June 04, 2015
Forget all the commencement speeches about your dreaming big, not compromising, and following your passion. That’s all terrific advice, but not nearly as important as the nuts and bolts of four make-or-break financial moves every college grad needs to make ASAP:
1. Get On Top of Your Student Loans. Yes, you have a six-month grace period before repayment of federal loans must begin. Don’t you dare wait five months and three weeks before focusing on this. Screw up on repayment is one of the most damaging mistakes you can ever make, and it becomes both hard and expensive to get on track if you fall behind.
2. Make Sure You Have Health Insurance. If you haven’t yet started a job with benefits, or you’re taking a gap year, please don’t go naked here. Yes, the odds are low you might get sick, but insurance is about protecting yourself from the big “what ifs.” Besides, it’s not just about illness; any type of injury can set you back, from a broken bone to a torn ACL. If your parents have health insurance from an employer they should be able to carry you on that policy until you are 26, for a cost. Ask them to find out the cost, then compare it to what you can purchase for yourself (Go to healthcare.gov). If you and your parents decide it’s best to go with their plan, and you have a paying job, you should pay your share of their premium, or at the very least contribute. You’re their kid, but you are also an adult now.
3. Get a Credit Card…if You Don’t Already Have One. As much as I applaud using just a debit card-paying as you go, rather than being tempted to overspend with a credit card-it still is important to have a credit card as well. The goal is to use it just a few times each month-for small purchases. And then pay your bill, in full, each month. Doing that is going to go a long way in establishing a solid credit score.
4. Automate Savings ASAP. Okay, you know how I feel about the emergency fund. And you know how I feel about saving for retirement. Both are non-negotiable Must Do’s-and the sooner the smarter. I respect you may not have a big income just yet. But please listen to me: that’s not an excuse for doing nothing. You need to do something-save something-every month.
• Emergency Savings: Set up an automatic monthly transfer (it should be free) from your checking account into a separate savings account. How much? Well, how much feels right? Then add 10% to that number. That’s my challenge. Just try it for six months. I think you will surprise yourself at how doable it is, and how powerful it feels to start building an emergency savings account.
• Retirement Savings:If you are offered a workplace retirement plan that comes with a company matching contribution, you better grab it. Be sure to confirm that you are contributing enough to qualify for the maximum match from your boss. It’s sad, but many companies set the “default” contribution rate for new employees at such a low level that the employee doesn’t get all the matching contribution they are entitled to. Don’t make that mistake!
If you don’t have a retirement plan through work, or the plan doesn’t offer a match, the best first-step for new grads is to start saving via a Roth IRA. Again, you can set up a monthly transfer from a checking account into a Roth IRA investment account. Some discount brokerages, such as TDAmeritrade don’t have a high minimum initial investment, so you can get started transferring say $100 or so a month into a Roth IRA.