working, please set aside even if it's a little bit painful, because the earlier that you start, the better. If you happen to be currently in a situation, let's just say that you're not in the workforce but your spouse is, and you've taken time off. I highly encourage you to engage in the financial strategy and discussions for your family. I think it's important that you have knowledge of any debt that is being taken on, or what is the current savings plan and how is that being invested. Obviously earlier on, you can take a little more risk. A little later on in life, you take a little less risk so you preserve the principal that you have collected over time.
So I think it's important for women to be very knowledgeable about their financial picture and their financial strategy, even if maybe currently they are not sitting in the workforce and contributing but planning on going back at some time, and/or just, like I said, participating in those discussions. Very important.
That's great advice, Lynne, because we really need to make sure that as women, we don't delegate the financial decisions to someone else, whether it's a spouse, a partner, anyone in our lives. It's really important, again, that we can take control of our financial lives and do not delegate those decision making -- important decisions to others. So that is a great point to bring up.
But let's think a little bit further around, we've talked a little bit about investing and the important piece of the way that we think about our own personal investments and saving for the future and really thinking about the long-term goal. But more in the short term, one of the things that we know is that sometimes to position yourself for overall financial gain or to increase your wealth overall, you have to consider taking on debt. And we know that in general, sometimes women don't have the same access to capital or think about leveraging debt in the same way that men do.
Often we hear that women are reluctant to borrow money, whether that comes for borrowing money to buy a house. Or even if you are starting a business and you need capital to grow that business, for some reason it seems that women are either reluctant to borrow or reluctant about the credit assessment process. And so Lynne, you've been involved in this kind of analysis for quite some time. Can you share your experience on how debt can be a help to women as they think about their long-term financial goals, either from a personal perspective or as a women business owner? Or how could it hinder your ability to meet those financial goals? We know there are -- it could go either way on that topic. So I'd love to hear your viewpoint there.
So I love this question, Jen, and I have several thoughts on it. What my remarks that I'm getting ready to make, I want everyone to know apply to both a woman as an individual and also a woman as a business owner. I feel strongly that women should feel confident to borrow money and go through the credit assessment process. The SBA in particular is an example of an entity that actually offers loans specifically to women business owners, again, trying to encourage women to feel confident in starting a business and having access to capital. Government entities also make sure that a certain amount of their contract work go to minority business owners, which also means including women. So the opportunities are definitely out there. We as women just have to take them. So I encourage each of us to do our homework and go through that process.
Debt, absolutely, used in the right way and at an acceptable level can help an individual and/or a business achieve its financial goals. In contrast, though, I would say too much debt can overwhelm an individual or business and detract from building savings and accomplishing growth goals. So you want to consider debt and you want to analyze it and make sure that it's appropriate for your current situation. When you do that, you run a budget, you run a projection, you look at your cash flows. Obviously, you need to cover your expenses. And remember what's already been said. I think go ahead and set aside a little bit for savings. But if there is additional cash flow there and available, I think that is a very appropriate tool, especially early on, to help you accomplish your financial goals for either your family or your business.
Student loan debt is a great example of a time when I think debt can be used very positively. You certainly want to measure the amount of debt that you take on against the type job and that first time job, what would your compensation be, because you want to make sure that both of those things are in good balance.
Debt to buy a home is also a great way to over time acquire an asset which is part of your financial portfolio and future. It gives you an interest rate deduction on your taxes. And most times, if you are investing in the stock market, and you can do that in a very conservative way, you can earn more than your mortgage rate. So that would be a good example of using debt in a positive way so that you could invest more cash also and then earn more over time as part of your financial future.
I would caution you to be careful with credit card debt. It's easy to want to use that. But what I find is that oftentimes the purchases have a very short life, and people, if they're not careful and disciplined, pay over a much longer period of time. So I encourage people to use credit card debt only if they're going to pay it off if not every month, within a very short period of time to try to stay very disciplined, if you will.
From an individual perspective, I think a great goal is that by a certain point in your life, you want to be debt free. You certainly want to have a nice amount in savings. I would tell you that businesses necessarily don't have to be debt free and can be very financially sound and solvent. But again, you want to make sure that it's appropriate for the cash flow of the company.
So I am hopeful, Jen, that all of us will go for it. If we have a dream out there that also involves the use of debt to get there, I think it can be done in a very safe and reasonable way.
