New graduates face ABCs of saving

4 important questions they should ask themselves

Goodbye homework. Hello household budget. College graduates around the country are transitioning from life on campus to life on their own.

While being in college introduces many financial experiences to young adults -- from paying bills to handling debt -- graduates are about to receive a crash course in student loans and retirement savings.

Where to start? Ask yourself the following questions.

-- Are you insured? I know. Protecting yourself from life's ills is not really on the list of top priorities for 20-somethings. But at least it's easier than it used to be. The health care reform act allows young adults to have health insurance through a parent's policy until their 26th birthday. Parents should contact their employer for specifics on premiums and enrollment periods.

If you don't have access to a parent's policy, consider purchasing at least a catastrophic policy that protects you in case you get hit by that proverbial bus. To understand your options, visit, www.healthcare.gov , a surprisingly easy-to-digest site, and click on "young adults."

In addition to health insurance, strongly consider renters insurance. Add up the value of your electronics gear and you'd be surprised how much it's worth. Plus the premiums are pretty cheap. Also consider long-term disability insurance. The statistics about 20-somethings who are too disabled to work are sobering.

-- Are you employed? If you answered yes, then get real about your paycheck. Compared to what you've been earning at your work-study job, your new salary probably looks huge. But don't be fooled, said Laura Dierke, manager of financial education programs at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. "After taxes, benefits, living expenses and student loan payments, your remaining spending money could amount to less than half of your gross income," she said.

Also, make sure to sign up for your 401(k) retirement plan through work and put at least enough money in to receive the company match (if there is one).

"The best strategy to meet long-term savings goals is to get as close to 10 percent as possible," suggests Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights for Allianz Life. And don't load up on too much company stock, even if it's a market darling. I know it's been a while, but remember Enron? Most advisers recommend holding no more than 10 percent of your portfolio in your company's stock.

-- Do you know where your money goes? Megan Luebke, a 2009 graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., has learned that budgeting her entire paycheck is the only way to ensure she doesn't eat out too much with friends. When she runs out of the $200 she budgets for food each month, she has a choice: Take some cash out of her miscellaneous pool and risk not saving enough to visit friends in Denver this summer, or tell her friends she just can't afford to dine out again.

She's strict with her spending because she wants to pay off her $32,000 in student debt as quickly as possible.

Luebke has about a dozen categories she tracks on paper. But you can track your spending online with many banks. Or you can sign up for mint.com, a free service that tracks your spending for you and can be accessed via your smartphone.

-- When is your first student loan payment due? Hopefully you learned this during your college's financial aid exit counseling. Generally, you have six months after you leave school before you must start repaying your loans, which gives you some time to figure out how to cover the bill.

Under a standard repayment plan, you should be done paying in a decade. Other options, such as the income-based repayment plan, can ease the burden of high monthly payments, but will stretch out your repayment period.

One argument for paying as much as you can, even if it's a stretch, is that you want to be done paying your student loans by the time your kids are thinking about college.

Loan forgiveness is another option for recent graduates in certain public-service jobs. The nonprofit Project on Student Debt has the skinny at www.ibrinfo.org .

For specifics about your federal loans, visit www.nslds.ed.gov .

Private student loans are another story. Check with the lender about repayment plans and policies.

(Email Kara McGuire at kmcguire@startribune.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)

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