It’s graduation season, and many young adults are entering the job market already in debt and burdened with student loans – but with some savvy planning, they can plant the seeds for a healthy financial future.
Of 2012 college graduates, 71 percent had student loan debt, with a total amount borrowed averaging $29,400, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. This year’s class is unlikely to fare better. Many graduates and their families also have credit card debt attributed to educational costs.
“Many students grew up imagining that graduation from college would equal freedom and unlimited spending power,” says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. “Of course, the reality is quite different, but those who follow up their education with some smart credentials in Personal Finance 101 can step onto the path toward a bright financial future.”
Many Americans – including graduates – lack important money-management skills. Nearly 20 percent of consumers spend more than they earn, and only 40 percent have funds set aside for emergencies.
New graduates can take this quiz to see if they are earning A’s in money management – or learn where they need to hone their skills if they aren’t quite prepared for real life yet.
1. What percentage of income should people save for retirement during their 20s?
a. Between 10 and 20 percent
b. At least 30 percent
c. As much as possible
Answer: C. Most young people find it’s difficult to eke out something to save for retirement. But saving at a young age can make all the difference in retirement lifestyle. “Ultimately, anything you save now will really add up,” Gallegos said. “And if you don’t take advantage of a retirement plan where your employer matches your contributions, you are passing up part of your salary.” At a minimum, everyone should strive to contribute enough to receive the maximum employer match.
2. Five factors make up credit scores. Which accounts for the largest portion (35 percent) of the score?
a. Total outstanding debt
b. Length of credit history
c. Types of credit (credit cards, loans, etc.)
d. New credit
e. Payment history
Answer: E. Lenders want to know whether a borrower pays bills on time. All of the listed factors do contribute to the total score, determined by complex formulas. The credit bureaus assign a credit score between 300 and 850 to each record. A score above 700 will help get better interest rates on loans and credit cards.
3. How long does negative information stay on a credit report?
a. 3 years
b. 7 years
Answer: B. Foreclosures, late payments and debts sent to collection agencies remain on the credit report for seven years. Chapter 7 bankruptcies remain for 10 years. However, the more years that pass after a negative event, the better. For instance, a late payment that happened four years ago is less damaging to a credit score than one that happened four months ago.
4. How much should a person charge on a credit card each month?
a. Enough to make ends meet
b. Just a little something to keep the cards open
c. Whatever can be paid off
Answer: B and C. Handling credit and debit cards can be challenging. Credit cards can be valuable tools for building a credit history, which will be a good thing when it’s time to buy a home or make another major purchase. Making small purchases, and paying them off in full, on time, each month, can help build a credit history. However, cards are easy to abuse. With rules limiting credit cards for students, some graduates don’t have much experience with them. The best tactic is to treat credit cards like debit cards. Each time you make a purchase, subtract the charge from your checkbook balance so you know you can pay off the whole bill at month’s end.
5. What percentage of income should go to housing costs?
a. 10 percent of gross income
b. 25 percent of gross income
c. Less than 45 percent of gross income
Answer: B. The general rule of thumb is that, whether renting or buying, housing costs should not exceed 30 percent of gross income. Keeping it to 25 percent is the smartest move. In this case, less is more. Many grads live at home or with roommates, and apply the money they are saving to cutting debt, contributing to retirement, or building an emergency fund. Making that sacrifice while you are young and flexible can pay off big in the future.
For any graduate, saving is key, paying off debt is essential, and great experiences don’t have to be costly.