So just to add onto that, Lynne, I would expect that for people who have questions around how to get started, you can rely on either your personal banker or your business banker relationship manager to help you with that assessment. What are some of the questions that you could ask that professional to help you with that evaluation or things you should be looking at?
You have to, again, whether it's personally or for your business, you know maybe what is your financial goal for yourself personally and/or for your business. You're going to have a set of projections or business plans. Your banker is going to want to see those. They're going to want to understand what those goals and over what period of time you would be looking for. So you would want to ask them, for instance, what loans are available. What repayment, so interest rate and periods of time would be available? Would I need to offer collateral, which would be normal in the case of a business loan in order to receive a loan, and if so, what does that look like? For instance, if you're going to buy a piece of real estate, you're going to need an appraisal, and your banker is going to walk you through all of those types of requirements that are customary for that loan.
So yes, I think you want to have great dialogue with your banker. You want to understand fully what you would be obligating yourself for. And that is their role to help advise you and let you decide what you think is best for your financial picture. I also would advise you to talk to friends or other business owners that you know and ask them questions. What are they doing? What are some strategies they have used? Because I think it's always interesting to get advice from peers and friends.
Thanks for that, Lynne. And then also to think about, you had mentioned the SBA earlier. There's a lot of free resources that are provided by government entities to help us be successful. So thanks for that.
It's interesting. We think about debt and sort of reluctance to take on debts, in part just because it might feel like a difficult process, or there is some reluctancy and hesitancy along those lines. We know that it is a bit of a stereotype that women like to play things safe. But yet, we are great advocates for others, whether it is our colleagues, if it is our family members. Research shows that women prioritize creating financial security for themselves and their families.
So MJ, I'm thinking about that. What changes are you seeing women make to their financial strategies to help create that sense of security while not giving up the opportunity for growth? Especially in light of the societal changes and the pandemic that we've been struggling with the last few years, are you seeing any changes with those that you work with?
Yeah, actually I see a good bit of changes. And I would say it really starts with, I'm seeing a lot of people that are questioning their strategy that they've had the past several years. So I'm seeing a lot of people that are opening up and wanting a full financial review, which isn't normal. Normally they come in with one account, and they'll talk about, so tell me about kind of what you can do with this account. Where I'm seeing more people that are coming in with their whole financial picture and saying, okay, this is what I have, and then tell me what can I do and how can I prepare.
People get very comfortable. Whether it's right or wrong, we get comfortable with the situation we're in, good or bad, because it's our situation. So our situation is comfortable to us. Might not be comfortable to somebody else, but it's comfortable to us. Over the past two years, I think everybody's realized that life has totally changed, and we've been experienced -- we've experienced things that have never happened before. And so I think that's kind of thrown people out of their comfort zone. And that's been a good thing in the fact that people have begun to look at, and especially women have begun to really look at everything as opposed to just taking several things as kind of a status quo. So I've seen a lot more women come into my office. I've made a lot more phone calls. So it's amazing the difference I've seen.
The other thing that I'll tell you, and I know we kind of touched upon it back in the beginning, but women outlive men. About seven, eight years' worth of outliving men. So if you're letting -- your significant other happens to be a man, and he's making the majority of those decisions, most of the time, you're going to be the one that's going to have to deal with those decisions that are made later in life. So it's really important to get involved in that, because women tend to outlive men by seven years. So it's really important to think about that.
Along those lines, what are those touch points where you should take a moment and assess? Recently, I've had a baby several months ago, so I know that's a trigger point where I need to be thinking about my plans and do I need to make any changes. What are the other significant milestones that a woman should think about and say, okay, I have this milestone on the horizon. I need to really be checking in and thinking about if I need to change any of my strategies. What would you recommend?
So there's age and there's life milestones. Every 10 years, you should check in and get a new updated plan, just basic every 10 years. And then there's life. So there's marriage. There's children, because at that point in time, there's other people that depend on your income. So there's life, there's children, there's inheritance, there's death. All of those things. Every time you change a job, you need a check-in because your income changes, your benefits change. A lot of times people will leave a company, and a lot of times they leave a company for better opportunity, and then many a times, they leave their 401(k) or their money back at the old company. Well, that's not really a good plan. You left the company for a reason. You don't leave your money there. It's kind of like I moved to a new house, but I left my car in the garage. You take it with you.
