Many students will be graduating college in the coming weeks. A majority of them will be leaving with large student loan debt. But that doesn't you mean you can't begin planning for the future. Kelli Grant, Sr. Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, offers some tips for new grads on how to get started on the right financial path.
First, get your spending in check. It's not easy to get a job these days, and the grace period before student loans kick in is all too short. Any credit card debt you rack up is going to be much harder to pay off. Don't spend more than you make, and certainly not more than you can pay off the same month. Stick to cash when you can.
To help control your spending, set up a budget. Ask yourself, how much can I spend? Learning to keep a budget is a skill that will help you for the rest of your life. You can do it on your own by putting cash in envelopes, or there are plenty of free budget apps and sites like Mint.com that will help you track spending and set reasonable limits.
Don't forget to pay yourself. It's not easy to save a lot when your finances are already stretched tight, but it's vital to build an emergency fund and save for future goals. Make sure you're taking a little (ideally at least 10%) out of each paycheck. Put it in a separate online-only, high-yield so it's harder to dip into for non-emergencies.
Take the time to reassess your bills. Chances are, you're using the same bank account Mom and Dad helped you pick out. Probably the same credit card and cellphone plan, too. Now that the decisions are yours, use a site like BillShrink.com or Bankrate.com to make sure you have the best rates and terms. It could save you hundreds of dollars a year, and help you get ahead financially.
And finally, it's never too early to think about your credit score. Buying a home or new car may be years away, but once you're ready you'll need a credit score of at least a 700 on the 300 to 850 point scale to get the best rates. Pay bills on time and keep those balances low. Don't open too many new credit cards, either.
For more money tips for college grads and other financial advice, visit SmartMoney.com