You've graduated; now what? It would seem that the logical next step would be to go out, get that dream job, and start making some money to live the good life. Before you get too lofty with your goals, however, it's best to have a plan for the "just in case" situations that are all too common with new grads in this economy. Here is a game plan to get you started down the right path.
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Look for Work; Plan for Unemployment
You should immediately begin trying to find that killer job that both compliments your dreams and desires, but can reasonably accommodate your budget needs in a tight economy. Understand that your first job will not likely be your last, and realize that it will take some time (six months or more for many) before that first offer comes your way. In the meantime, a pared-down budget using just what you need to survive is essential. If you will need to be living off of savings or Mom and Dad's help, trim the entertainment and unnecessary expenses to almost zero. In other words, continue living like a poor college kid. (Make it to the end of the month, before you run out of money. For more, see The Beauty Of Budgeting.)
Work out the School Loans
Whether you get a job right away or not, your school loan payments will come due soon. Many loans have a period of a few months to a year after graduation before they will require that first payment. Government administered loans usually have a process for deferring them even longer until you can get a job that pays. Contact any private lenders directly for repayment options, if you need them. If you have been fortunate enough to get employment, be sure to factor the loan repayment into your budget before you create room for the extras (even if your first payment is months away.) (For more, see Student Loan Debt: Is Consolidation The Answer?)
Keep Current on Taxes
For many former college students, this may be the first year of paying solo taxes and claiming themselves as their own dependent. It's imperative that records are kept regarding any purchases that could trigger a tax bill or a credit (automobiles, health insurance, expenses incurred looking for employment, etc.) It's a good idea for first-time filers to take a look at last year's tax questionnaires to get a feel for things that may come up on the next year's return. Remember, school loan repayments and some grants will have specific consequences and perks. (For related reading, see How To File Your Child's First Income Tax Return.)
Check out Health Coverage
According to recent healthcare legislation changes, most students who remain under the age of 26 will have coverage under their parent's plan. For those who are older, or whose parents are without coverage, there will be a need to secure coverage on their own. There are many high-deductible plans that can meet the needs for an affordable monthly premium until employer-provided coverage is an option. New grads are encouraged to begin researching their options prior to being taken off any existing plan. (For more, see Buying Private Health Insurance.)
While it may be necessary to secure an apartment or get a new vehicle for the time before you are employed, it is important to keep from getting into any contracts that may become a problem down the road. New jobs may take grads to a different area of the state (or even country), causing them to break a lease or creating issues for a shared car arrangement. As plans are being made for life after college, it's best to be flexible. Even those workers who have been gainfully employed by the same company for decades are finding that their situation can change quickly in this new economy. (For related reading, see Budgeting When You're Broke.)
Find a Mentor
While Mom and Dad can't financially support you forever, they can be an inspiring source of advice and direction for some of the new money matters that will arise after college. If their track record is questionable, however, it's recommended that new grads find an accountability partner or financial "mentor" that can help guide them into the murky waters of new grad finance. Look for a stable member of a church, community or business group that can show you the ropes until you get the hang of the more alien money practices. (For more, see Find the Right Financial Advisor.)
The Bottom Line
Remember, most financial decisions will never need to be made overnight, and most can't be undone easily. While it's tempting to rush out into the world with vigor and tenacity, the steadier grads will find the most security. You have a long (and hopefully, prosperous) road ahead of you.