Hats (or shall we say "caps") off to you recent college grads! After years of hitting the books and acing (or at least passing) your exams, you're now ready for "the real world." Part of being a post-scholar is smart money management, so investing and using your money strategically is important not only for your current place in life, but for your future. These tips will give you the know-how to make wise money-related decisions that you may not have learned in school, but may be even more valuable (pun intended) than what you're professors had to offer.



Start a 401(k)

While retirement may seem a long way off, planning for your golden years is best started as soon as possible. One way to do so is by opening a 401(k) retirement plan with the company you work for once you land your first post-college job.

As per U.S. News & World Report, "Even if you can only afford $25, $50 or $75 a month, there are several benefits to starting right away. The benefits of compounding could turn your small monthly investment into a decent nest egg as time passes. Even if you put $50 a month into your plan during your first year of employment, that $600 in contributions alone could grow into $13,952.08 over 40 years. Plan to increase your contributions as you get older, but for now, contribute as much as you can as soon as you can."

Plus, many employers will match your contribution up to a certain percentage. It's like getting free money! Forbes notes, "If possible, invest enough in your 401(k) to qualify for the full match (the amount your employer puts in as a result of how much you contribute). Most employers require workers to save between 4 and 6% of pay to get the maximum match. Whatever the match, try to take your company up on it." Not to mention, contributions are tax-deductible and the money grows tax-deferred until you take money from your savings.



Deal with Student Loans

College is expensive, and many students take out loans with hefty interest rates in order to afford to pay for school. U.S. News & World Report recommends, "If you have student loans (and most students do) pay them down at a rate faster than you're obligated. Putting extra money toward your student loans while you can, before you take on other large financial obligations, will be invaluable down the road."

Forbes adds, "Adding an extra $25 to your monthly repayments can shorten the life of your student loan and save you interest. Making the payments through automatic debits from your bank account can reduce the interest rate, too, according to student-loan servicer Sallie Mae."

There's also the option of a government (federal) consolidation loan. As per U.S. News & World Report, "With a consolidation loan, you are able to bundle all of your federal student loans into one monthly payment. Often, your rate will be lower than the average weighted rate of your existing loans. When you consolidate, your monthly payments may also decrease. By owing less interest and having a lower monthly payment, you are able to put more money away into savings."

Plus, according to StudentLoans.gov, you can do this at no cost to you. And, as per Nerdwallet, "Your payments will be tied to your earnings and your loan balance will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years."




Clear Your Credit Balance

Using a credit card may be your only option at times, but getting rid of debt, or clearing it completely, if possible, is best started now before the debt keeps piling up. U.S. News & World Report suggests, "If you acquired a student credit card while in college, it's time to graduate to a low-rate card."

Also, try to pay more than the minimum required each month, even if it's just by a few dollars. Over time, the payments will add up and debt will diminish. Forbes recommends, "Adding an extra $25 to your monthly repayments can save you interest. Making the payments through automatic debits from your bank account can reduce the interest rate, too." (If your card is through your personal bank).

Most of all, try not to accumulate credit cards and lower your spending if you can right after college. Make a budget and stick to it. As per Young Money, "The best way to stay in the driving seat of your finances is to create a personal spending budget. Be sure to factor in such things as taxes, increases in prices (i.e. gasoline), and other possible changes due to economic factors (i.e. inflation). In other words, practice conservatism-plan on the worst, and be prepared for the best."



Invest Your Money

While you may think that the period right after college should be the time to focus on making money and putting it straight into your bank account, investing some of it can be a smart plan. Forbes notes, "No, it's not too soon. In fact, one of the great advantages you have over people your parents' and grandparents' age is that you have many, many years ahead of you, which means more time for your money to grow. And, historically, buying stocks or mutual funds is the best way to do this."

U.S. News & World Report agrees, "Devise a strategy incorporating several different types of investments that allows you to diversify in order to reduce risk. Now is the time to be more aggressive. You can gradually reduce the risk level of your investments as you approach retirement."

You can seek out advice online or with an advisor, which is a wise idea before making any major moves.

OK grad… you made it through those four grueling years, now it's time for the rest of your life!


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