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How to Achieve Financial Freedom

Ever dream of leaving your job to pursue a project you’ve always been passionate about, like starting your own business? Or going back to school without taking out student loans? What about the option to retire at age 50 instead of 65 without having to worry about money?

Any of these opportunities could happen if you’re able to achieve financial freedom — having the money and resources to afford the lifestyle you want.

Intrigued by the idea of being financially free? Read on to find out what financial freedom means and how it works, plus 12 ways to help make it a reality.

Key Points

•   Financial freedom means having enough income, savings, or investments to afford the lifestyle you want without financial stress.

•   Strategies to achieve financial freedom include budgeting, reducing debt, setting up an emergency fund, seeking higher wages, and exploring new income streams.

•   Opening a high-yield savings account, contributing to a 401(k), and considering other investments are important steps towards financial freedom.

•   Staying informed about financial issues, reducing expenses, and living within your means are key to achieving and maintaining financial freedom.

•   Avoiding lifestyle creep and making smart financial decisions can help you reach your financial goals and live the life you desire.

What Is Financial Freedom?

Financial freedom is being in a financial position that allows you to afford the lifestyle you want. It’s typically achieved by having enough income, savings, or investments so you can live comfortably without the constant stress of having to earn a certain amount of money.

For instance, you might attain financial freedom by saving and investing in such a way that allows you to build wealth, or by growing your income so you’re able to save more for the future. Eventually, you may become financially independent and live off your savings and investments.

There are a number of different ways to work toward financial freedom so that you can stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt, save and invest, and prepare for retirement.

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12 Ways to Help You Reach Financial Freedom

The following strategies can help start you on the path to financial freedom.

1. Determine Your Needs

A good first step toward financial freedom is figuring out what kind of lifestyle you want to have once you reach financial independence, and how much it will cost you to sustain it. Think about what will make you happy in your post-work life and then create a budget to help you get there.

As a bonus, living on — and sticking to — a budget now will allow you to meet your current expenses, pay your bills, and save for the future.

2. Reduce Debt

Debt can make it very hard, if not impossible, to become financially free. Debt not only reduces your overall net worth by the amount you’ve got in loans or lines of outstanding credit, but it increases your monthly expenses.

To pay off debt, you may want to focus on the avalanche method, which prioritizes the payment of high-interest debt like credit cards.

You might also try to see if you can get a lower interest rate on some of your debts. For instance, with credit card debt, it may be possible to lower your interest rate by calling your credit card company and negotiating better terms.

And be sure to pay all your other bills on time, including loan payments, to avoid going into even more debt.

3. Set Up an Emergency Fund

Having an emergency fund in place to cover at least three to six months’ worth of expenses when something unexpected happens can help prevent you from taking on more debt.

With an emergency fund, if you lose your job, or your car breaks down and needs expensive repairs, you’ll have the funds on hand to cover it, rather than having to put it on your credit card. That emergency cushion is a type of financial freedom in itself.

4. Seek Higher Wages

If you’re not earning enough to cover your bills, you aren’t going to be able to save enough to retire early and pursue your passions. For many people, figuring out how to make more money in order to increase savings is another crucial step in the journey toward financial freedom.

There are different ways to increase your income. First, think about ways to get paid more for the job that you’re already doing.

For instance, ask for a raise at work, or have a conversation with your manager about establishing a path toward a higher salary. Earning more now can help you save more for your future needs.

5. Consider a Side Gig

Another way to increase your earnings is to take on a side hustle outside of your full-time job. For instance, you could do pet-sitting or tutoring on evenings and weekends to generate supplemental income. You could then save or invest the extra money.

6. Explore New Income Streams

You can get creative and brainstorm opportunities to create new sources of income. One idea: Any property you own, including real estate, cars, and tools, might potentially serve as money-making assets. You may sell these items, or explore opportunities to rent them out.

7. Open a High-Yield Savings Account

A savings account gives you a designated place to put your money so that it can grow as you keep adding to it. And a high-yield savings account typically allows you to earn a lot more in interest than a traditional savings account. As of February 2024, some high-yield savings accounts offered annual percentage yields (APYs) of 4.5% compared to the 0.46% APY of traditional savings accounts.

You can even automate your savings by having your paychecks directly deposited into your account. That makes it even easier to save.

8. Make Contributions to Your 401(k)

At work, contribute to your 401(k) if such a plan is offered. Contribute the maximum amount to this tax-deferred retirement account if you can — in 2024, that’s $23,000, or $30,500 if you’re age 50 or older — to help build a nest egg.

