Every year 3.5 million degrees are handed out to US students after they've completed their education coursework according to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. With so many young adults entering the consumer world, often without the assistance of parents, the first few financial moves they take couldn't be more important.
Here are the first five things new grads should do once that degree is in hand and they are preparing to enter the "real" world for the first time:
1. Create a Budget
This step is not only deemed to be one of the most important actions for a new graduate to embrace, it's a skill that will benefit them throughout their lifetime.
Howard Dvorkin, founder of ConsolidatedCredit.org and author of "Credit Hell: How to Dig Out of Debt," advises grads to realistically consider their "true" salary of any new job. "Many college grads are starry-eyed at the salary they will be making at their first job. They should do their homework and find out the difference between the gross and the net pay they will be receiving." This will ensure budgets are realistic and can effectively be used to succeed.
2. Prepare for New Taxes
Many college grads have already filled out a simple tax form, but they may have previously been claimed as a dependent on a parent's return. "Proper handling of tax reporting should happen many months in advance of the deadline," says Dvorkin.
Some common deductions that new grads should keep track of to maximize their tax savings include:
Interview travel costs
3. Obtain Insurance
If the new grad entered college before they turned age 26, chances are good that they have never had to purchase insurance on their own. Graduates may find themselves looking to get independent policies for car, renter's or even health insurance, however, and these new expenditures can be costly.
For car insurance in particular, Dvorkin suggests these actions for keeping premiums low:
Cars with higher safety ratings will come with a lower premium. Ask your insurance agent to check your vehicle against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's safety report.
Pay your premiums in one large installment to save money. Many insuring companies charge a $2-$15 fee each month to break up an annual premium into monthly installments.
Don't get the most expensive automobile coverage available unless you have a lien against your vehicle. If you have collision or comprehensive coverage, raising your deductible from $250 to $500 could potentially lower your insurance premium by 10% or more.
4. Open a Single Credit Account
Kevin Gallegos, Vice President of Phoenix Operations at the Freedom Financial Network, emphasizes that getting credit right is more important than having a high volume of credit available. In addition, he advises grads to do the following:
Consider a debit card. During the first years of the learning, this flexible solution can set patterns of healthy credit use in place.
If you choose credit, stick to one credit card. Consider this card to be your only plastic, and use it as you would cash.
Never carry a balance (i.e., take on debt) on your credit card. Paying interest is not in a consumer's best interest.
5. Check Your Record
Getting a peek at your credit history is recommended at least annually, and new grads can grab a copy for free from all three reporting companies by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. According to Gallegos, "Not only is a sound credit history necessary for securing future credit for a house or a car, it has been a deciding factor in job eligibility, as well." New grads may find they need to resolve a sticky credit situation before getting the career of their dreams.
While easier said than done, the most important move a new grad can make is to master the art of living within their financial means and making a lifelong commitment to do so. Not only will it open greater opportunities in the consumer credit realm, it will allow for a lifetime of lower stress and greater overall happiness.
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