From affording rent to paying off your student loans to building up your savings, learning to manage your money as a young adult might seem like a balancing act. Money missteps early in life can come back to bite you in the long run. However, by knowing what to expect post-college and planning ahead of time, you can establish a solid financial foundation.
To help you prepare for the next chapter of your life, we compiled a list of frequently asked financial questions for soon-to-be graduates:
Q: What is a credit score?
Your credit score is used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness. It’s a measure of your financial health and is based on factors, such as your payment history, outstanding debts, length of credit history, utilization rate, and types of credit accounts.
The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to qualify for loans, credit cards, and other financial assistance at favorable rates. Credit is also much easier to build than to improve. That’s why it’s crucial that you understand your current financial health and establish good money habits sooner rather than later to avoid having to dig yourself out of a poor financial situation.
Q: How can I start building or improving my credit?
Chances are, you won’t have much, if any, credit built after school. You may have some credit if you have a brief history of loan repayments or if you opened a credit account. However, the quickest ways to boost or improve your score after school is by making on-time payments on your student loans or by opening and regularly paying off a credit card.
Before taking steps to build your score, you should check your credit report to better understand your financial position. Knowing your credit history will help you determine what types of credit you might be able to qualify for and identify ways you may be able to improve your score.
Q: How do you determine what is the best credit card to get?
Opening a credit card is one of the first steps you can take to build your credit. As a recent grad, you’ll probably want to obtain a card that has low or no annual fees and high approval odds. The best credit card for you will depend on your specific needs, so you should research your options before applying.
If you’re hesitant about applying for a card with a high credit line (meaning you could potentially spend more than you can afford), an alternative option would be to apply for a secured credit card. With a secured card, your credit limit is based on a security deposit, meaning you won’t be able to spend more than your deposit amount.
Q: When should I apply for a credit card?
As mentioned previously, obtaining a credit card is one of the fastest ways you can build credit, and there are many reasons why you might want one after graduation. For instance, you may want to make a larger purchase in the near future or reap a cashback or introductory APR reward that a particular card offers.
However, before applying for a card, it’s crucial that you learn how they work. Misusing a credit card could lower your credit score, hurt your chances of qualifying for financing, or negatively impact your interest rates. That’s why you should only apply for a credit card if you’re confident you’ll be approved, have a reliable source of income, and know that you will be able to use it responsibly.
Q: What living costs should I expect in my first years after college?
You may not have had to worry about many living expenses while you were in school. However, as you enter the professional world, you’ll need to plan for costs like housing, transportation, groceries, utilities, and insurance. To avoid sticker shock, you should list out any expenses you expect to incur so you have a better idea of what to expect.
After you’ve identified your essential expenses, you should think about additional costs like entertainment, dining, and travel. These costs can add up, which is why you’ll want to plan ahead and create a budget to ensure you live within your means.
Q: How can I create and stick to a budget?
Based on your living expenses, you’ll want to create a budget that accounts for both your immediate expenses and long-term financial goals. Creating a budget will require you to evaluate your income, calculate your monthly expenses, and understand, monitor, and manage your cash flow.
Setting specific money goals like saving for a new car, vacation, or down payment on a home, can also make it easier for you to set a budget and limit your spending. With specific objectives in mind, you’re more likely to hold yourself accountable for sticking to your budget in order to achieve them.
Q: What are some reasonable savings plans for college students and young adults?
As you create a budget after school, it’s important to factor in cash for savings. Even if it’s only a small amount, continually adding money to your savings could provide you with funds to pay for future expenses or financial netting should you incur unexpected costs.
Using money-saving apps may be an effective way to monitor your spending and stow away money as they automate the process for you. Or, if you have a specific money goal in mind, you could budget for and commit to putting a set amount into savings each month. For example, to save $1,000 in your first year out of school, all you would need to do is set aside $85 per month.
Q: Should I save for a house or pay off my student loans?
If you have your eyes set on homeownership but are straddled with student loans, you’re not alone. Your decision to prioritize one over the other will depend on your current financial position and long-term goals. Some recent graduates may even be able to accomplish both financial feats simultaneously.
If you choose to tackle both, there are ways you can make these financial obligations more manageable. For instance, you could reduce your payments or secure a lower rate by refinancing or consolidating your student loans. You could also explore mortgage assistance programs or consider financing with an FHA loan, which is a government-backed loan that requires a much lower down payment.
Q: How do I determine the best student loan repayment plan?
If you’re like millions of other students graduating with student loan debt, you’ll want to figure out a strategy for paying back your loans. Your first step should be to figure out exactly how much you owe. From there, you can figure out how much you can afford to pay back each month and determine the best method for repaying your student loans.
Your repayment plan will depend on your personal situation and how much you can afford each month. Some plans offer fixed payments over a set period of time while others increase incrementally. Before settling on a specific plan, be sure to understand your options so you can make an informed choice.
Sorting your finances might not happen overnight. However, by starting your planning and establishing good money habits during your senior year, you’ll ensure you’re in a good financial spot once graduation arrives.
There are many online resources available to help you out. Check out this Financial Literacy Quiz to learn and test your financial knowledge!