If you can’t max out your 401(k), contribute at least enough to get matching funds (if applicable) from your employer. This is essentially “free” or extra money that will go toward your retirement.

9. Consider Other Investments

After contributing to your workplace retirement plan, you may want to consider opening another investment retirement account, such as an IRA, or an investment account like a brokerage account. You might choose to explore different investment asset classes, such as mutual funds, stocks, bonds, or rate of return, stocks are notoriously volatile. If you’re thinking about investing, be sure to learn about the stock market first, and do research to find what kind of investments might work best for you.

It’s also extremely important to determine your risk tolerance to help settle on an investment strategy and asset type you’re comfortable with. For instance, you may be more comfortable investing in mutual funds rather than individual stocks.

10. Stay Up to Date on Financial Issues

Practicing “financial literacy,” which means being knowledgeable about financial topics, can help you manage your money. Keep tabs on financial news and changes in the tax laws or requirements that might pertain to you. Reassess your investment portfolio at regular intervals to make sure it continues to be in line with your goals and priorities. And go over your budget and expenses frequently to check that they accurately reflect your current situation.

11. Reduce Your Expenses

Maximize your savings by minimizing your costs. Analyze what you spend monthly and look for things to trim or cut. Bring lunch from home instead of buying it out during the work week. Cancel the gym membership you’re not using. Eat out less frequently. These things won’t impact your quality of life, and they will help you save more.

12. Live Within Your Means

And finally, avoid lifestyle creep: Don’t buy expensive things you don’t need. A luxury car or fancy vacation may sound appealing, but these “wants” can set back your savings goals and lead to new debt if you have to finance them. Borrowing money makes sense when it advances your goals, but if it doesn’t, skip it and save your money instead.

The Takeaway

Financial freedom can allow you to live the kind of life you’ve always wanted without the stress of having to earn a certain amount of money. To help achieve financial freedom, follow strategies like making a budget, paying your bills on time, paying down debt, living within your means, and contributing to your 401(k).

Saving and investing your money are other ways to potentially help build wealth over time. Do your research to find the best types of accounts and investments for your current situation and future aspirations.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.


How can I get financial freedom before 30?

Achieving financial freedom before age 30 is an ambitious goal that will require discipline and careful planning. To pursue it, you may want to follow strategies of the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement. This approach entails setting a budget, living below your means in order to save a significant portion of your money, and establishing multiple streams of income, such as having a second job in addition to your primary job.

What is the most important first step towards achieving financial freedom?

The most important first step to achieving financial freedom is to figure out what kind of lifestyle you want to have and how much money you will need to sustain it. Once you know what your goals are, you can create a budget to help reach them.

What’s the difference between financial freedom and financial independence?

Financial freedom is being able to live the kind of lifestyle you want without financial strain or stress. Financial independence is having enough income, savings, or investments, to cover your needs without having to rely on a job or paycheck.

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For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.


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What Is Disposable Income?

Here’s the definition of disposable income: It’s the amount of money you have available to spend or save after your income taxes have been deducted.

You may also hear this sum of money called disposable earnings or disposable personal income (or DPI). Another interesting fact: Disposable income is carefully watched by economists because it is a valuable indicator of the economy’s health.

What’s more, as you may realize, disposable income is the basis of your own personal budget. It’s an indicator of your financial status as well as the foundation for deciding how to spend and save your cash.

Key Points

•   Disposable income refers to the money available for spending or saving after income taxes have been deducted.

•   It is an important indicator of an individual’s financial status and is used to determine how to allocate funds.

•   Disposable income is different from discretionary income, which takes into account essential expenses.

•   Calculating disposable income involves subtracting taxes and other mandatory deductions from gross earnings.

•   Budgeting disposable income involves tracking spending, setting goals, and allocating funds for basic living expenses, discretionary spending, and saving/investing.

What Is Disposable Income?

Simply put, the disposable income definition is money you have left over from your earnings after taxes and any other mandatory charges are deducted.

This money (which may also be referred to as expendable income) can then be spent or saved as you see fit. You will likely use it for your basic living expenses, or the needs in your daily life, such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, healthcare, and minimum debt payments.

You may also spend that money on the wants in life, such as dining out, entertainment, travel, and non-vital purchases, such as a cool new watch or mountain bike.

Your disposable income can also be allocated towards your goals, such as saving for your child’s college education, the down payment on a house, and/or retirement.

