Financial Tips for Recent College Graduates

July 18, 2019  |  

Financial Tips for Recent College Graduates

Recent graduates are transitioning from student life to the workforce, from being focused on their education to focusing on their careers. Every student’s financial situation is different. Here are some tips that young people can use to get their financial lives off to a great start.

The facts are frightening:

  • The class of 2018 left college with average student debt of almost $40,000.
  • Too many people are on the path to running out of money well before they die.
  • More than half of U.S. adults (including the wealthy) don’t have up-to-date financial, estate and gift plans to protect themselves and their families.

This lack of financial knowledge places a HUGE amount of pressure on the individual, their families, and friends, employers, nonprofits; as well as on the ultimate safety net of the state and federal government.

Don’t let you or your loved ones become one of these alarming statistics! Here are seven fundamental financial tips to help the recent grads in your life get off to a good start:

(1)  Create a “grown-up” budget

One of the most important transitions for most new college graduates is taking responsibility for their finances—all their finances. With the financial freedom of a new job, it may seem they don’t need to manage their money. But with new expenses, such as rent, utilities, and car payments, plus your student loan bills, it can be easy to overspend. A good budget not only gives them a snapshot of income versus regular bills–it provides peace of mind knowing when they can afford a night out or an impulse buy. Software programs such as Mint or You Need a Budget can be a big help.

NOTE: Like the retirement calculators you see online—budgeting tools are only as good as the information and assumptions plugged into them. Encourage the young adults in your life to consult with a qualified financial advisor to help them plug in the right inputs and assumptions.

(2)  Deal with your debt

Whether it is from student loans or credit cards, it is important to focus on reducing your debt. Graduating with debt can be debilitating, but having a plan to pay off debt can help grads get back in control of their finances. Focus on paying off debt with higher interest rates first, like credit cards. When possible, make extra payments. Paying off debt early will lower interest charges and can save money over the life of the loan.

(3)  Retirement planning starts now

It may seem odd to think about retirement when you are just starting out in the workforce, but in many ways, the first contributions are the most important. Encourage new grads to take advantage of their employer’s 401(k) as soon as they are eligible. Waiting just one year to contribute to your 401(k) could lower the retirement nest egg by up to $100,000. Waiting 10 years could drop their 401(k) by half.

(4)  Save for emergencies

While often neglected, planning for emergencies should be a priority. Having an emergency fund can help with anything from an unexpected car repair to high medical bills to major household repair to job loss. Always keep three to six months’ worth of normal living expenses on hand. Creating an emergency fund is as simple as setting up a direct deposit from one’s paycheck to a savings account.

(5)  Upgrade your accounts

Graduation is a good time to reevaluate your bank and credit card accounts. As young adults join the workforce and become responsible renters or homeowners, financial needs will change—A LOT! The checking account they were eligible for as a student may not provide the flexibility or benefits they need now. Check what other account options the bank offers. Be sure to shop around to make sure they have the right accounts, and the right bank, for their new financial situation.

(6)  Upgrade credit cards

Used correctly, credit cards are an essential tool to establish good credit history. Good credit can lower the interest rate on auto loans and home loans. The credit cards that students are eligible for are generally entry-level cards that have a higher interest rate and fewer rewards and benefits. New grads should look for credit cards that give the most rewards for their normal spending habits and financial goals. If they think they may occasionally carry a balance, they should look for a card with a low-interest rate. If their goal is to travel, look for a card that offers plenty of mileage rewards.

(7)  Hire a financial planner/mentor

New grads might not think they have enough income or assets to use a professional financial advisor, but they’d be surprised to see what they own, what they owe and what they’ll need going forward. Among other things, a planner can help them decide whether to consolidate student loans, whether to save for retirement using a Roth 401(k) or traditional 401(k), how to invest their money, how much life insurance to buy, and so much more.

Note to parents and grandparents: A great graduation gift would be a one or two-hour consultation with a qualified and competent financial planner.


Life is full of transitions.  Some will be good, others will be a challenge. Having a network of family, friends and financial advisors in your corner will make it substantially easier for new grads to roll with the punches and adjust to their ever-changing life circumstances.

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About Patrick Melvin Jr.

Patrick D. Melvin Jr., is a Wealth Manager at Independence Advisors, LLC. Pat models client’s financial plans and works with the firm’s clients on financial planning areas such as retirement planning, investment planning and estate planning. CLICK HERE TO ASK PAT.
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