Fall is here and school is back in session but for many graduates, it's out for good. If you're a recent high school or college graduate, this might be the first time you're really on your own. Living away from home and paying for your own housing, food and other necessities can be a tough adjustment. But being on your own for the first time is a new and exciting experience and it offers a perfect opportunity to set yourself up for success.
Getting started on your own after graduation can be especially difficult because there's not one clear path to success. Maybe you have friends who are spending their money on travelling abroad, or who have the luxury of working unpaid internships at prestigious companies. Perhaps you've been slow to start the job search, or maybe you've been applying and interviewing for months. Everyone's situation is different and there are steps you can take for a great financial future no matter what your circumstances. As a recent grad, you are in the unique position to start out fresh financially compared to those who are already well into their careers or planning for retirement.
Make sure you have the right bank account for you. From your income level to proximity to your bank -- a lot may have changed since you opened your account. You may want to consider switching to an account that has a different minimum balance, or if you're frequently moving money between your checking and savings accounts, look for an option that won't charge you a fee every time you make a transfer. No matter the reason, finding the right account for you can save you a lot of money and inconvenience in the long run.
If you are still sharing a bank account with your parents, it's probably time to open your own. Opening an account can be simple and it's even possible to do so online or over the phone -- but you'll need a minimum deposit amount, which varies from bank to bank, as well as important documents like identification and your Social Security Number. For helpful tips, see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) guide on opening a checking account.
Live within your means. It's easier said than done, but whether you're going to be fully financially independent right after graduation or you're counting on your parents' support, you'll need to have income you can rely on while you figure out your short and long term career goals. Maybe you're temping or freelancing while you continue your search for that first post-grad position, or perhaps you've decided to take a year off and travel the world. Whatever path you're currently on, it's essential to live within your means and build a strong financial foundation early on. Even if you've landed a high salary right after graduation, it's still important to budget for new expenses and financial goals.
A good guideline to start with is the 50/20/30 rule. Allot 50 percent of your income to necessary costs like housing, 20 percent to financial goals like paying off student loans and 30 percent to spending on things like clothes or entertainment. Keep in mind that this is a rule of thumb and you can adjust it to fit your needs -- for example, if you're currently not spending on housing, you can move those funds to your savings. Never spend more than you have, and make a habit of paying your bills on time. It's smart financial practice and can save you a lot of money on interest and fees.
Figure out taxes. Taxes can seem complicated, but the most important thing to know is that you must pay them on time or request a six month extension. Get started early and if you've missed the tax deadline, don't ignore the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) -- follow their guidelines for repayment. Pay your taxes as soon as possible, even if it means eliminating all optional spending (like clothes and entertainment). There are multiple ways to pay your taxes and you can even download the IRS2Go mobile app to make payments and check refunds. The IRS has helpful tax tools online, but if you still find yourself unprepared to file, consider hiring a tax professional or financial advisor to help you get started. Keep a financial document folder that you can refer to at tax season. It's a safe place to keep your pay stubs, student loan statements, charitable contributions and other important documentation that will make filing taxes much easier. And check with your parents before filing. If they claim you as a dependent, you won't be able to claim tax exemptions. Finally, check if you qualify for special exemptions like a student loan deduction.
Take charge of your student loans. Paying off student loans might feel like a burdensome task with no end in sight, but these loans funded your education and they're ultimately an investment in your future. Make sure to confirm your loan status at the official Federal Student Aid website where you can also explore your payment options and estimate how long it will take to repay your loans. Always make the minimum payments on time -- interest on missed payments can compound your debt. Paying off your loans faster with higher monthly payments can save you hundreds or even thousands in interest. Again, if you're having trouble paying off your loans, don't ignore them. Get in contact with your lender, explain your situation and pay as much as you can immediately while prioritizing paying off the rest. Your lender will be much more likely to help you if you show you're responsible and you care.
Check up on your healthcare. Healthcare is important, but many times it won't seem like it's important until you need it. Under the Affordable Care Act, you can stay on your parents' plan until you're 26. However, if you aren't currently on your parents' plan or wish to leave their plan, you have several options to explore. Under federal law, if you're not covered by health insurance you must pay a fee on your next federal tax return. You can explore the different levels of coverage available and estimate how much a plan will cost you at Healthcare.gov, the federal healthcare website.
Get ready for retirement -- yes, really. The younger you start saving, the more valuable your savings are. According to this Bankrate example, starting your savings at age 25 at $2,000 a year will yield a retirement account of $560,000 (assuming your earnings grow at 8 percent every year). But starting just 10 years later at age 35 will yield just $245,000 at retirement -- less than half the money you'd have if you started saving ten years earlier. The earlier you start saving, the more money you'll end up with -- and if you take advantage of an employer-matched 401(k) fund, you can put away extra money for free. If you're not sure how to get started on your retirement fund, check out Forbes for a step-by-step guide.
Charge up your credit score. Building up credit as a young adult is important for big purchases down the road. Buying a house or purchasing a car are often significantly harder without a good credit score. It's smart to start building good credit early on while your expenses are relatively small. For more information, the CFPB has a database of frequently asked questions that can help you understand everything you need to know about credit cards and credit scores.
Bottom line: Though the transition from student to independent adult may feel overwhelming, you can take this opportunity to get your finances organized and prepare for working life. Building a strong financial foundation early on will help you worry less about your money and allow you to fully enjoy other new aspects of your life after college.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.