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Why Disposable Income Is Important

There are different types of income, and disposable income is usually defined as the amount of money you keep after federal, state, and local taxes and other mandatory deductions are subtracted from gross earnings. Consider these details:

•  Mandatory deductions include Social Security, state income tax, federal income tax, and state disability insurance.

•  Voluntary deductions, such as health benefit deductions, 401(k) contributions, deductions for other employer-sponsored benefits, as well as any assignments of support (such as child support) are excluded from the calculation. These costs are considered part of your disposable earnings.

•  Disposable income is an important number not just for consumers, but also the nation as a whole. The average disposable income of the country is used by analysts to measure consumer spending, payment ability, probable future savings, and the overall health of a nation’s economy.

•  International economists use national measures of disposable income to compare economies of different countries.

On an individual level, your disposable income is also a key economic indicator because this is the actual amount of money you have to spend or save.

For example, if your salary is $60,000, you don’t actually have $60,000 to spend over the course of the year. Federal, state, and possibly other local taxes will be deducted, as will Social Security and Medicare taxes.

What is left over is what you would have to spend on everything else in your life, such as housing, transportation, food, health insurance and other necessities.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should spend all of your disposable income. Another thing to consider is disposable vs. discretionary income. This will tell you actually how much money you have to play with.

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between Income and Net Worth?

Disposable Income vs. Discretionary Income

Although they’re often confused with one another, disposable income is completely different from discretionary income.

While disposable income is your income minus only taxes, discretionary income takes into account the costs of both taxes and other essential expenses. Essential expenses include rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, insurance, clothing, and more.

Discretionary income is what you can have leftover after the essentials are subtracted. This is what you can spend on nonessential or discretionary items.

Some costs that fall under the discretionary category are dining out, vacations, recreation, and luxury items, like jewelry. Although internet service and your cell phone may seem like necessities, these expenses are considered discretionary expenses.


Both disposable and discretionary income are a way of looking at income after taxes.

However, discretionary income goes a step further and deducts essential expenses, such as housing and healthcare.


As you might expect, discretionary income is always less than disposable income. When you subtract discretionary income from disposable income, the amount that remains is how much you can put towards wants (fun spending) and savings.

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Calculating Disposable Income

Disposable income refers to the amount of earnings left over after mandatory federal, state and local deductions. But disposable income is not necessarily the same as your take-home pay.

Deductions from your paycheck may include additional items such as health insurance, retirement plan contributions, and health savings accounts. These deductions are voluntary, not mandatory.

To calculate your disposable earnings, you can simply subtract federal, state and local taxes, Medicare, and Social Security from your gross earnings. Be sure to include any passive income streams, such as rental income, or side hustle earnings (more on that in a moment), when doing the math for your gross income. The resulting amount is your disposable income.

How to calculate disposable income

Some of the finer points to note:

•  You may want to keep in mind, however, that taxes deducted from your paycheck are an estimate. If you have a history of getting a large refund or having a large amount of taxes due, it may be worth reviewing your withholdings through your employer.

This could help you adjust the withholdings so it is closer to the actual expected tax that will be calculated when you file. You can then plan accordingly.

•  Even if you’re a contractor or freelancer, or if you made additional income from side gigs along with your salary, you can still calculate your disposable income.

This requires subtracting your quarterly tax payments and any additional taxes you will owe from your overall income. You can then determine your monthly after-tax income.

Setting aside money to pay taxes can also help you budget with your disposable income.

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Disposable Income Budgeting

Calculating your disposable income is a key first step in preparing a budget. You need to know how much you have to spend in order to plan your monthly spending and saving.

A personal budget puts you in control of your disposable income and helps you make financial decisions. It forces you to take a closer look at how you’re spending your money.

Here are a few ideas that could be helpful when developing a budget based on disposable income.

Tracking Spending

Disposable income is what’s coming into your account every month. It’s a good idea to also determine what is going out each month.

To do this, you can gather up bank and credit card statements, as well as receipts, from the past three months or so, and then list all of your monthly spending (both essential and discretionary/nonessential).

To make this list more accurate, you may want to actually track your spending for a month. You can do this with a phone app (your bank’s app may include this function), by carrying a small notebook and jotting down everything you buy, or by saving all of your receipts and logging it later.

This can be an eye-opening exercise. Many of us have no idea how much we’re spending on the little things, like morning coffees, and how much they can add up to at the end of the month.

Once you see your spending laid out in black and white, you may find some easy ways to cut back, such as getting rid of subscriptions and streaming services that you rarely use, brewing coffee at home, cooking more and getting less take-out, or getting rid of a pricy gym membership and working out at home.

