The College Starter Guide To Financial Planning

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ADULTINGGGGG!

SOURCE: N. LEEPER, SHUTTERSTOCK

Since we're kind of adults now, it's important for college students, especially upperclassmen about to hit the real world, to think about finances. If you're paying rent, managing a few bills here and there, and budgeting groceries, then believe it or not, you're financial planning without even realizing it.

Learning how to manage your money, build credit, and start saving is going to help you in a ton of ways, like when you apply for auto insurance, are looking for loans, cell phone plans, or getting a job.

So like...adulting.

Before you lose your mind trying to figure out what the heck finances are (like I did), here are some basic financial tips for us college students so we can be badass adults(ish).

Educate yourself.

First and foremost, learn about finances, if you're like me and literally did not know what interest was. If there's something that's confusing, clarify it. Your parents are probably willing to help out.

Start a savings account.

If you don't already have one. Start saving as much as you possibly can now, so you can compound your interest and multiply your savings. Check our Discover's cool savings calculator to see how much you could save by putting away some money each month!

Open your own credit card.

DOI. If you can show proof of income, you should think about applying for a card in your name. Lots of banks on college campuses are pushing debit cards on students, which isn't a bad thing, but that won't do a thing for your credit.

...BUT don't be an idiot.

Since the card is in your name, you have to be responsible. Use the card for emergencies. Plan out one small purchase a month, something that you can easily pay off once the bill arrives.

Start small.

Like I said, be cautious and spend sparingly. One tip that I received was to literally cut up the card as soon as it arrived so you're not tempted to use it for stupid purchases.

Then, use the account number for ONE small monthly, recurring online payment, like Netflix or Spotify. These payments can be set up as automatic, so it looks like you're responsibly paying your balance each month.

Boom. Building credit.

Do your research.

Cards, accounts, and programs with awesome rewards programs might have sky-high interest rates. No bueno. Ask your parents, do some research, and find the right one for you.

Have a backup plan for emergencies.

If you happen to run into trouble (think flat tire, broken phone, etc.), you need to have money saved, or an emergency card, as a backup plan to pay for this larger expense. And you won't go over your credit limit, since you've only been using it for small purchases. SO RESPONSIBLE.

Pay your balances...your FULL balances.

This'll teach you financial responsibility...if you can't afford to pay off your full balance each month, then you need to do some budgeting and prioritize your purchases. You'll also avoid fees.

You should have a way to pay your bills.

I wouldn't recommend this kind of financial plan if you don't have some sort of income or means to pay it off. Not paying your bills in this case would kind of blow the whole purpose of building credit.

Meet with financial planners.

Your parents might even already have people they work with to manage their money. You can learn to manage your savings, build up credit, and even start earning interest on money you already have. Financial planners are verrrrrry good at making you money.

Start budgeting.

Get yourself a planner and begin practicing allocating where you're going to spend your monthly paycheck or income. For example, vow to save a certain percentage each month, allow a certain amount for food, gas, fun stuff, etc.... getting organized is fantastic practice for down the road, and you can start to pinpoint areas where you can save even more.

...and ACTUALLY STICK to your budget.

Practice self-control. You don't get "cheat days" with your finances like you would on your diet. If you overspend in a certain area, make sure you plan to compensate for it the next month. Emergencies will obviously happen, but knowing how to handle them will be key.

AND DON'T FREAK OUT.

I'll be honest, this stuff was really intimidating for me at first. Once I sat down with my parents' financial planner and worked it all out, it didn't seem that complicated at all.

I am by NO MEANS a financial planner, nor do I play one on TV. But getting started handling your finances in college will only give you a head start for later in life. #adulting for the win.

*All info above was gathered from conversations with Merrill Lynch financial planners....and other real adults (aka my parents).

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