So there's lot of reasons, but think about any life changes that you make. You go from renting to buying a house. Before you buy the house, you actually want to meet with a financial advisor, because a real estate person or a mortgage person is going to tell you a very different number that you can afford than what a financial advisor is going to tell you. So financial advisor looks at your picture. They know what your current goals are. They know what your long-term goals are. And then they're going to say, okay, based on all that, this is about how much I'd spend on the house. Where you go to a mortgage representative, and they're going to tell you, well, based on your income, this is what you can spend. They don't really talk about your long-term goals and all of that, where your financial advisor is going to take all that into consideration.
Basically what happens is they put themselves in your position. And if they don't, then you need a new one. Because that's really what you have to do is you have to think about that. Any big decision that you're making, you have to kind of take a step back and think about, how is this going to affect me short term, long term. And always a good time to pick up the phone.
So as you have those short-term and long-term goals and then milestones for age or activity, change of life. All right. That's really helpful. So appreciate that.
You had referenced some of the conversations we had when we kicked off this webinar. And so kind of turning the lens back there, we had talked about the reason that PNC became so passionate around trying to close the economic gap and opportunities for women, and that we really connected into the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report and the fact that if we don't make any changes, it will take another 250 years for us to close that economic gap between men and women.
And so Lynne, you have given us some great insights today, and you had a great career. I'm just wondering, in your experience, in all the things that you've seen over the years, what opportunities do women miss when thinking about the ways we're leveraging our current financial position to kind of meet our goals more quickly in the long term, what have you seen women just kind of miss that opportunity when it presented themselves to really kind of close that gap for themselves?
Yeah, Jen. I think some of it is confidence, and some of it is just erring on the side of wanting to be a little bit more conservative. And so where I have really I think helped others and also worked with clients is it really starts fundamentally with understanding the numbers yourself. Having a confidence level that you understand the numbers, whether again that is a personal financial plan or that is a business financial plan. Once you have a plan that you understand, then I think that you will be more bold and more confident in asking for maybe a little bit higher level of debt if that is the current angle that you need to fulfill your financial goals. I think it also can lead you down the path of investing a little bit more with a little bit more risk, which means the return is higher. But again, only if you've taken the time to invest and learn and understand the financial markets.
So I think it's first about making sure that you understand yourself. You've done the research. Highly encourage you to talk to friends. I know our male counterparts talk about investing strategy or ways to borrow money and gain capital for their businesses over lunch, breakfast or in the evenings maybe over a beverage or cocktail. I think women have to engage in those same kinds of conversations, because it's also in networking a little bit and learning from others that your confidence level grows.
We also mentioned this a little bit earlier. Don't advocate decision making to others. If you want to be a women business owner, if you want to own your financial future, I think it's incumbent upon each of us to understand what that means to be able to talk and ask questions in a very confident manner. And those things will help us ultimately reach our goals.
Great. That's great advice, Lynne. One of the things that you commented on there was about confidence. And if I think about that in the workplace, we know that another economic driver for empowerment and reaching our financial goals is the way we grow in our careers. And women are underrepresented in high growth fields across the board.
So Brenasia, you're here as a young woman in technology. I'm just interested in how you've positioned yourself as a leader within your field. As a young woman, you're going to grad school, you're a pioneer in cloud security. How have you been impacted by the lack of representation there, and how are you advocating for yourself?
So I think for me, having that lack of representation, it just always inspired me to want to be more apparent in the field and share more to help others that may have an interest, may be a bit concerned about how I get in or how do I navigate.
I just know when I was going through community college and then undergrad and now grad school, I often was one of the very few women in the classroom, but also very few women of color. And I don't want that experience for the next group of young women going through technology programs. So whether they're going through technology programs or just young women in themselves, I like to share often a lot of the things that I learned, that I studied within my classes, and just as I go throughout building my credibility and my profession, I share these things with my community. Because I think as I've gone through, some of this is just second hat to me, and it's not necessarily to everyone else.
So I think the things that I have learned have provided me some patience when trying to guide and assist and give some confidence to the next group of women that are coming up behind me, because they are there and they're moving with a force.
Well, I'm glad to hear that. So I know that you advocate for yourself, which is great. We all need to do more of that, advocating for ourselves. But what do you wish that some of your male counterparts could do differently to support you or other women in these high growth fields as an emerging group of talent?