Setting Goals And Spending Targets

Tracking income and spending can provide a great starting point for setting financial goals and spending targets.

•  Goals are things that a person aims for in the short- or long-term — like paying off student loans or buying a new car.

•  Spending targets are how much you want to spend each month in general categories in order to have money left over to put towards your savings goals.

Since essential spending often can’t be adjusted, spending targets are typically for discretionary income.

One option for budgeting disposable income is the 50/30/20 plan. This suggests spending about 50% on necessities, 30% on discretionary items, and then putting aside 20% for savings and other long-term goals.

Use the 50/30/20 budget calculator below to see how your budget would fall into those three categories.

These percentages are general guidelines, however, and can be adjusted as needed based on individual circumstances. For example, if you live in a competitive housing area, rent may take up a larger portion of your expenses, and you may have to bump up necessity spending to 60% and decrease fun money to 20% instead.

Or, if you are saving for something in the near term, like a car or a wedding, you may want to temporarily bump up the savings category, and pull back unnecessary spending for a few months.

3 Uses for Your Disposable Income

Once you have calculated your disposable income, you can consider the ways you might divide it up:

Basic Living Expenses

Some of your disposable income will go towards necessities, such as:

•  Housing

•  Utilities

•  Food

•  Healthcare

•  Transportation

•  Insurance

•  Minimum debt payments.

Discretionary Spending

Next, there are the wants in life. These are things that are not vital for survival but can certainly make things more enjoyable:

•  Eating out

•  Entertainment, such as streaming platforms, movies, concerts, and books

•  Clothing that isn’t essential (like winter boots)

•  Electronics, like the latest mobile phone

•  Travel

•  Gifts.

Saving and Investing

In addition to the spending outlined above, you will likely want to save money or invest it for your short-term and/or long-term goals. These may include:

•  Your emergency fund

•  The down payment for a house

•  A college fund for children

•  Money to start your own business

•  A new car

•  Retirement.

Recommended: Get a personalized estimate for your emergency fund by using our emergency fund calculator.

Opening a Savings Account With SoFi

Disposable income is a key concept in budgeting, as it refers to the income that’s left over after you pay taxes. Knowing how much disposable income you have is the foundation for putting together a simple budget that allows for necessary expenses, having fun, while also saving for the future. Finding the right banking partner is another important element of planning for tomorrow.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

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What does disposable income mean?

Disposable income (or what may be known as disposable earnings) is the money you have left after taxes and other mandatory deductions are taken out of your income.

What is an example of disposable income?

An example of disposable income would be a $100,000 gross salary, minus $30,000 in taxes and $15,300 in Social Security and Medicare deductions. The remaining $54,700 is disposable income.

What is the difference between disposable income and discretionary income?

Disposable income refers to earnings minus taxes and mandatory deductions, such as Social Security and Medicare. Discretionary income is a subset of disposable income. It is the money left once you have paid for essentials, such as housing, utilities, food, and healthcare. The money that is left can be used for non-essential spending and for saving.

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As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

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SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

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Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.


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Achieving Your Career Goals This Year

Are you ready to take your professional growth to the next level in 2024?

Whether you’re hoping to get a raise, clinch that promotion, or switch careers, the beginning of a new calendar year can be a great time to sit down and reflect on where you’ve been, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.

Why bother setting professional development goals? Without a specific direction in mind, it can be easy to fall back on what you’ve always done, or just take any opportunity that comes your way without thinking critically about what you want. This can leave you feeling unsatisfied and rudderless in your professional life.

Even if you’re just starting out, you have more agency over your work life than you might think. Setting clear and specific goals can set you on the right path, help you take control of your career, and lead you to the job you’ve always dreamed of.

To help unleash your full potential, here’s a look at four examples of career goals to consider for this year.

Get That Raise

When was the last time you got a pay increase? If it’s been longer than a year, it may be time to speak up. To build a case for a bump up in pay, consider doing some research into the going rates for your job in your area. If your compensation is below par, you can use this information as leverage for requesting an increase.

You can also increase your odds of getting a raise if you can effectively communicate your value to management. Rather than say you need more money, you might point out the hours and dollars you’ve saved the company, how you’ve improved productivity, or the additional responsibilities you’ve taken on since your last pay increase.

Asking for a raise isn’t easy, but you can do it. Even if the answer is no, you’ve started the conversation. This gives you the opportunity to ask what specific actions would be needed to merit a raise. If tight budgets are the issue, you might ask about a one-time bonus, either now or after a set time period.

