5 Smart Money Moves for New Grads

Congratulations, graduate! Build financial freedom into your career with these five smart money moves for new grads.

Key Takeaways

If you’ve recently graduated, or will soon: congrats, you made it! You’ve worked hard to earn an education that will lead you to a rewarding career. 

This phase of life is exciting, expansive, and sometimes overwhelming. From job hunts to finding a new place to live, there’s a lot to figure out – including your financial future. Make smart choices with these five money moves for new grads.  

1. Start your career trajectory on the right foot

It may be tempting to accept the first job offer that comes along. But choices you make early in your career can affect your salary, job satisfaction, and employment prospects for years to come.  

Start your career trajectory on the right foot by:

  • getting clear about your future goals and present reality; 
  • researching potential employers and pay ranges; and
  • negotiating your salary during the hiring phase. 

Get clear about your future goals and present reality

It’s important to find a job that pays enough to meet your bills, living expenses, and savings goals – but that’s only part of the picture. An ideal job is aligned with your future goals and present reality. 

If you have looming student loan bills or other new expenses, you might feel pressured to take any well-paying job you can. But building experience in a dead-end or unrelated field can delay your career progress and earning potential in the long run. 

This doesn’t mean you should “get paid in experience.” A lower-paying job aligned with your career goals can be extremely beneficial, but can do long-term financial damage if you can’t make ends meet.  

Identify the salary you need to meet your current expenses and savings goals – and where you’d like to head with your career. Then, research opportunities that meet your present and future needs. 

Research potential employers and salary ranges

In a perfect world, all job descriptions would include a salary range. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. This means you could waste time pursuing jobs that don’t meet your salary requirements – or, worse, wind up accepting less pay than you could get elsewhere.  

Avoid wasted effort and low-ball offers by doing your homework. Glassdoor, Blind, and LinkedIn Premium are all great places to research potential employers and average pay for positions in your field and region.

Negotiate your salary during the hiring phase

Hiring managers expect applicants to negotiate their salary. But only 38% of new graduates do. Settling for the initial offer affects more than your entry-level income; annual increases are often based on your current salary, so it can affect your earnings long-term. 

Come to the negotiating table with a clear understanding of your desired income and reasonable pay for the position. Make the case for why you’re worth the higher salary using specific examples that incorporate language from the job description.

If the employer won’t budge, see if there are other ways to sweeten the deal. They may be willing to include perks like education stipends, relocation reimbursement, or extra vacation time. 

2. Make a plan for paying your student loans

If you’re graduating college with debt, you’re in the majority. According to Student Loan Hero, 55% of recent grads took out student loans.

Paying your student loans responsibly can help your credit. Unfortunately, falling behind can hurt your score – and wallet. That’s why it’s important to make a plan. 

  • Know What You Owe: Visit the U.S National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) to find your federal loan balances, interest rates, and provider. If you have private loans, your credit report should list your balance and loan provider. 
  • Calculate Your Monthly Payment: You may need to create an online account with your provider to find your minimum monthly payment. Add up the amount you’ll pay each month in principal and interest for each loan. 
  • Research repayment schedules: The best loan repayment option depends on your income, loan type, and financial goals. If you need flexibility to pay less monthly, you may prefer income-driven repayment. If you want to pay your loans faster, consider a standard ten-year plan.
  • Utilize the Grace Period: A grace period is a time-frame you’re not required to make loan payments. If you have one, consider making advance payments against your loans to pay less interest later. 
  • Pay Extra When You Can: The faster you pay down your loans, the less you’ll pay in interest. If you’re able, pay extra on your highest-interest loan or one you can pay off quickly (then move to the next-lowest balance). 
  • Use Cash Windfalls: When you end up with extra cash – like tax refunds, bonus checks, or birthday money – put it towards your loan principal to pay down your debt faster.

Learn more: How to Pay Down Student Loans Fast

3. Set a post-college budget

From student loans to moving costs, this phase of life can have a lot of new expenses. Get ahead of overwhelm with a post-college budget. 

