smart spending

A grad's guide to fiscal fitness

Graduating from college is the easy part. Landing that first job, creating a budget, securing the first real-world apartment, paying off those student loans and somehow managing to stash cash in a retirement account? That's going to require more than a degree.

6 building blocks for fiscal fitness
  1. Find a job to earn steady income.
  2. Prioritize debt payments.
  3. Consider consolidating loans.
  4. Pay on time every month.
  5. Invest for retirement.
  6. Get professional financial advice.
For the generation of grads just entering the job market, the debt outlook is bleak. According to FinAid.org, the average student graduates from a four-year institution with about $22,500 in student loan debt. Tack on the $4,100 credit card debt that, according to Sallie Mae, the average student leaves campus with, and the typical college graduate is looking at a mountain of debt before sitting down at the desk at the first job.

With such hefty economic obstacles in their path, it's crucial for recent graduates to manage their debt wisely and take active steps to create a healthy financial future.

Plan ahead

The best way to get a leg up on debt is to start earning capital as soon as possible. Graduates with federal Stafford loans have a mere six months after school ends to become financially stable before that first loan payment is due, and those with federal Perkins loans have a nine-month grace period. Students with private loans, however, may need to begin repayment immediately upon graduation or risk falling into delinquency.

To ensure that there's money coming in before you start sending money out, Anya Kamenetz, author of "Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time to Be Young," recommends preparing for the job market before you leave campus. "When it comes to the job hunt, you can't start too early," she says. "It's a good idea to try some internships and gain real-world experience, doing as much research as you can in the field."

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Studies show that students who complete internships or cooperative learning programs land jobs faster and have more negotiating power when it comes to their salaries than students without training or experience. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that more than one-third of the new college graduates companies hired in 2008 came from their internship programs. In addition, more than 60 percent of employers said they offer higher salaries to new-graduate hires with co-op or internship experience than they offer to those without.

 

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