So you made a few financial mistakes right out of college that you’re still trying to correct. You finally understand the long-term implications of not paying attention to your credit score and not paying your credit card in full each month. Luckily, it’s never too late to fix financial mistakes and problem areas. Depending on your situation, it will take some time and work to be successful financially, but it’s possible.
Here are seven common money mistakes people in their early 20s make and solutions to get back on track.
Pushing Off Reality
If you’re one of the many Americans who ignored their finances because they were afraid of the numbers, you are not alone. It’s time to face your fears, understand what your credit score and debt-to-income ratio represent and stop carrying credit card debt. The first step is to really look at your finances — everything from how much you’re spending on every single part of your life to how much you’re making and how much is going toward savings. Once you understand where you are now, what you need to fix and where you need to be in the future, create a plan with clear goals and benchmarks to track your progress.
Rolling Over Credit Card Debt
You probably signed up for your first credit card with the best intentions: to be an independent adult and help pay for expenses while building your credit score. However, along the way you may have used it to book an expensive trip with friends because you couldn’t afford to pay in full. These expensive purchases could have resulted in high interest rates if you carried a balance and can ultimately loom over you for years.
It’s important to pay down this debt as quickly as possible because it will continue to hurt your credit score and debt-to-income ratio. Assess your finances, figure out how much you can afford to pay each month and try to automate these payments. Take it a step further and stop using your credit cards while you’re trying to pay down the debt. This will cut down on temptations and help you avoid running up your balance (again). You only reap the benefits of credit cards if you eliminate debt.
Skipping Student Loan Bills
Many recent grads find themselves burdened by student loan debt on their entry-level salaries and start falling behind on payments. This can lead to forbearance or defaulting on your student loans, which significantly lowers your credit score. Try to avoid this because it leads to significant long-term effects on your personal financial profile as well as future options for loans. If you’ve already defaulted, take immediate action. Call your lender and map out the best plan for you. If you’re out of work or having trouble making your payments, you can still talk to a loan representative about your repayment plan options.
Ignoring Your Credit Score
When you’re young, you may not understand the implications your credit score has on a significant portion of your life. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you check your credit score on a quarterly basis to keep a pulse on your financial health. If your score is low, identify why. Are you behind on payments? Have you defaulted on a loan? Once you identify the problem area, address it quickly and call your bank, lender or collection agency to formulate a repayment plan.
Not Saving for Retirement
“I have too much debt and too many expenses” is a common excuse that keeps people from saving for the long-run. Even if you have debt, a monthly rent or mortgage and many monthly expenses, there is no excuse for not putting money away for retirement. Think of this as a fixed expense. Even if you can only afford to tuck away $5 a month, you’re starting a new habit that will help you over time. Think of this as a base from which you can build.
You should also take advantage of a company-provided retirement plan. If your employer offers a match, put aside at least the maximum percentage the company will match. If this option isn’t available to you, setting up a self-directed IRA is another way to start saving for retirement. Instead of thinking of it as deprivation today, consider it a good investment for tomorrow.
Dipping Into Your Emergency Savings Account
Try to cut back on dipping into your emergency savings and start taking this account seriously. Aim to have at least three to six months of living costs in this account. To calculate what works for you, determine the sum of your monthly rent, groceries, electrical and utility bills and transportation.
[See: How to Build an Emergency Fund.]
If you’re let go from your job or something serious happens, having financial security will mean you won’t be forced to immediately take the next job that’s offered to you just for a paycheck or rack up credit card debt.
Living in Luxury While in Debt
Regularly attending $30 exercise classes, buying the latest fashions or going out every night in your 20s was fun while it lasted, but to what end? This could have impacted how much you could save or contribute to debt repayment. Reassess how you’re spending money and if you can actually afford this lifestyle. If you realize that you’re living beyond your means, you may want to consider following the 50/30/20 rule, which is a proportional guideline that keeps your spending in alignment with your savings. This means you should set aside no more than half of your income for the absolute necessities in your life such as housing, food and transportation. Then you should dedicate 20 percent toward saving and 30 percent for fun expenses such as a friend’s birthday dinner or gift.
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How to Recover From Financial Mistakes Made in Your 20s originally appeared on usnews.com