First, audit your current monthly income and spending. Include any upcoming expenses, like loan payments or commuting costs. Budgeting apps like Mint and YNAB link to your bank and cards so you can see your transactions as a whole.

One helpful budgeting approach is called the 50/30/20 Method. It’s simple: use 50% of your income for essential spending, 30% for “wants,” and 20% for savings. If necessary, adjust percentages based on your income and financial goals.

What goes in a budget?

Budgeting works best with a complete view of your monthly spending. Expenses like rent are easy to account for – but others can sneak by you. As a rule of thumb, budgets should include:

  • Savings: Emergency savings and financial goals
  • Housing: Rent and utilities
  • Debt: Loans and credit cards
  • Transportation: Car payments, gas, and public transportation
  • Insurance: Health, automobile, and home insurance
  • Phone/Internet: Monthly bills and payment plans
  • Food: Groceries and eating out
  • Recurring Fees: Membership fees and monthly subscriptions 
  • Leisure: Hobbies, entertainment, and personal shopping

Learn more: How to Save Money as a New College Graduate

4. Focus on your credit

When you’re fresh out of college, major purchases like a home can seem a long way off. But when the time comes to get a loan or credit card, you’ll want a good credit score. It takes time to build good credit – so start working on yours today.

Learn more: How do Student Loans Affect Your Credit?

How to get a free copy of your credit report

Visit to get a free credit report from the three national credit bureaus. You’ll find information about your credit accounts (loans, credit cards, and lines of credit), payment history, balances, and any past-due debts. 

Take note of things like high credit balances, late payments, and items in collections. Make a plan to pay down maxed out cards, work with debt collectors, or get current on late bills. If you notice any inaccurate information, contact the credit bureaus directly. 

Your report won’t  reveal your actual credit score – but many banks and credit cards offer credit score tracking on their customer portals. 

Learn how to read your credit report and build credit fast.  

Get started building credit

It’s hard to get approved for loans and credit cards with poor or non-existent credit. If you are approved, you’ll often incur low credit limits and high interest rates. Secured cards help build credit, but usually require a security deposit – which isn’t always easy on an entry-level salary. 

With tools like StellarFi, you can build credit with your existing expenses. There’s no credit check, no deposit, and no subscription fee. Just link the bills you pay each month already, and Stellar reports your positive repayment history to the credit bureaus.

5. Steer clear of new debt

It’s easy to rack up new debt when you enter the workforce. You may feel pressure to spend and present yourself in a certain way, or throw new expenses on a credit card to deal with when you’re settled.

Unfortunately, young borrowers with young credit often pay higher interest rates. This means you’ll pay a lot more for your debt over the long run, which can delay your financial goals. If you do use credit:

  • Use Credit Wisely: Pay your full credit card balance every month, and only spend what you can afford. If you need a loan, borrow what makes sense for your current income. 
  • Avoid Predatory Lenders: Predatory payday loans exploit financially vulnerable people with impossible payback conditions. Increasingly, many payday borrowers are young people living paycheck-to-paycheck.
  • Shop Smarter:  Buy-now pay-later features split online purchases into several payments. Unfortunately, this means shoppers often make purchases they wouldn’t otherwise – so steer clear of staggered spending. 

Build credit without taking on more debt

It’s important to build credit while you’re young, but most traditional credit-building methods for young people require taking on new debt. Even if you do qualify for credit builders that increase your debt load, this isn’t always a smart money move. 

With StellarFi, you can build credit without taking on new debt. It’s easy and available to everyone, regardless of credit history.

Just link the bills you already pay each month – like your rent, car payment, and even your Netflix subscription. Stellar pays your bills on-time, and reports your positive repayment to three major credit bureaus: Experian®, TransUnion®, and Equifax®.

It’s easy to build credit while you build your career. Join StellarFi and start today. 


StellarFi (StellarFinance, Inc.) and its affiliates do not provide financial, tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own financial, tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction. StellarFi receives a referral fee from the partners mentioned in this article.