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6 Financial Musts for New College Grads

Jun 11, 2015

You did it! You passed your finals, you graduated from college, and you even landed the coveted job you have been working so hard to get. So now what?

Many grads are carrying student loans that will be weighing them down for years to come. Since you're facing plenty of new expenses—moving, rent, furniture, a suitable office wardrobe—now is a great time to make a financial plan. Here are six things every new graduate should do:

1. Make a budget

A good starting place for your monthly budget can be easily remembered as “50-30-20." When you receive your first paycheck, sit down and figure out what your monthly take home pay will be. Out of that, put 50% toward needs such as rent, utilities, and groceries. Thirty percent goes toward "wants" such as shopping, entertainment, restaurants, and fun. The final 20% goes to your savings and debt repayment. If your student loans are substantial, you may have to flip the percentages so that 30% goes towards debt repayment and 20% toward wants. By following this plan, you can quickly put a dent in those loans.

2. Manage your debt

Student loans often have multiple tranches with varying interest rates that can be fixed or variable. Your best option is to pay off the loans with the highest interest rates first, though that practice is far less common than you might think. When the time comes to start repaying, access your student debt details online to figure out the interest rates for each tranche. Pay the minimum towards the balances with the lowest interest rates and make your largest debt payments on the balance with the highest interest rate. The biggest mistake you can make is paying the minimum into each loan and waiting until you “make more money when you’re older” to deal with them.

3. Prepare for emergencies

An emergency savings account is the best way to plan for the unexpected. What would you do if your car breaks down and you need $800 to get it fixed? If your laptop stops working and you need one for work, how will you buy a new laptop? What would you do if you lost your phone? People often go into debt to cover unexpected expenses, but it’s a problem that can be solved with a little planning. By contributing a small amount of each paycheck into a conservative investment saving account, you can be better prepared to pay for life’s inevitable emergencies.

4. Take advantage of a 401(k) match

Most employers offer 401(k) retirement plans and many offer some form of a match. A traditional 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan that allows you to save and invest a portion of your paycheck before taxes are taken out, thus decreasing your tax liability. When an employer offers a match, they are matching your contributions, often up to a certain percentage of your income. By choosing not to fully participate in these programs, you are effectively turning down free money from your employer.

Some employers also offer a Roth 401(k), where your contribution is made with after-tax dollars (meaning that you pay the taxes now) and the funds grow tax-free for retirement. The Roth 401(k) is often seen as the better option for younger investors who are typically in a lower tax bracket and who would not get as much benefit from a tax deduction today as they would in retirement.

5. Open a Roth IRA

Similar to a Roth 401(k), a Roth IRA is an individual retirement account allowing you to invest up to $5,500 for the 2015 tax year. These accounts are often considered ideal for younger investors, who may benefit from decades of tax-free compounded growth. Investing $5,500/year from age 22 to age 30 may create an account of more than $1 million when you’re using those funds in your retired years. If you invested the same amount annually but waited until your 30s to start, your account might be worth half as much. For Roth IRA contributions in the 2015 tax year, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $116,000 if you're single (or a combined $183,000 if married.)

6. Automate your savings

By setting up automatic transfers from your checking account to your Roth IRA and emergency savings, you're effectively drawing money straight from your paycheck. This allows your plan to be put into action with minimal maintenance and oversight on your end.

Congratulations, graduate! With these six tips you could be on your way to a successful financial future.

Voya Retirement Coach Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

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