7 money moves new college graduates should be making

Tips for boosting your financial independence after graduating college

Graduating college is a new chapter for young adults and this exciting path will concern money matters.

FOX Business spoke with multiple money experts who shared their top tips to help new college grads make a successful transition from student to the real world.

Be Deliberate with Your Money

Recent college graduates should start their money foundation with a mature understanding of money.

Graduating students stand during Harvard University's 371st Commencement Exercises in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 26, 2022. ( REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

"Money has meaning and value, so using it wisely and intentionally can feel not only empowering but inspiring," says Brad Hindman, managing director of investments at Wells Fargo Advisors.


Hindman recommends a simple yet impactful approach regarding money.

"Put money in its rightful place," he says. "By that, I mean be deliberate about not allowing money to have more energy or power than it warrants – lest money could end up controlling you."

For example, says Hindman, if you give yourself a spending allowance, the piece of clothing or electronic device you purchased can have so much more value to you.

Try to Stick to a Budget 

Hindman says a budget is a great starting point for new college grads.

"I know that ‘budget’ is a cringeworthy word, so think of yourself as the CEO of ‘Me, Inc.’ and this is your cash flow sheet," he says. 

To illustrate how to create a budget and create priorities, he recommends writing "discretionary" and "essential" on a piece of paper.

"Under ‘essential,’ list things you can’t do without – mortgage (or rent), car payment, food and so on. Under ‘discretionary,' list things that are nice to have such as dining out at restaurants, manicures/pedicures, massages and so on," Hindman says. "The reason I suggest this exercise is that most people simply do not know how much they’re spending in the discretionary column."


Create an Emergency Fund 

After completing the discretionary/essential exercise, Hindman says the college grad can eliminate or reduce some spending. With the excess, they can earmark it to create an emergency savings fund. This fund can be for an unexpected car repair, medical emergency or to cover living expenses if you have a sudden job loss.

"I suggest that people pull enough into an emergency fund monthly to get to a point in which they’ve saved $1,000-$5,000," he says.

Take Note of Your Student Loan Obligations

After graduation, it’s time to check in on any student loan debt you may have while also taking into account the type of student loans you have and weighing the options that are available to you, says Alyssa Schaefer, chief experience officer and general manager at Laurel Road.

"One way to tackle this is to schedule a free consultation with one of the nation’s leading student loan consultation providers, GradFin, as their student loan specialists can assist recent graduates in managing their student loans and can help navigate and map out a personalized plan to support their financial future," says Schaefer.

Student loan forgiveness application

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program documents. (iStock / iStock)

Invest Money That’s at Your Disposal

If you’ve received monetary gifts for graduation, or have savings from a summer job, or if you’ve sold your baseball card collection, Schaefer says her advice would be to invest the money you have at your disposal, even if it means simply opening a high-yield savings account.

As market volatility continues to cause concern, she says a high-yield savings account is convenient for keeping your cash liquid and accessible, making it an ideal option for starting an emergency fund and saving for a rainy day. 

Inquire About Your Benefits Through Your New Employer

Gain an understanding of your work benefits.


"Whether you’re graduating and starting a job immediately, or taking some time to figure out what’s next, I also highly recommend asking your employer what benefits they offer," says Schaefer. "Offerings can range from a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) designed to help pay for health care expenses, 401(k) contribution matches, and even travel stipends, all of which can help you in the long run."

Also, be aware of any perks that companies may be offering toward health and wellness that will allow you to make the most out of your current situation.

"Most recently, we’ve seen a positive shift toward more time off, mental health services, fitness," Schaefer says.

credit card use

A woman holds multiple credit cards. (iStock / iStock)

Open Your Own Credit Card

You may have been an authorized user of a parent’s credit card account, but that doesn’t carry as much weight in the credit scoring formulas as having an account in your own name, says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.

"Having your own account gives you more independence in terms of your spending and payments," says Rossman. "And, responsibly using a credit card opened in your own name could definitely help boost your credit score, enhance your approval odds for other financial products and lower the interest rates you'll pay."

When deciding which credit card to open as a new college graduate, be picky.

"Especially when you’re just starting out, I think the main considerations should be to avoid debt and fees," says Rossman. "You’re probably not spending enough to earn a ton of rewards at that stage anyway."

Rossman tells FOX Business that it’s more important to get in the habit of using credit responsibly – maybe by putting small purchases on the card and paying them off on time and in full – and focusing on building your credit score.


When deciding among credit cards, Rossman says a no-annual-fee cash-back card would be a good choice.

"Apple Card is one of my favorite starter cards," he says. Rossman explains Apple Card is more widely available than most credit cards, it doesn’t charge any fees (other than interest – which you can avoid by paying in full), it includes helpful budgeting tools and it offers pretty solid rewards (3% cash back at select merchants, 2% when you use Apple Pay and 1% when you use the physical card). 

Another recommendation, says Rossman, is to consider a no-annual-fee cash-back card that gives 2% cash back on everything, like the Citi Double Cash and the Wells Fargo Active Cash.

"Although they’re probably a bit more selective in terms of credit quality, and they’re not quite as fee-friendly," he adds. 

Another alternative is a secured card.

"You put down a deposit that serves as your credit line, so it’s very low risk. The Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good one since it doesn’t charge an annual fee and it gives 1.5% cash back on everything except hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, which earn 5% cash back," he says. "There’s also a clear path to upgrading to a traditional, unsecured credit card after establishing a solid track record, maybe six-12 months or so."