Amid college graduation season, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals are often asked to provide financial advice for college students, who are heading out into the “Real World”. Here goes…
Eight years after the worst recession since the Great Depression, the class of 2017 is in good shape as far as job prospects go. The National Association of Colleges and Employers College Graduates’ 2017 Job Outlook finds that just over 98 percent of employers plan to hire bachelor’s-degree earners this year, virtually the same as in 2016.
That said, remember that your first job will not be the last one and the rotten job you hate today may be useful in helping you to figure out where you want to go tomorrow. Definitely cultivate a network, but do so carefully—nobody likes a nudge, who only makes contact when seeking a favor. And be willing to take chances or move laterally so that you can position yourself for the next phase of your career.
Recent grads will want to develop their first (of many) financial plans upon graduation. They can start with what I like to call, “The Big 3”.
(1) Pay down debt. Your first priority is to pay off the highest interest consumer-related loans (credit card and autos) and then work your way down to the lower interest ones. If you are among the nearly 70 percent of 2017 graduates with student loans, be sure to understand exactly what you owe. Write down each loan, its interest rate, the payment amount and note whether or not the loan is a federal or private one. If possible, make extra payments to accelerate your pay-off time – the average student borrower takes about 20 years to repay the loans and the sooner you repay, the quicker that degree will pay you great dividends!
(2) Establish an emergency reserve fund of 6-12 months’ worth of expenses. This is also the account where you may want to accumulate money for a car or house down payment or any near-term financial goal – meaning funds that you plan to access within the next year.
(3) Maximize retirement contributions. This is a tough one – very few recent graduates will earn enough money to put away the maximum of $18,000 this year, but many could contribute at least up to the company’s match level; or if they don’t have an employer plan, they could try to fund a Roth IRA up to the $5,500 maximum.