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4 Tips to Help New Grads Find Their Financial Footing

With graduation season just behind us, millions of members of the class of 2011 are just beginning their lives as employed, fully financially independent adults. Sure, many have worked part-time through college and have a basic grasp of the fundamentals of budgeting, but with their entry into the workforce young people enter a whole new financial era in which student loans come due, paychecks must last the full month and future expenses like mortgages begin to loom increasingly large.

How can they get on a firm financial footing? Entry-Level Rebel asked Jesse Ryan, Managing Director of Accounting Principals for some tips. In addition to reminding grads of the basics like cutting back on small, unnecessary expenses (no really, you don't need a Starbucks mocha latte every day), avoiding high interest credit cards and saving for an emergency fund, Ryan offered these four tips:

  • Consolidate Student Loans Government consolidation loans allow you to bundle all of your federal student loans into one monthly payment, often providing you with a lower interest rate than the average weighted rate of your existing loans. As an added perk, consolidation may even lower your monthly loan payments. Reminder: If you don't have a job lined up right after graduation requesting a six-month deferment on your student loans will help buy you a little extra time and save your credit score in the process. You can contact your loan servicers for information on how to do this.
  • Pick the Right Bank. Before picking a bank, look at the features that best fit your current financial situation, such as free checking, direct deposit, online bill paying and access to convenient branches and ATMs. Also don't forget about internet banking as an option -- internet banks tend to require less than half of the balance that regular banks demand in order to avoid monthly service fees and often don't charge or will reimburse ATM fees from other banks.
  • Be Mindful of Your Taxes. Make sure you choose the right deductions when you're filling out your W-4 so you're withheld the right amount and don't end up owing money when you file your tax returns. Keep track of things like major medical expenses and donations in the form of cash or goods because they may qualify for tax deductions. For some, this may be your first year of filing your own returns. Online tax tools and tax preparation services often have discounted fees if you file early.
  • Don't Leave Money on the Table. If you've landed job, be sure to look at your benefits package carefully. Many employers offer ways to set aside pre-tax funds from your paycheck for health care and transit expenses related to your commute. They may also provide discounts on gym memberships, cell phone plans and tickets to shows and sporting events in your local area. And be sure to participate in your company's profit sharing/401(k) plan, especially if they match your contributions. It's not only responsible to think about your financial future, but that's free money you shouldn't leave behind.
What other financial pitfalls should Gen Y avoid as they start their working lives?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user alancleaver_2000, CC 2.0)
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