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Most Important Financial Tasks for New College Grads

From establishing a budget and planning for fun to paying ‘future you,’ here are the keys to successful money management for Gen Z.

Gen Z’ers who are now graduating from college seemingly have it together when it comes to most things money. The members of Gen Z, also known as Zoomers, are generally those born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s.

In fact, 60% say they are prepared to manage their money and 77% plan to pay their student loans on time, according to a survey recently published by EVERFI and AIG Retirement Services.

Moreover, more than one-third (39%) do not expect COVID-19 to have any impact on their post-grad job search. And while half of the surveyed students (50%) say finding a job after graduation is a source of stress, that number has dropped significantly compared to past years, according to EVERFI and AIG Retirement Services. That number was as high as 68% during the 2018-2019 academic year, and 54% last year, according to the survey.

Students also told EVERFI and AIG Retirement Services that their salary expectations have also increased, with 17% now expecting to make more than $85,000 per year in their first job after graduation.

“As students close the books on a second unprecedented school year, they see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Rob Scheinerman, chief executive officer of AIG Retirement Services, said in a statement. “Students who find themselves in a good economic situation can take advantage of the opportunity to get a strong start on financial security — saving for retirement, building an emergency fund and paying down debt. Still, the challenges created by the pandemic could linger, so good financial habits will continue to be important for college students as well as for graduates just beginning their careers.”

COVID Casts a Shadow

The 2021 Campus to Career: College Students & Money Survey also revealed an increased use of and reliance on credit cards, which the researchers said serves as a warning sign for future financial stress.

For instance, the survey found that 40% of students have more than $1,000 in credit card debt, and 14% have more than $5,000. And almost two in five (38%) do not expect to pay their entire credit card bill each month to avoid paying interest. Read Ask the Hammer: What Are the Best Strategies to Pay Down Credit Card Debt, How to Maximize Credit Card Rewards, How to Navigate Your Credit Score, Ask Bob: What Are Some Ways to Establish Credit.

Plus, nearly one-third (32%) of college students say the pandemic has placed extra financial stress on their family, and 19% expect to take on more debt because of COVID-19. One in 10 (10%) also say that the pandemic has led to them losing their job, while 16% have said it has reduced their work hours.

So, what might college grads do to get a strong start on financial security?

Make a Budget

Create a budget. Without a doubt, establishing a cash flow plan/budget is a practice Devin Watts, a certified financial planner with Portfolio Advisors, always encourages.

“For recent graduates, they may find themselves working part-time or at an entry level position that doesn’t pay much,” he said. “Even if the graduate does land a well-paying job, if they have a solid understanding of their monthly income and expenses, they’ll be better equipped to accomplish any of their financial goals. From my experience, utilizing a monthly cash flow plan/budget is the only way to have a solid understanding of monthly income and expenses.”

Watts’s favorite online budgeting program is Everydollar and YNAB (You Need A Budget) is another online tool he usually recommends.

Others also agree that establishing a budget is the No. 1 task for college graduates.

“For recent grads, the best way to set yourself up for success after becoming gainfully employed is to create a budget that is manageable and easy to stick to and then take stock of the money you have left for ‘future you,’” said Claire Thornton, a certified financial planner with Inspired Financial.

And then you need to prioritize. “How much of this money can I afford to put towards a Roth or traditional 401(k) every paycheck?” she asked. “How much towards paying off my debt? What about an emergency fund?”

The 50/30/20 Rule

In general, Thornton recommends that recent graduates use the 50/30/20 rule: Try your best to spend only 50% of your after-tax income on needs such as rent, utilities, and groceries; 30% on wants such as dinners out with friends and shopping; and 20% on “future you,” which would include paying down debt, saving and investing.

“If you know you are consistently putting 20% of your paycheck towards your future, it makes it a lot easier to enjoy that $6 coffee with a friend,” said Thornton.

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