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Western alumnus gives financial advice to students for a “post-college” world

Paul Merriman presents on financial steps seniors should take in the 12 months after they graduate on Monday, April 20, in the Communications Facility.
Paul Merriman presents on financial steps seniors should take in the 12 months after they graduate on Monday, April 20, in the Communications Facility. // Photo by Jake Tull

Paul Merriman, president of Merriman Financial Education Foundation, asked a lecture hall full of Western students if they had their 401(k)s under control. No one lifted a finger.

He received his degree at Western in economics and has a passion for giving young people a financial education. Young people don’t have great sources of information, Merriman said.

“I can make a greater difference in getting a 20-something to do the right [financial] thing than somebody who has a lot of money at the age of 65,” Merriman said.

Around 70 students listened to Merriman give two presentations at Western on Monday, April 20, about personal investing and saving for retirement.

“I’ve been coming to Paul Merriman’s events since I was a freshman,” said senior Lora Sonnen, a double major in International Business and Spanish. “It makes me feel less apprehensive about what’s to come. This is stuff we don’t learn in school, and it’s essential that we do learn it.”

Merriman has returned to speak to Western students about making smart financial decisions for the last four years, though his previous presentations have been more general, and the one Monday was more focused on talking about 401(k)s and retirement, Sonnen said.

Merriman suggested investing more in stocks early on, and as one gets older more in bonds. He said every college graduate should have a 401k, IRA or Roth IRA they should put 10 percent of what they make into until they retire.

This advice made Sonnen feel more confident about navigating her finances after graduation.

“A lot of young people who might have student debt and other obligations as they get out of college and work for the first time, really don’t have good knowledge and skills about how to manage their money,” Sandra Mottner, Associate Dean of the College of Business and Economics said.

Mottner conducted a study with two Western colleagues for the Journal of Financial Education that shows most university students have little knowledge about finances and think they know a lot more than they do.

“We hope that students get this knowledge, and for some of us its knowledge we didn’t have starting out,” Mottner said.

Merriman funds his foundation with the mission to educate people of all ages on investing better for retirement, Mottner said.

“[Merriman] has an absolute passion for helping to educate, especially young people, about financial well-being and how they can provide for themselves and their family long-term,” Mottner said.

Merriman’s foundation supports the finance 216 class, called personal investing. He writes a weekly column for MarketWatch.com, a business news website, and records a weekly podcast on his website, paulmerriman.com.

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