Graduation season is upon us and with it lots of practical advice and tips for these newly minted grads. GO Global! is my number one piece of advice that I offered up recently in an interview on Fox News recently. I've expanded on that global POV, offering some additional advice regarding finances for new grads.
- Be smart about credit cards. Always pay your balance in full every month. If you can't and you've run up debt, begin paying it off aggressively, and call the credit company to request a reduced interest rate. To reduce interest while paying it off you may want to transfer the balance to a 0% balance transfer card, but investigate these options carefully and read the fine print. Don't open up additional cards. If you close a credit card, write an official letter to the lender and request complete closure -- not temporary. Use credit cards carefully to earn cash rewards. For globetrotters: Find out about your credit company's fees before you travel overseas and make purchases; if they're too high, consider signing up for Capital One, which does not charge a currency conversion fee.
- Pay off student loans early. Many loans are interest-free for the first six months after graduation; pay off as many of your loans during this time as possible. For globetrotters: Minimize your student loans and debt while in school. Plenty of opportunities exist for jobs outside the U.S., but the salary and benefits may be commensurate with local standards; i.e., you may not make enough money to pay off your loans. But you would make enough to live well, build your international credentials and start moving up the career ladder.
- Use your mobile phone smartly. Review and reduce your monthly minutes and text messages. Price competition is fierce among carriers, so shop around for the best prices. If you find one, ask your current carrier to match a reduced plan or leave (but check your contract for penalty fees before doing so). For globetrotters: Check into international calling, texting and data plans and, if they're too expensive to use while traveling for personal use, consider using local phone cards and free (or low-cost) internet café access to stay connected.
- Understand your taxes. Look into tax breaks for students and recent grads, such as student loan deductions, tuition and fees deduction, lifetime learning deductions and the benefits of Roth IRAs and 401(k) plans. For globetrotters: Note that the first $87,600 you earn outside the U.S. is tax-free and that many countries' domestic tax rates are far lower than the U.S. But do your research: some countries' tax rates are higher for non-citizens.
- Keep living like a frugal student. Live within your means. Buy what you can afford. Whether it's a car, a home or a new smart phone, buy only what you can afford. The old one-third rent, one-third living expenses, one-third savings model really works. For globetrotters: Travel on a shoestring budget, yet be prepared to find professional work in countries you're interested in (always make sure you understand and follow local labor laws). Consider volunteering abroad to build up your professional experience; many times not-for-profit organizations will pay for your airplane ticket and accommodations, while you gain valuable global experience.
- Wait to go to graduate school. Although graduate degrees can be a differentiator, unless you need one for your particular field, consider waiting for 3-5 years after college to return to grad school. Spend this time building up your professional credentials with real work experience. You will find that when you do pursue graduate work, you'll get so much more out of it. You may also find that your future employer offers to pay for a percentage (or even all) of your tuition, or that you don't even need the additional degree. For globetrotters: Nothing beats the experience of actually living and working abroad, and, in fact, many globetrotters agree that it can be more valuable (and certainly cheaper) than earning an MBA stateside. Expand your global awareness, build your international credentials, and go global!
- Make money. Work hard at getting the best "first job" you can to help you meet your needs, whether they be financial, career aspirations or personal interests. Too many students graduate with debt piled so high that it effectively minimizes their choices, generally forcing them to decline a low-paying but great-opportunity job. Be careful to keep your options open. For globetrotters: Consider how you can both make money and build an international career. Sometimes a position may seem less glamorous or even a lot more difficult than you imagine, such as working in developing markets, but stick with it; research shows that you can fast-track your career by working abroad so the payoff could be great.
- Think globally. Whatever you think of globalization, nearly everyone agrees it's here, now, and happening faster every year. Hiring managers increasingly look for candidates with global perspective to satisfy their global growth needs. Having a global mindset may be the differentiator between you and a competitor in landing the job stateside. For globetrotters: Competition is fierce around the world, and you will be competing with recent grads from Bangkok, Buenos Aires and Berlin. Make sure you can compete: practice foreign language, build your international credentials, and follow global markets and business trends.
- Network. It may prove to be relevant to future opportunities that lead to jobs, or even entrepreneurial ventures. For globetrotters: Networks may prove to be one of the most important aspects of building an international career. It may help you land a global job, build your reputation as a global thinker, and help you on the ground while on assignment.
- Demonstrate excellent communication skills. In a world of 140-character tweets and OMG! texting abbreviations, communicating well in English, both written and spoken, can differentiate you from your peers at this important time in your life. Such skills are important in every career, so focus on speaking, writing and presenting succinctly; it will pay off. For globetrotters: Excellent communication skills are critical to a successful career working abroad -- or even on a global, virtual team here in the U.S. Professionals with such skills have been known to advance much faster than those without.
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