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By Casey Mysliwy
MoneyMix Assistant Editor

You've graduated from college. It's an exciting time, but crossing that big stage to receive your degree most likely was your first step into the real world.

Overwhelmed? Don't panic. You don't have to have it all figured out right now, but you can take some initial steps to launch your postcollege life. Use these strategies to navigate five financial challenges facing new graduates.

1. landing your first job

The economy is improving, but the unemployment rate for young adults ages 20 to 24 is 15.4%—still almost twice that of the national average of 8.9%. Here are things you can do to improve your chances of finding a job:

  • Consider taking a postgraduate internship. You'll gain valuable experience—and you'll get a foot in the door. Many employers hire interns with the intention of later adding them as full-time employees.
  • Clean up your social-media profile. Eighty percent of U.S. recruiters and human resource professionals screen candidates' online reputations, and 70% have rejected candidates based on what they've found. Check your privacy settings and remove questionable posts or photos. Better yet, consider using your social-media profiles to connect with professionals in your intended field and to highlight accomplishments related to your career goals.
  • Get ready to interview. Whether it's for a full-time job or an internship, be prepared. Research the company before the day of the interview. Prepare for possible interview questions ahead of time, and make sure your responses focus on skills and accomplishments. Dress professionally, be on time, and be yourself.

2. renting an apartment

You got the job—now you need a place to live.

Take steps to launch your postcollege life.

  • Consider all the costs associated with an apartment. You know the base rent price, but what will utilities cost? Parking? Internet and cable? Add everything up and make sure you can afford it before you sign a lease.
  • Get a renters insurance policy. You might think you don't need it, but it's crucial: Renters insurance protects you against financial losses from fire, water damage, theft, and vandalism. Think about it: Could you really afford to replace all your belongings if something happened to them? If you're just starting out, a basic policy should fit your needs. An average policy costs about $15 to $30 a month.
  • Know how to communicate effectively with your landlord. Understand what you are responsible for as a tenant and what your landlord is responsible for. Submit written requests for minor repairs, and keep records of correspondence with your landlord. If you have a conflict with a landlord, take as many precautionary measures as possible to avoid a legal battle. If you must take legal action, check laws in your state before doing so.

3. buying a car

A vehicle is a big purchase, so take the time to go about it the right way.

  • Ask yourself: Do you really need a new car? If you already own a vehicle, decide if replacing it is the best financial decision for you. A car loan is a big expense. Many financial experts recommend keeping a car as long as possible, even if you don't currently have a car payment.
  • If you do need a new car, consider selling your current car yourself. You probably can get more money for your used car if you sell it yourself rather than trade it in to a dealer. Ask your credit union loan officer to help you value your car, or check Kelley Blue Book or When you find an interested buyer, consider conducting the sale at the credit union.
  • Get preapproved for a loan at your credit union. Credit union auto loan rates are generally better than dealership rates. Getting preapproved means you'll know what kind of loan rate you'll pay and what size loan you're qualified for. Preapproval is also an advantage for car shopping: It shows car sales staff that you're a serious buyer.

4. paying off debt

With the national student loan default rate at 7%, many college grads are struggling to pay back student loans and other types of debt. Here's how to manage the burden:

The professionals at your credit union are here to help with all of your financial transitions. 

  • Think about where you could cut back. You may need to make some financial sacrifices to stay on top of payments. For example, could you live at home for a while to save on the cost of rent (as long as that's OK with mom and dad, of course)? Adjust your spending and build payments directly into your monthly budget.
  • Avoid taking on extra debt. If you have excessive debt, adding more debt is counterproductive to paying it off. If you typically use your credit card to pay for any and all expenses, try to use cash more frequently.
  • Get help if you need it. Certified credit counselors can help you get a handle on your debt. They also can show you money management and financial planning skills that can head off problems in the future. Find out if your credit union has certified counselors on staff to help you.

5. budgeting for expenses

Now that you've graduated, you're probably truly "on your own" for the first time. Building your everyday money-management skills is key to keeping up with expenses—both expected and unexpected.

  • Plug spending leaks. Try cutting out some of the "extras" you don't really need. Instead of buying that fancy coffee drink every morning, make a pot at home. Make dinner at home more often instead of eating out. Making these small changes can add up to big savings.
  • Use a personal finance application. Money-management apps can help you keep track of your spending, pay your bills on time, and examine expenses. There are a lot of great apps out there, but an app from your credit union can be especially useful for keeping funds on track. Contact your credit union to find out if it makes apps available to you.
  • Stash some away. You never know when an unexpected expense could come up, so give yourself a savings reserve. Open a savings account at the credit union—it will pay dividends, which can add to your cushion.

You may have big decisions ahead of you, but remember that graduating from college is something to be celebrated. Take time to honor that accomplishment. And, when it's time to tackle the real world, remember that the professionals at your credit union are here to help with all of your financial transitions.

Published June 10, 2011

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Great article and great advice! As a recent graduate I know how tough it is to start out on your own. My biggest obstacle was finding an affordable apartment. I didnít factor in all the monthly added expenses after the rent was paid Ė especially living alone. It was a lesson I learned the hard way.

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