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Early Planning Tips for New Grads

November 30, 1999

(MS) - Recent college graduates may have the diploma and even the job, but their finances, on the other hand, often need some work.

Many college graduates worry about their finances as they begin their professional careers in the red âEUR¹ a place where if they don't get a hold of their debt they may stay for years to come.

After all, many graduates leave college with nearly $20,000 in student loans, according to the College Board, and some even with loans in the six-figures. Coupled with that, average credit card debt among young professionals stands at $4,088 âEUR¹ a 55 percent jump between 1992 and 2001, according to a report by Demos, a public policy group. Therefore, it's not too surprising that 48 percent of college graduates say education-related debt causes anxiety or sleeplessness, according to a recent survey of more than 1,500 college graduates by AllianceBernstein Investments, Inc.

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Experts offer the following financial tips to new graduates:

* Budget. Create a budget to help monitor your expenses and also provide you with allowances to keep yourself in check. Financial experts recommend scanning your bills and checkbook from the last two months to get a feel for your expenses. Also, calculate your average monthly gross pay so you know how much money to budget for.

Your budget may include such categories as housing, utilities, food, savings, medical insurance, transportation (e.g. car payments or gas), entertainment (e.g. hobbies or vacations) and debt payments. Continually monitor your budget and track your expenses to make sure you�¹re staying on budget.

*Pay off debts. Restrain from splurging on that fancy new car or wardrobe âEUR¹ mistakes many college graduates make when they first enter the work world and receive regular paychecks. Instead, use the money to pay off debts, especially first targeting your higher loan rates âEUR¹ most likely, credit cards that can boast an 18 percent annual interest rate. Poor credit can affect your ability to secure competitive interest rates for a house or car and some employers even check credit records, experts say.

If you're struggling to make your student loan payments, consult your loan agency for deferment or lower payment options at the beginning of your loan. Also, some loan agencies may even reduce the percentage rate if you use direct deposit for your payments.

* Save. Even as you're paying off debts, financial experts still recommend that you get in the habit of saving too. You may need to start small: even $25 a month to put into savings or a mutual fund. Also, experts recommend immediately investing in your company's 401(k) âEUR¹ even if your employer has a waiting period before they start matching your contribution. Besides being free money, the 401(k) also allows you to save for retirement and your contributions can lower your taxable income. If you don't have that option, consider an Individual Retirement Account or a Roth IRA âEUR¹ which allows you to save pre-tax dollars toward retirement.

And, look for creative ways to save âEUR¹ clipping coupons, shopping online for deals, getting a roommate to share rent costs, taking public transportation, packing a brownbag lunch and even getting a second job on the weekends to bring in extra cash.

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