Debt, loans, taxes, insurance, savings, investments, even retirement? As a recent college graduate, these may be words that concern you, especially if you are on an entry-level salary, living from paycheck to paycheck. Or perhaps you haven’t given these things much thought because you are too busy making ends meet. Just remember that the secret to keeping your finances under control isn’t always to earn more – you can also practice spending less and putting your money to its best possible use.
How to start off on the right foot:
Pay off any consumer debt, such as credit cards, before you concern yourself with saving. Credit cards are typically high interest so it’s smart to pay off the balance every month – or even better, stop using them! Use cash or a debit card unless you think you can handle paying off the full bill each month. Credit cards can only be convenient if you use them wisely. If you can avoid the temptation to spend money you don’t have, credit cards are a good way to build up your credit and earn rewards points.
It might be a good idea to consolidate your loans and lock in a low interest rate. Ensure you have the lowest possible rate and, if it makes sense, refinance. A car payment is usually a necessary evil since you have to get to work, but if you have the option, avoid the need for a vehicle by using public transportation. Imagine … all the money you spend on gas could be used elsewhere!
It’s time to face the reality of being a full-fledged, tax-paying adult. As an entry-level employee, you will have to come to terms with the fact that Uncle Sam dips into your meager salary. Don’t worry – your parents are trying to come to terms with the fact that they can no longer declare you as their dependent. Look at your paycheck; a considerable portion of your income (usually around 25 percent) never makes it to your piggy bank. Determining how many allowances you should claim on your W-4 form can be confusing, but just remember: entering zero dependents means the IRS will deduct more throughout the year, and you will most likely receive a refund in the spring. If you claim yourself as a dependent, you keep more of your salary with each paycheck, but there’s the possibility that you will owe more come Tax Day.
Eating an apple a day doesn’t necessarily keep the doctor away. Does your new employer provide a benefits package that includes health insurance? Dental insurance? Life and disability insurance? Don’t pass up the chance to sign up for coverage if your employer offers it. Companies’ insurance plans can vary widely. The best way to learn about your coverage is to ask human resources or your co-workers. They will have more experience and can offer you the inside scoop. Also, check with a financial professional to see if the company’s basic insurance policies will be enough to cover your needs or if you should sign up for additional coverage.
What if your car breaks down? Your computer crashes? Or even worse – you lose your job? No one expects these things to happen, and hopefully they won’t, but it is smart to be prepared for the worst. Consider building up six months of anticipated expenses in a savings or money market account. Keep the money where you can have easy access to it in case of an emergency. Your best bets are a savings account through a bank or credit union or a money market account. Money market accounts typically offer the best interest rates. However, they may require a minimum deposit of $1,000 or more and only permit a certain number of withdrawals.
When it comes to investing, remember that time is money. Investing now is a great way to reach your future financial goals because the earlier you begin, the more time your funds have the potential to gain interest. Even putting in small amounts up front can leave you with more than if you wait till you are capable of making larger deposits. Many employers offer 401(k)s, which enable you to set aside a percentage of each paycheck before taxes are taken out. Even better, most employers match your contributions up to a certain percent of your salary. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to earn some free money! Since it’s automatically taken out of your paycheck, you won’t even notice it’s gone. However, you will definitely appreciate this investment 40 years from now!
Yes, even though you may not be retiring for, oh, a few eons. But don’t worry - if you take advantage of a 401(k), you are off to a good start. Investing in an IRA is another way to prepare for retirement and also extremely worthwhile. Most financial institutions offer IRAs, and you can start by investing as little as 20 bucks a month.