Recommended: Guide on What to Do When You Get a Pay Raise: 12 Tips

Build Your Professional Network

The saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” has some truth to it. So in addition to polishing your professional skills, consider making 2024 the year you focus on expanding your professional community. You can build your network by attending networking events and connecting with other like-minded professionals via social media. You might also ask colleagues, friends, and family members to introduce you to contacts that may be a good professional fit.

Meeting professionals and keeping in contact with them can help you learn more about the industry, including job opportunities down the line. Individuals in your network may also be willing to serve as mentors and help you develop important career skills.

Climb the Ladder

Earning a promotion enables you to assume a more important role in your company, earn a higher salary, and gain a heightened sense of accomplishment. If your goal is to land one, start taking extra measures to become a prime candidate for your desired position. That might mean going above and beyond in your role, seeking out opportunities to get noticed, and demonstrating your leadership skills.

If you haven’t recently had a performance review with your manager, the new year is a great time to set one up. Let them know that you would like to discuss your career path, and come prepared with data on what you’ve accomplished and a clear ask on where you’d like to go next.

Recognize that while you may not get what you’re asking for tomorrow, you’re taking an important first step in the process. This meeting will allow you to get clear on what you’d need to do to earn a promotion, and discuss a timeline for next steps.

Recommended: Working Remotely Could Hurt Your Chances to Get Promoted

Move On

Not getting any traction on a pay bump or promotion? This might be the year to pursue a more challenging role at a different company. If you’re ready to move on (and, ideally, up), start scoping LinkedIn and networking with recruiters or HR representatives in your field.

Not happy with your current career? Pursuing an entirely different career path might be your main professional goal. You could find greater satisfaction and happiness in a new career, as well as a higher salary and more opportunities. Consider what your ideal career is and how you can reach it from your current job. What challenges seem exciting to you? What are you well-prepared to do, and what would you rather avoid? What other experiences can you draw on as examples of your skill set — for example, previous jobs, volunteer work, side hustles? Reach out to professional connections you have in other industries to determine whether they might be a good fit for you.

Recommended: New Year, New Goals: Set and Achieve Your Career Resolutions

Tips to Achieve Your Career Goals

Whatever your professional objective for the coming year, here are some steps that can help you get there.

•   Write down your goal and steps involved. It’s important to get your goal out of your head and down on paper. In addition, think through and list out the steps you’ll need to achieve it. This will help you remember and accomplish each step. Post your list where you will see it often.

•   Set deadlines. Turn “some day” into a specific day by setting deadlines for each step in your plan. Deadlines will keep you on your toes, and give you a sense of accomplishment as you meet your targets.

•   Reward yourself. Taking steps toward your career goals requires hard work and commitment. Think of small rewards to give yourself when you complete any step to help you stay motivated and on task.

•   Have a goal partner. Consider recruiting a friend or coworker to help you stick to your plan. Discuss your goals, and check in with them when you complete steps. If possible, do the same for your partner.

•   Connect with a coach. If you’re feeling unsure about your career direction, a professional coach can be a big help. Coaches are skilled at asking impactful questions to help you reflect and build more self-awareness. A coaching experience can provide clarity on what’s important to you and empower you to set realistic, flexible career goals.

The Takeaway

Setting — and working towards — goals isn’t easy, especially when it comes to your career. But the process can really pay off, both literally and figuratively.

Creating clear professional objectives prompts you to think about what you want, so you can pursue a position or career that truly satisfies you. While you may not achieve your goal overnight, simply having professional goals can give your work direction and purpose — you have an action plan and are working towards something you really want to achieve in your life.

To explore more work topics, check out SoFi at Work’s resource hub.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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Going Back to School at 30

Returning to school can help you advance in your current job, open you up to new professional opportunities, and increase your salary. But those potential benefits don’t come without costs.

If you’re thinking about going back to school at 30 (or any age), it’s a good idea to consider what you hope to gain out of more education, and whether it may increase your earning potential or improve your job (and overall life) satisfaction. You’ll then want to factor in how much the program will cost and how you’ll pay for it.

There’s no one simple formula to determine whether or not going back to school is worth it, but these tips can help you make an informed decision.

Determining Whether Going Back to School Is Worth It

Once you’re clear about what program you’d like to pursue and have a list of schools to consider, you may want to ask yourself the following:

•   Will the degree help me in my career path?

•   Is this degree necessary to continue on my career path?

•   Will this degree increase my job and overall life satisfaction?

