Smart Financial Advice for Those New College Graduates

College graduation is a time of celebration and pride. It’s also a time of significant financial transitions—for new graduates as well as their parents. As an advisor, this is a great opportunity to connect with your NextGen clients to help them make smart decisions that position them for greater financial success throughout their working lives and even into retirement.

Include the following tips in your quarterly newsletter or, even better, enclose them in a graduation card with an invitation to meet and answer any questions. From helping them understand the basics of a 401(k) to discussing the value of saving whatever they can afford today, sitting down with new college graduates may be the next step toward turning your current clients’ children into your next generation of business.

You’ve taken your last final and the celebration has begun. But for the first time in your life, walking off campus probably doesn’t mean you’re heading into a month or two of rest and relaxation. As a new grad, whether you’re heading into your first “real” job or are still searching for your perfect next step, now is the time to get your personal finances in order. Here are five tips to get you started.

1. Budget every paycheck.

Receiving that first paycheck from your new job will feel great, and it can seem like a fortune compared to what you’ve earned in the past. Enjoy it, but remember to use it wisely. That starts with building—and sticking to—a budget. Start with your monthly income, which means the actual amount in your check after taxes, insurance, and any other deductions. Next, write down every expense, especially ones you’ve never had to manage before. Rent, groceries, and gas to get you to work are the basics, but don’t forget to budget for things like new clothes for work (jeans and t-shirts likely won’t cut it anymore!), insurance, an emergency fund to cover things like a flat tire or a trip to urgent care, and even weekly entertainment. By knowing exactly what you can afford each month, joining your co-workers for a beer on Friday night or splurging on a night out on the town can be stress free—as long as you know you’re within your budget. And don’t forget to pay every bill on time! Even a few late payments can cause your credit score to take a hit.

2. Start building your “freedom fund.”

You’re young and healthy, so saving for retirement may be the last thing on your mind. But here’s the thing: by starting to save in your 20s, you can take advantage of one of the biggest savings tools around: compounding. Put simply, it means that because what your save earns interest each year, and that interest earns interest the next year, and so on, your lump sum grows exponentially. By saving just $100 a month now, and you average a positive return of 1% a month, compounded monthly over 40 years, at 60 years old you’ll have just over $1.17 million in your account. Wait until you’re 50, and even if you can invest $1000 each month, without the power of compounding, your account will be worth just $230,000. So don’t waste a minute. Enroll in your company’s retirement plan, or open your own Individual Retirement Account (IRA). And if you have even a small amount of cash left over each month, consider opening an investment account. Saving whatever you can now can give you much more financial freedom in your future.

3. Keep debt to a minimum.

Your credit score matters. The higher your score, the cheaper it is to borrow money when it’s time to buy a new car or, later on, your first home. To keep your credit score as high as possible (or fix any prior damage), treat every your credit card like cash, and include the balance due in your monthly budget. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it! It’s easy to want to spend like your co-workers, but just because they’re opening up their wallets doesn’t mean they aren’t sinking into debt themselves. Stick to one or two cards, and don’t let your balance slip above one-third of the available limit. If you can keep a zero balance, even better. Be smart now and you’ll have much more spending power when it really matters. And if you’ve already racked up some significant debt, take action immediately: stop using your cards and make payments part of your monthly budget, starting with the highest interest card first.

4. Repay your student loans.

If you owe a bundle in student loans, know that you’re not alone. Last year, the average monthly loan payment after graduation was $350, which can put a nasty dent in your monthly budget. And while most loan creditors don’t require you to begin paying back your loans for one year after you start your first job, starting to pay off your balance right away can make a difference in the long run. Consider paying just the interest at the moment, and understand what you need to set aside from each paycheck to cover that bill that will come due this time next year. And whatever you do, don’t miss payments or default on your loans. Again, your missteps can lower that all-important credit score.

5. Master the basics of personal finance.

Unless you majored in accounting or economics, you may not have taken the time to study up on the financial fundamentals. That knowledge can help you make smart, confident choices moving forward. Your cash flow is the amount of money you have to spend each month. Your assets include everything you own: property, jewelry, computers, cars, and cash. A liability is anything you are financially responsible for, including debt such as credit cards and student loans. Your net worth is simply your assets minus your liabilities; your goal is to grow that positive number over time. An interest rate is what you pay for the opportunity to borrow, and earned interest is what you gain for saving or investing. Add a basic primer like Personal Finance for Dummies to your summer reading list and you’ll be well on your way to a stronger, more confident financial future!

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The information and opinions herein are for general information use only. The opinions reflect those of the writers but not necessarily those of New York Life Investment Management LLC (NYLIM). NYLIM does not guarantee their accuracy or completeness, nor does New York Life Investment Management LLC assume any liability for any loss that may result from the reliance by any person upon any such information or opinions. Such information and opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security or as personalized investment advice.
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