Though college graduates are statistically likely to outearn their nongraduate counterparts, many diploma holders inevitably come to regret the decision to pursue a degree, namely because of the level of debt they accrue in the process. But new data from Sallie Mae and Ipsos reveals that going to college could have a positive impact on graduates' finances in adulthood. Here are a few smart financial habits college graduates have been maintaining.
1. Knowing their credit scores
Your credit score will dictate whether you get approved for a mortgage, car loan, personal loan, or credit card and whether you're approved at a favorable rate. Knowing your score will help you determine whether you're in a good spot credit-wise or whether you need to take steps to improve. Those could include paying off existing debt, making all future payments on time, and not opening too many new credit accounts at once. An estimated 82% of college graduates are aware of what their credit scores are, compared to 56% of students and 67% of those who never completed college.
Unfortunately, getting at your credit score isn't as easy as it might seem. Though you're entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), you may need to buy your credit score from myfico.com. That said, some banks and lenders will provide that information to you for free, so if you have a savings account or loan, it pays to see if that number is available there.
2. Having emergency funds
You never know when your car might break down, your roof might spring a leak, or you might get hurt and rack up extensive medical bills as a result. That's why you need emergency savings at all times -- specifically, three to six months' worth of living expenses to cover such unplanned expenses.
The good news is that 41% of college grads have an emergency fund, which means they're protected from accruing needless debt the next time life throws a costly curveball at them. By contrast, only 22% of students have emergency savings. And only 31% of those who didn't complete college have money in the bank set aside for emergencies.
3. Saving in high-interest bank accounts
The best place for emergency savings is none other than the bank, where your principal is protected up to $250,000 per depositor. The downside, however, is that savings accounts generally don't offer close to the same return you might snag by investing your money, especially in the stock market. That's why it's encouraging to see that 24% of college grads are wise enough to put their money into high-interest savings accounts. By contrast, only 17% of students and 10% of noncompleters do the same.
While Money Management 101 isn't necessarily a course offered at college, it's clear that grads on a whole have managed to pick up some reasonably savvy habits that allow them to better manage their money. Whether you go to college or not, it pays to get on board with the idea of checking your credit score once or twice a year, having emergency savings, and housing your cash in a bank account that will pay you a competitive amount of interest.
At the same time, it never hurts to work on improving your financial literacy on the whole. In the aforementioned survey, college grads, students, and noncompleters alike all said they want to keep learning about money management, and that's certainly smart.
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