I think there's a lot to be said about public validation. Men in the workplace have -- they naturally have the privilege of their voice always being heard. And when in different circles, women are often found to be interrupted, talked over. I think the biggest thing that a male ally can do is say, hey, she was speaking. Please let her finish. I think she brings great ideas. To continue to encourage, because oftentimes that lack of encouragement could be something that could make or break a woman in the work -- and not just in technology, but in just the workforce. So in general, men being supportive when women are at the table of their ideas I think is extremely key.
That's great advice for all of us, so thank you for that. MJ, I wonder -- I noticed that as we were connecting, that you are a PNC Certified Women's Business Advocate, which is a program that we have at PNC to help support certainly women business owners, but female financial decision makers overall. And I'm wondering how your participation in that program has really guided the way you think about interacting with your clients as you help them reach their financial goal.
Well, it definitely teaches you. You go through a series of different trainings that help teach you how to think about what women may think about or how they think about things. And you would think that, okay, well you're a woman and you probably think that way. Well, not necessarily the case. So it does give you a different perspective about how to go about the way of thinking about things, because women tend to make decisions based very, very differently than men do. And if you've been successful in the business world for any period of time, especially a longer period of time, then that would tell me that you probably tend to do things more along the lines of how men like to operate, because you wouldn't have probably gotten where you're at if that wasn't the case.
So for me, it was very important for me to know and understand as more women sit at the table, how to connect with them. I've been with PNC for a very long time, so for me, it was a learning curve, actually, because I had been in such a male dominated world for so long that I really had to learn how to reconnect with my own decision-making process that I probably have kind of not paid attention to and then how to connect with women. And it's definitely made a huge difference when I changed positions and became a financial advisor, a huge difference.
And that's great. But along those lines, you had a career change. Being a financial advisor was not your first career. How did you go about assessing that the time was right to make that career change? I know often that is a point of tension or fear for women to think about, am I ready to make this next move. And I'd love to hear about your personal experience.
That's really interesting because you're absolutely right. For women to make a move, and even myself, to make a move from one thing to another is usually extremely excruciatingly painful to think about the changes.
Really what happened -- back up, big story. I'll just go very quickly. I was a senior vice president for PNC for many, many years. I was a regional. And being a regional, I knew everything about the banking side of things. So checking accounts, money markets, FDIC insured loans, all that, business, I knew all of that. I ran branches for a living for many, many, many years.
I -- at a very early age, I got great advice from when I first started at PNC. Someone told me that whatever you do, max out your 401(k), they told me. Was I good at what I chose to put my money in? Yeah, probably not. But I maxed it out. I did what they told me to do. I was very good at taking orders. I did what they told me to do. I maxed it out, and I stayed that way. Every year, I made sure that whatever the IRS max was, I made sure that I hit that goal. And I would hit that goal usually by October, and then whatever extra money would now hit my paycheck, then that would be the money I got to spend on Christmas and all things.
Lo and behold, in the middle of my early 40s, I was going over -- I had a new branch manager, and we were kind of walking through how to sign up for your 401(k) and all that good stuff, kind of some of the things to pick. And I went to go into my 401(k), and I was astounded. I hit my retirement goal. And it was life changing. Like I literally was stunned. I sat there for a minute, and my heart went to my feet literally. On the way home I thought, how am I going to tell my husband? This is really life changing. So then I went home and I'm like, okay, so I told him. We hit our retirement goal. He's like, "You're kidding." I'm like, "No, like we really hit it." And he was like, "Well, what are you going to do now?" I'm like, "I don't know. What am I going to do now?"
Then the fear set in. You know what the fear was? So if I go do something else -- I know all about the banking side. I don't know anything about investing. Nothing. Who am I going to trust this with? What am I going to do? Who am I going to trust this money with? And then I thought, hmm, well, I could go get all my licenses. I could become a financial advisor, and then I could help other people. And I've always done financial literacy classes. Like that's my thing. I do like finances. But the investment piece has always been kind of elusive to me in that respect.
So I decided to go back to school and get all my licenses. I did not think that PNC would allow me to go from a senior vice president to a financial advisor. I thought that was like, yeah, they're not going to let me do that. Well, needless to say, when I was finishing up my testing, getting all my licenses, I got a call and they let me stay. So I became a financial advisor at PNC, and I've been here ever since.
So this is my encore career, and it's been amazing. But I absolutely enjoy every single day of it. And I do financial. I do as a financial advisor here, and then I do 20 hours a month of financial literacy in the community and help teaching people how to just save one day at a time and get to where they want to get to.
