College prepares students to be everything from accountants and teachers to government workers and health care technicians, but not all students learn basic money management skills. Here’s advice for this year’s graduates on how to succeed financially.
1. Use a tried-and-true budgeting strategy
A regular paycheck, however small, can feel like a windfall for those used to surviving on a student’s budget. The 50-30-20 rule can be a helpful guideline for using your take-home pay wisely.
Spend about 50% on necessities including rent, groceries and transportation. Use up to 30% for wants such as takeout, concert tickets and online subscriptions, but minimize those expenses if you have a lot of debt. Put the remaining money toward savings and paying off debt, targeting the highest-interest payments first.
2. Check your credit regularly
Credit is an indicator of your trustworthiness with money. Lenders, landlords and some employers check it before issuing loans or credit cards, leasing apartments and offering jobs. There are two important measures of credit: reports and scores. Checking these indicators regularly will help you spot mistakes and areas for improvement.
A credit report documents your history of paying bills and debts; go to annualcreditreport.com to request a free copy. Credit scores are based on the information in credit reports; you can get a free credit score online.
3. Negotiate your salary and bills
Make sure you’re getting paid fairly by researching how other companies compensate for similar roles. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and PayScale’s Salary Data & Career Research Center, and cite that data when speaking with prospective employers.
Cable, cell phone, internet, gym and medical bills can be negotiated, too. When talking to providers, try phrases like, “I wish to cancel” and “My budget can’t afford it,” says Jim Rasmussen, a certified financial planner and co-founder of One & Done Financial.
4. Understand your student loans and repayment options
It’s essential to know the types of loans you have — federal, private or a mix — because each loan type has different repayment options. Look up loans issued by the Department of Education by logging into your Federal Student Aid account. If you don’t see them there, they’re private loans.
Federal loans are eligible for loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans, which tie borrowers’ monthly payment to their income. Private loans lack those perks, but borrowers with good credit may be able to refinance to get a lower rate.
5. Set aside some graduation money
Experts recommend having three to six months of living expenses stashed for emergencies. If you receive any monetary gifts at graduation, use those funds to get started. Aim for $500 initially; adding a reasonable amount of your paycheck each month can help.
Keep the money in a savings account that’s separate from your checking and earns some interest; that way you won’t be tempted to spend it, and the amount will grow over time.
6. Comparison-shop for insurance
Get quotes from multiple companies before purchasing any type of insurance. Use an independent agent or compare rates online, and reevaluate your provider regularly.
“It’s not about loyalty,” Rasmussen says. “Companies’ rates typically increase and cycle; therefore, you can save thousands by checking the marketplace each year to see if your rates are competitive.”
7. Harness the power of compound interest
Retirement may feel like a lifetime away, but postgraduation is the best time to start saving for it. Thanks to compound interest, you’ll earn more money over time if you start investing in a retirement account in your 20s than if you start in your 30s. Plugging some examples into a compound interest calculator illustrates this:
- A 22-year-old who invests $100 a month will have $226,304 by age 65, assuming a 6% rate of return and annual compounding.
- A 32-year-old who invests $100 a month will have $117,535 by age 65, using the same assumptions.
Starting earlier allows more time for earned interest to grow. In this example, the 22-year-old invests just $12,000 more than the 32-year-old over time and has nearly double the amount of money at age 65.
Saving for retirement may not be doable right away, but — like the rest of these tips — it’s a healthy habit for new graduates to aspire to.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.