Friday, March 23, 2007

New Graduates and Focusing on Finances, Part One

My little brother graduated from college last weekend (congrats Dave!), moving into the real world: a world that can be frustrating, confusing, and certainly financially challenging, especially when you're first starting out. So, that got me thinking: What do I wish I would have known when I first graduated? What information would have helped me get off to a great start? I think I've come up with a pretty good list, and, since I'm a bit of a money fanatic, I think it makes sense to focus primarily on finances.

So, over the next couple of days, I'm going to write a few short posts about how to really get off to a good start financially if you're a new graduate. I'll try to focus on the financial decision-making, but I can't promise that my mind (and writing) won't wander into other areas. I'm going to try to keep it to two main points each day.

Focus #1: Get a good, low-fee, checking account, and know how it works.
Your checking account is going to be your main pipeline for all things financial. Most of your expenses will be paid from it, and your paychecks will likely be deposited into it. Make sure that there's not a high minimum balance ($100 or less is good), and that there are minimal fees. Many banks offer "free checking" accounts that have no fees, no minimum balances and online banking. The downside is that they offer zero or very low interest rates. But, since I think your checking account shouldn't be a long-term storage area for your money, I wouldn't be too concerned about the rate. Try to find an account that provides a debit card or check card. I'm a big fan of debit cards because you don't need to carry cash, they're almost universally accepted nowadays, and the amounts are immediately deducted from your checking account.

It's also absolutely imperative that you understand how the checking account, as well as your debit card, works. Even in the era of 24-hour online access to your accounts, it's important that you understand debits, credits, and how they affect your account balance. Also, make sure you understand that your debit card IS NOT a credit card: you can't spend money you don't already have in the account. Keep tabs on your checking account balances frequently, so that you're always aware of how much money is available to you and so that you can spot any errors quickly.

Focus #2: When you've got that job, set your paycheck up to directly deposit into your checking account.
Direct deposit makes getting your paycheck fast, easy, and error-free. You don't need to drive across town to make a deposit, you don't need to worry about making sure you get to the bank by six, you don't need to worry about misplacing your check (and your money!). It makes getting your money into your account completely painless. Since your checking account is going to be your main money pipeline, the easier and more error-free it is to deposit your money, the less headaches you're going to have.

The next two foci will come tomorrow.



Anonymous said...

Did you happen to see ING's release of Electric Orange? 4% APY checking account, online bill pay, AND a MasterCard-logo'd debit card. What's not to love?

Your Friendly Neighborhood Nerd said...

I did see it! It sounds like a great option, but I'm a bit wary of the way they handle checks. I'm sure it works just fine, but I like having the ability to write a check immediately if I need to. Besides, I carry so little money in my checking account (less than $1000 typically), that the interest is rather negligible to me.

That said, 4.0% would be really tough to beat in a checking account!