Investment Tips for College Grads, Part 1, by Trevor Mooney

Trevor Mooney

After finishing college and finding your first job, the temptation to splurge on all the toys you’ve always wanted can be huge. Yet by taking a responsible approach to financial planning and investing in the future now, you can ensure that you will get to enjoy the fruits of your work not only today, but for years to come. These tips should put you on the right track.

1. Create a budget The first step to starting off your investment venture is to make a budget. This should include all of your regular expenses like rent, car payments, gas, groceries, eating out, transit passes, health care, and so forth. Also make sure to budget for unexpected emergencies and save a little extra for entertainment as well. Budgeting doesn’t have to mean total deprivation; it’s just a responsible look at your finances.

2. Fix your credit score Many college grads wrack up excessive credit card debt due to the difficulty of surviving on a student budget. Make repaying your credit cards a top priority in your budgeting. The larger you can make these payments, the better for your long-term financial health. It makes no sense to put money into the stock market or a mutual fund while you pay 20 percent interest on a credit card.

3. Pay off your student loans Although not as extreme as credit card debt, student loans can add up if you do not figure them into your budget. You probably want to start investing before your student loan is completely paid off, but set yourself a realistic payment plan. Figure out how much interest you will be paying, and decide if the long-term returns from your investments will outweigh the loan interest payments or not. You can find free financial calculators online to help you with this task.

— A graduate of the University of Delaware Lerner School of Business, Trevor Mooney studied economics. He was also a member of the Blue Hen Investment Club.

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Investment Tips for College Grads, Part 2, by Trevor Mooney

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4. Contribute to a 401(k) or IRA If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, start contributing right away. A 401(k) is a great way to start investing, and the sooner you start, the better your returns are likely to be on the long run. Some employers offer matching contributions, which means they will contribute a certain amount on top of what you contribute. Even if your employer doesn’t offer matching, your 401(k) contributions are tax deductible, which means you’ll be earning even more through tax savings. Finally, if you don’t have access to a 401(k) program, look into setting up your own IRA, or individual retirement account. A financial planner can help you establish this tax-sheltered investment tool.

5. Make regular investment contributions Regardless of how you decide to invest, the key is to do so consistently. Measured, gradual contributions over a long period traditionally produce the best returns. The difference between starting at age 25 and contributing a $200 per month versus starting at 35 and contributing the same amount can come out to millions of dollars by retirement.

6. Diversify, and match your risk to your timeframe The key to a successful investment portfolio is diversification, so choose a wide range of stocks, funds, and other investment instruments. As a young investor, you’ll want to focus on more aggressive, higher-risk stocks and funds, which will vary more from month to month and day to day but tend to provide higher returns in the long run. As you get older, you should gradually transition your portfolio to a more conservative approach, shifting into blue-chip stocks, growth funds, and bonds.

7. Build up a rainy day fund You never know when financial issues will arise, so set aside a few months’ salary in a rainy day fund, preferably a liquid investment vehicle that will allow you to earn a small amount of interest but withdraw quickly if necessary. This way, if something unexpected happens, you won’t need to pay penalties for dipping into your retirement funds.

— While at the University of Delaware Lerner School of Business, Trevor Mooney participated in the Blue Hen Investment Club, where students make real investment decisions for the university’s endowment fund.