And that is a fantastic and very inspirational story because you met your goals, and you were able to do something that you're passionate about. So we're certainly glad that you achieved that and were able to stay and then help others in the community through both your professional experience, but then also through that volunteerism. So thank you very much.
You know what, I wanted to turn to a couple questions that we received as part of the registration process. And so this first one, Brenasia, is really great. It talks about as a young woman starting out, I'm not sure how to think about money and how I get started in my career. Any good advice? So Brenasia, thinking about the way that you guys started, what was maybe one of the best things -- best pieces of advice that was imparted onto you or something that you'd like to share?
I think one of the best advice that was given to me starting out was make sure I fully understand what my compensation package from my employer was. Really take the time to read my healthcare plan, the difference between the two, how much money is being deducted. Start with the match that my company is offering and look at what a healthcare -- a health savings account is. Those were things that I did not know at all what they were.
And spending that time researching and understanding -- five years, and I'm going to hit five years in August. Five years into my career, I'm very happy that I took those, let's say, four months of stress and really taking the time of digging into what it even meant that I'm being paid a salary, but what is all this other stuff that I'm getting? So taking that time to ask questions, ask people's parents, ask friends until I figured out what made sense for me. Because just what Susan over here did doesn't mean Brenasia over here has to do or vice versa. But I think it's really important to spend that time researching and asking those questions so you can feel comfortable with what you're deciding to allocate where to set you up for later.
Thank you, Brenasia. I appreciate that. It is overwhelming to get started, you're right. And so you have to take the time to sort through all that. I think this is a really great topic, so Lynne, I'm going to ask you the same question. What's the best piece of financial advice or financial education that you'd like to pass along?
You know, I'm just going to echo, it was mentioned a little bit earlier. Just start right out of the gate. First job, second job, whatever it is, load up on that 401(k). I wholeheartedly agree that if you do that and you learn early to set aside from whatever your income is as much as you possibly can, that over time it will grow and it will be multiple times over, much more meaningful.
I would not recommend borrowing against a 401(k). I know that that is an option out there. But I think it should be something that you put aside and you just say, that is my financial future and I want that nest egg to grow, grow, grow. And then I do think you need an emergency fund on the side outside of your 401(k) that you have available for those unexpected surprises. So all in on 401(k), maxing that out as much as possible as early as possible.
Thanks for that, Lynne. And so MJ, I'll give you the last word on best piece of advice that you would want to pass along.
I would say definitely the best piece of advice would be -- I think it's twofold, because I think the first one is I'm just going to reiterate what everybody said. And Lynne's absolutely right. Do not borrow on your 401(k). And people will tell you, oh yeah, you're borrowing your own money. Yeah, don't do that. She's absolutely right.
So definitely, you cannot pass up free money. So you cannot pass up -- I'm going to say it again. You cannot pass up free money. So when your 401(k) is giving you a match, you cannot pass that up. It's totally free money. You have to take advantage of that, number one. And number two, you absolutely need an emergency fund. Because if you don't have an emergency fund, then you're going to use credit. And that credit -- so let me think. I am having an emergency, and so now I'm going to use credit to get myself out. Now I have a catastrophe is what I have because I needed the emergency fund because I didn't have any money. So now the bill comes in and now I really can't pay that either. So definitely having your emergency fund put together.
And craft a spending plan. I do not call it a budget. Craft a spending plan. And that's what -- because you give yourself the right to spend money. Because you're going to spend it. You're going to spend some type of money, so then craft yourself a spending plan. You have so much you're going to save, so much you're going to spend on your bills, and then you have a spending plan. And if you do that, my husband and I do a spending plan. Every single month I do a spending plan. And at Christmas time, it gets even more exciting because I have more money to spend. So do a spending plan. Do not call it a budget. It is a spending plan. So those would be my top three.
That's great. Thank you. So we heard a ton of great advice today. Everything from start early or start now if you haven't, to not be afraid of taking on debt or going through that credit assessment process. Connecting with friends or your personal banker or your business bank to ask those questions. And really the most important piece is to not delegate your financial decision making to anyone. Trust yourself and to really build that confidence to take control of your financial life.
So just thank you to our panelists for being here today. Thank you MJ, Brenasia and Lynne for joining me. It was a great conversation, and I really appreciate you being here with us today. Thank you.
MJ Roach: Thank you for having us.
Brenasia Ward-Caldwell: Thank you.
Lynne Herndon: Thank you.