Landing that first job after college is an exciting milestone and a huge step forward, and with that job comes a new salary, new benefits and new opportunities.
That new job, and the income that comes with it, is an opportunity to build a firm financial foundation that will help you in the years to come.
Here are some financial items to consider once you land your first job (or any job) after college:
ASK ABOUT BENEFITS
One important thing to remember before taking any job: it’s not all about the salary.
Make sure you ask your employer or prospective employers about the employee benefits that may come with the job you are applying for. In the end, those benefits may help with put some more cash in your wallet.
Most common employer-provided benefits include health care benefits – which can include medical, dental and vision plans – as well as retirement and pension plans (we’ll get to those later) and family and medical leave. Some employers include additional benefits like employee discounts to professional development and educational assistance, which may be beneficial if you want to get a master’s degree in the future.
Factor benefits into your decision-making process before you accept any job offers. They may end up saving you a significant amount of money in the short- and long-term.
“Take into account the entire offering,” says Greg Sokolow, a financial advisor with the Gabor Agency. “It’s also important to ask about how long you need to stay in order to actually qualify for and keep those benefits that are offered. Ask all those questions early on.”
ATTACK YOUR DEBT
Many college graduates today are beginning their careers with some level of student loan debt. The good news: FIU graduates leave with less student loan debt than most other universities in the country, with the class of 2015 owing an average of $18,918.
Regardless, the sooner you can eliminate that debt – along with any with any other consumer debts you may have – the sooner you can start leveraging your full income toward many of your financial goals.
“Pay off the smallest balances first to get a sense of accomplishment and stay motivated to continue getting out of debt,” Sokolow says.
Before you graduate, it’s vital that you choose a loan repayment option that best suits you, based on income and other factors. Once you land your first job out of college and start receiving a regular income, sit down with a financial advisor or someone you trust and come up with a plan to get out of debt, setting a reasonable timetable and putting aside however much money is necessary each month to meet that goal.
PRIORITIZE YOUR SAVINGS
It’s tempting the moment your paycheck hits your banking account on Friday to go out and splurge on that new pair of shoes you’ve had an eye on or a night out with your friends. But you should probably pay yourself before you treat yourself.
Many employers give you the option of having your paycheck deposited into both your checking and savings accounts, helping you automate your savings every pay period.
If you don’t have a savings account, set up an account at a bank that offers high-yield savings accounts that can help you earn around 1 percent on your savings.
The best way to establish a savings habit is to attach goals to your savings, giving yourself something to save for. Maybe build an emergency fund that can cover at least three months worth of expenses or save cash for that trip overseas you’ve always wanted to go on.
Some banks even let you open “sub-accounts” that help you divide your savings into different categories, such as “down payment” or “fun fund,” to help make saving for several goals even easier.
THINK ABOUT YOUR RETIREMENT – NOW
Sure, retirement seems really far away when you’re in your early 20s and fresh out of college. But the truth is there is no better time to start saving and preparing for your retirement years than now.
You will need a lot of money in order to retire, at least a million dollars, and the sooner you start saving up toward retirement the better off you will be. An investor who starts saving for retirement at age 25 has a significant advantage over someone who begins at age 35 – that’s because the sooner you begin saving, the more time your money has to grow. Each year’s gains can generate their own gains the next year – a powerful wealth-building phenomenon known as compound interest.
“The biggest factor of financial success, at least in retirement saving, is not how much you invest, but for how long,” Sokolow says. “If you start sooner, you’re going to be much more successful later on. Set a goal for when you want to retire and know how much you need to save based on when that will be.”
As mentioned earlier, most employers offer a 401(k) or 403(b), which are retirement savings accounts that can help you get started. If they do, open an account and start contributing to it. But just relying on a 401(k) or a pension plan may not be enough. You should also set up an individual retirement account Roth IRA, which allows your money to grow tax-free.
Once you get your job, set up an appointment with a financial advisor to discuss all your retirement options and figure out a plan to get you on track for a comfortable retirement.
For any questions about debt, savings, retirement or any other financial topics, contact the Gabor Agency (PG6-165), Wells Fargo (Gold Garage) or the University Credit Union (Blue Garage or Wolfe University Center).
This article is part of our Secrets to Success series.