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May 22, 2017

4 Tips for Managing Finances After College Graduation

College graduation marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Gone are dorm rooms, awful part-time jobs and asking your parents for money — hopefully. Now it's time for your first full-time job and paycheck.

Managing that money on your own can be a tricky task, but these four tips can help recent grads master some of the basics.

1. Evaluate your checking and savings accounts

Student checking accounts offer great benefits, such as waived ATM and monthly service fees. Those perks may disappear after graduation, though, making it an ideal time to review your checking and savings account options.

Most financial institutions offer a variety of accounts, so try to find one that will maximize the return on your money, and look for ways to minimize fees. A lot of checking accounts will waive monthly service fees if you set up direct deposit, for example.

2. Stay on top of student loans

Nearly 70 percent of college graduates have student loan debt, and those who take out loans owe an average of $28,950, according to an annual report by the Institute for College Access and Success.

Understanding what you owe, whom you owe it to, and what your repayment options are can help make paying off your loans seem a little less daunting.

The National Student Loan Data System is an easy way to view all of your federal student loans. These loans have multiple repayment options, many of which are income-based. Private lenders set their own repayment terms, so it's best to contact each lender to review your balance and repayment choices.

Setting up automatic payments through your bank or the loan servicer can help ensure you never miss a due date.

3. Start saving for retirement

Full-time employment can come with a lot of benefits. One many employers offer is a 401(k).

Some companies will match a portion of what you put in, giving you free money toward your retirement. And since it's a pretax plan, putting money in reduces the amount you're taxed on each paycheck.

A 401(k) isn't your only option, though, Traditional and Roth IRAs also come with tax benefits. Start saving now, even just a small percentage, and the money you set aside can build upon itself over time.

4. Use credit wisely

A good credit score can save you thousands of dollars in interest on mortgages and auto loans. One way to build your score is to open a credit card.

Look for cards with low fees and interest rates. Rewards such as airline miles or cash back are also a nice bonus. Avoid applying for multiple cards at once, though, as this can harm your credit rather than help it.

If you open a card, try to use it only for essentials, and pay your balance in full each month to avoid interest charges. Failing to do so can also hurt your credit.

Following these tips can prepare you for the big financial challenges ahead and help set you up for success in your 30s, 40s and beyond.

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