A Personal Finance Roadmap for Recent College Graduates
Initial steps to take to set yourself up for financial success
If you’re a recent college graduate, chances are, personal finance is overwhelming. While most college students are exposed to the complications of finances, they still have a safety net in their parents and find that their rent or meals or laundry is paid for. After graduation, though, and with a steady stream of income, it can become more difficult to know what to do with your money. Well, here is a personal finance road map to follow if you’re in a similar situation and need guidance knowing where to begin:
If you haven’t paid off your student loans…prioritize them!
Likely, this means creating a budget and sticking to it, reducing your spending costs, and setting aside income every month until your loans are reduced. While it can be tempted to use your adult salary on entertainment or travel, debt can pile up quickly. Moreover, interest rates only exacerbate the issue so prioritizing your loans, even if it’s just for a short period of time like 6-9 months, can certainly help in the long-run. Additionally, don’t be ashamed about passing up on an expensive apartment or new car in favor of living with your parents to save—your future self will thank you.
Once you’re debt-free…put your money in a high-yield checking account.
Most large banks offer interest rates well under 0.1%, meaning that your money likely sits there and doesn’t grow. While a high-yield checking or savings account won’t make you a millionaire, it will do more for your earnings than other types of accounts and every little bit matters. Imagine your money always making you more money without you having to do a thing.
When your money is earning a higher rate of interest, begin thinking about retirement.
If your company offers a 401(k) match, max that out, first. This could mean contributing 3-6% or more of your paycheck over the course of the year to receive “free” money from your company. After this, you have a few options: you can continue to save for retirement in your 401(k) if you like the options your company provides and feel as if the fees are minimal, or you can choose to open an IRA with lower fees and better investment options. An IRA only has an annual max of $6,000 which may be a reach for a recent college graduate, but it’s also a goal to work towards.
If you’ve decided you still want to continue to save after contributing to retirement…
One of the most low-risk methods to start investing is to put a set amount of cash into a CD, which is similar to a high-yield savings account but with a higher rate and no withdrawals for a set amount of time. You can choose if you want a 3-month or a 3-year CD but this method of saving is often recommended for young professionals who struggle with sticking to their budget.
With a CD, the money is out of your bank account and accruing interest elsewhere, so you’re forced to live with limited savings. A CD is also recommended if you want to save up for a car, a house, or graduate school. Given that most recent grads aren’t well-versed in the stock market and economy enough to know or understand what will happen to their money in the short-term, CDs are a great way to grow your savings in the short-term in a safe environment.
Another option is investing. You can get started with investments in a few different ways. The first is to open an account with a roboadvisor, like Betterment or Wealthfront, which will take your money and invest it in an already-diversified portfolio. You can pay an actual financial advisor to do this for you, too, but the fees they charge tend to be a bit higher, which is why roboadvising is popular among recent grads. If you feel a little more risk-tolerant, you can also take your cash and invest directly in the stock market or pick and choose ETFs and index funds to put your money in without having an advisor do so on your behalf.
Ultimately, this road map is just the beginning. Once you’ve mastered a budget that works for your lifestyle, consolidated and paid off your student debt, begun saving for retirement, and are using a high-yield checking or savings account, there are so many more paths to creating wealth through investments, real estate, credit card hacking, and more. But, much of this is intimidating which is why the road map is a good starting point. It may take a few years to achieve these basics, and even if these basics are all you learn or feel comfortable with, you’re still setting yourself up for future financial success.
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.
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