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5 Financial Tips for Recent College Graduates

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

financial tips for recent college graduates

Congratulations Class of 2019! This is an exciting time for recent college graduates as they begin the next phase in their lives. Some may take their first job or start along their career path, while others may continue their education. Taking this leap into the “real world” also means handling personal finances, a skill not taught often enough in school. Fortunately, by developing good financial habits early and avoiding costly mistakes, new graduates can make time an ally as they set up a solid financial future.

Here are five financial strategies to help get your post-college life on the right path:

1. Have a Spending Plan

The idea of budgeting may not sound like a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have to be a chore that keeps you from enjoying your hard-earned paycheck. Planning a monthly budget helps you control the money coming in and going out. It allows you to prioritize how you spend and save for goals like buying a home, setting up a future college fund for children, and funding your retirement.

Everyone’s budget may be a little different, but two spending categories often consume a large portion of income (especially for younger people early in their careers): housing costs and car expenses. For someone who owns a home, housing costs would include not only a mortgage payment, but also expenses like property taxes and insurance. Someone renting would have the rental cost and any rental insurance.

Consider these general guidelines:

  • A common rule of thumb is that your housing costs should not exceed about 30% of your gross income. In reality, this percentage could be a bit high if you have student loans, or if you want more discretionary income to save and for other spending. Housing costs closer to 20% is ideal.

  • A car payment and other consumer debt, like a credit card payment, can quickly eat into a monthly budget. While you may have unique spending and saving goals, a good guideline is to keep your total housing costs and consumer debt payments all within about 35% of your gross income.

2. Stash Some Cash for Emergencies

We all know that unexpected events may add unplanned expenses or changes to your budget. For example, an expensive car or home repair, a medical bill, or even a temporary loss of income can cause major financial setbacks.

Start setting aside a regular cash reserve or “rainy day” fund for emergencies or even future opportunities. Consider building up to six months’ worth of your most essential expenses. This may seem daunting at first, but make a plan to save this over time (even a few years). Set goals and milestones along the way, such as saving the first $1,000, then one months’ expenses, three months’ expenses, and so on, until you reach your ultimate goal.

3. Build Your Credit and Control Debt

Establishing a good credit history helps you qualify for mortgages and car loans at the favorable interest rates and gets you lower rates on insurance premiums, utilities, or small business loans. Paying your bills on time and limiting the amount of your outstanding debt will go a long way toward building your credit rating. What goes into your credit score? Click here.

  • If you have student loans, plan to pay them down right away. Automated reminders and systematic payments can help keep you organized. To learn how student loans affect your credit score, click here.

  • Use your credit card like a debit card, spending only what you could pay for in cash. Then each month, pay off the accumulated balance.

  • Some credit cards do have great rewards programs, but don’t be tempted to open too many accounts and start filling up those balances. You can easily get overextended and damage your credit.

4. Save Early for the Long Term

Saving for goals like retirement might not seem like a top priority, especially when that could be 30 or 40 years away. Maybe you think you’ll invest for retirement once you pay off your loans, save some cash, or deal with other, more immediate needs. Well, reconsider waiting to start.

In fact, time is your BIG advantage. As an example, let’s say you could put $200 per month in a retirement account, like an employer 401(k), starting at age 25. Assuming a 7% annual return, by age 60 (35 years of saving), you would have just over $360,000. Now, say you waited until age 35 to begin saving. To reach that same $360,000 with 25 years of saving, you would need to more than double your monthly contribution to $445. Starting with even a small amount of savings while tackling other goals can really pay off.

Does your employer offer a company match on your retirement plan? Even better! A typical matching program may offer something like 50 cents for each $1 that you contribute, up to a maximum percentage of your salary (e.g. 6%). So if you contribute up to that 6%, your employer would add an extra 3% of your salary to the plan. This is like getting an immediate 50% return on your contribution. The earlier you can contribute, the more time these matching funds have to compound. 

5. Get a Little More Educated (about money and finances)

Ok, don’t worry. Forming good financial habits doesn’t require an advanced degree or expertise in all money matters. To build your overall knowledge and confidence, spend a little time each week, even just an hour, on an area of your finances and learn about a different topic.

Start with a book or two on general personal finance topics. You can find reference books on specific topics, from mortgages and debt to investments and estate planning. Information offered through news media or internet searches also can provide resources. And you can even find a blog not too far away (Money Centered Blog).

Robert Ingram, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® With more than 15 years of industry experience, he is a trusted source for local media outlets and frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog.

Why Retirees Should Consider Renting

Nick Defenthaler Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP®

“Why would you ever rent? It’s a waste of money! You don’t build equity by renting. Home ownership is just what successful people do.”

Sound familiar? I’ve heard various versions of these statements over the years, and every time I do, the frustration makes my face turns red. I guess I don’t have a very good poker face!

why retirees should consider renting

As a country, we have conditioned ourselves to believe that homeownership is always the best route and that renting is only for young folks. If you ask me, this philosophy is just flat out wrong and shortsighted.

Below, I’ve outlined various reasons that retirees who have recently sold or are planning to sell might consider renting:

Higher Mortgage Rates

  • The current rate on a 30-year mortgage is hovering around 4.6%. The days of “cheap money” and rates below 4% have simply come and gone.

Interest Deductibility

  • Roughly 92% of Americans now take the standard deduction ($12,200 for single filers, $24,400 for married filers). It’s likely that you’ll deduct little, if any, mortgage interest on your return.

Maintenance Costs

  • Very few of us move into a new home without making changes. Home improvements aren’t cheap and should be taken into consideration when deciding whether it makes more sense to rent or buy.

Housing Market “Timing”

  • Home prices have increased quite a bit over the past decade. Many experts suggest homes are fully valued, so don’t bank on your new residence to provide stock-market-like returns any time soon.

Tax-Free Equity

  • In most cases, you won’t see tax consequences when you sell your home. The tax-free proceeds from the sale could be a good way to help fund your spending goal in retirement.  

Flexibility

  • You simply can’t put a price tag on some things. Maintaining flexibility with your housing situation is certainly one of them. For many of us, the flexibility of renting is a tremendous value-add when compared to home ownership.

Quick Decisions

  • Rushing into a home purchase in a new area can be a costly mistake. If you think renting is a “waste of money” because you aren’t building equity, just look at moving costs, closing costs (even if you won’t have a mortgage), and the level of interest you pay early in a mortgage. Prior to buying, consider renting for at least two years in the new area to make darn sure it’s somewhere you want to stay.

Every situation is different, but if you’re near or in retirement and thinking about selling your home, I encourage you to consider all housing options. Reach out to your advisor as you think through this large financial decision, to ensure you’re making the best choice for your personal and family goals.

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Nick works closely with Center clients and is also the Director of The Center’s Financial Planning Department. He is also a frequent contributor to the firm’s blogs and educational webinars.


Any opinions are those of Nick Defenthaler, CFP® and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected.