Graduation caps have landed, tassels have been switched to the other side, and mom has all the pictures she could ever want. Graduation day is one of the most memorable occasions in a person’s lifetime, but as seventy percent of new grads know, it also starts the countdown to one of life’s most-dreaded evils: paying back student loans. Recent research suggests millennials are now spending one fifth of their annual salaries on student loans alone, and now expect to be making payments well into their forties. At the same time, most millennials know they need to start saving for retirement in their twenties – from their first day at their first job if possible – but when Sallie Mae comes knocking it can seem impossible to both pay back debt and save for retirement on an entry level salary.
So how can you manage your student loan debt and also make sure you have enough to retire comfortably?
Here are a few tips to get started:
1. Create a budget
Your first step should be to come up with a plan outlining your long-term financial priorities, including everything from paying off student loans and contributing to retirement to having immediate funds for an emergency. You can’t focus on realizing long term goals when you’re trapped lurching from one immediate crisis to the next. Take some time to breathe and focus on the future.
2. Manage your payment plans
While getting out of debt can seem like a more urgent priority, make sure you are on track to meet your retirement goals before accelerating your student loan debt payoff date. According to a Morningstar report, every dollar of student loan debt creates a 35 cent decrease in retirement savings. Try to put at least 10-20 percent of your income throughout your working years aside for retirement. This enables you to take advantage of compounding interest and the time value of money, so you’ll actually end up with more money by the time you retire. Automation makes managing this process easier, so you don’t need to think twice about it!
3. Take advantage of employer matching policies
Does your employer match contributions or participate in a pre-tax retirement saving plan? You could be earning a higher rate of return by making sure you’re participating in and capitalizing on those policies. New company, new plan? No problem! Look into rolling over your 401(k) to maximize your benefits. Sometimes money does grow on trees.
4. Refinance your existing debt
If you have good to excellent credit and a steady cash flow you’re a prime candidate for loan refinancing. Look for a new loan with a lower interest rate, and make sure you use all the money from the new loan to pay off the old one. Some banks and loan providers also offer loyalty and automation discounts, so you should also make sure you’re familiar with all the options available to you before you sign on the dotted line.
5. Keep an eye on pesky fees
Three in four Americans have no idea what they’re paying in 401(k) fees, and nearly 40 percent believe they’re not paying any fees at all. When’s the last time you checked what you’re paying in fees? It’s not enough to just save money if you end up losing thousands of dollars in fees you don’t even know you’re paying. Signing up for Blooom’s 401(k) robo-advisor to manage your 401(k) and minimize those pesky fees costs a flat fee of $10 per month, no matter how much you have saved. No small print, no tricks.