•   Will my investment in this degree be worth the cost?

Here’s a look at how you can answer each one of these questions.

Will This Degree Help Me in My Career Path?

When going back to school as an adult, it’s important to position yourself for continued growth based upon the career progress you’ve made to date. Sometimes, your continuing education of choice will take you further on the same career path you’ve already established. Other times, you will be broadening your education to branch out into complementary fields.

Talk to Trusted Colleagues

To make sure that the program you’re choosing will help you to accomplish your career goals, consider talking to people whose judgment you trust, including those who have pursued the path you’re considering.

Review Linkedin

Another resource that might be worth checking out is LinkedIn. You can search the profiles of people who work for companies you admire or who are in a job position you’d like for yourself. What educational credentials have they listed? If they have a graduate degree, which one? Does this mesh with what you have in mind?

Recommended: 6 Ways to Save Money for Grad School

Evaluate Career Opportunities

Sometimes, of course, obtaining additional education is necessary to fulfill your career goals. This is true if you want to become a doctor, dentist, nurse, or lawyer. In other cases, you may not necessarily need additional education to get a job in a particular field, but you might need further education to rise up the career ladder, get a significant increase in pay, or work for a particularly prestigious company.

Obtaining an MBA, for instance, can provide you with skills that will suit you well in various fields. It can also position you to take on new career positions and boost your overall pay.

Is This Degree Necessary to Continue on My Career Path?

Sometimes, of course, obtaining additional education is necessary in order to fulfill your career goals. This is true if you want to become a doctor or a dentist, a nurse or a lawyer. And, in other cases, you may not necessarily need additional education to get a job in a particular field, but you might aspire to work for a company that requires further education from its professionals.

Obtaining an MBA, for instance, can provide you with skills that will suit you well in various fields. And companies are very interested in hiring MBA graduates: After a hiring slump due to the Covid-19 pandemic, companies planning to hire MBAs in 2021 has rebounded to the same level as pre-pandemic, according to The Graduate Management Admission Council . In other words, not only can getting an MBA increase your skill set, it also may set you up for greater career and financial success down the line.

Will This Degree Increase My Job and Overall Life Satisfaction?

Any time you invest significant resources into a decision, such as going back to school, you probably have desired outcomes in mind. If you’re thinking about going to college to finish your degree (or for the first time) or going to grad school, you may be hoping to receive a promotion or get a better or more satisfying job, which is reasonable. But, it’s also important to consider whether those accomplishments will really make you happier.

A lot of the things in work that make us happy are intangible: a work culture and community that aligns with your values, work-life balance, or a boss you work well with. Having said that, you might need an advanced degree to get into companies and positions that provide these essentials.

Keep this in mind when deciding if going back to school is the right decision to make.

Will My Investment in This Degree Be Worth the Cost?

To determine the answer to this question, you’ll want to try to calculate what your financial return on education (ROEd) might be. To do this, you’ll first need to research the salary potential for someone with the degree you’re considering. You can then look at the costs involved to determine if, and when, the investment will likely pay off.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, workers aged 25 to 34 with bachelor’s degrees earn, on average, 55% percent more than those who completed high school; those with master’s or higher degrees earn around 21% more than those with bachelor’s degrees.

How to Finance Going Back to School as an Adult

If you decide going back to school is worth the cost, the next step is to figure out how to pay for the program of your choice.

Explore Private Scholarships

First, you can conduct a scholarship search and explore foundations and organizations that may provide funding to you based upon your professional credentials, your community, religious affiliation, and/or ethnicity, etc. Also, you could check to see if your employer offers tuition reimbursement or any scholarship or grant programs that can benefit you.

Federal Financial Aid

It’s also a good idea to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This will give you access to financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans. If you’re looking into grad school, keep in mind that graduate or professional students are typically considered independent students for the purposes of completing the FAFSA form. This means you generally are not required to provide parent information.

Grants and scholarships are a form of gift aid and do not need to be paid back. Federal student loans need to be repaid, but come with benefits such as income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs.

Private Student Loans

If financial aid isn’t enough to cover the cost of going back to school, you might look into getting a private student loan. These are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Loan limits vary from lender to lender, but you can often get up to the total cost of attendance for an undergraduate or graduate program. Interest rates vary but borrowers who have strong credit generally qualify for the lowest rates.

Keep in mind, though, that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and deferment or forbearance — that automatically come with federal student loans.

💡 Quick Tip: Master’s degree or graduate certificate? Private or federal student loans can smooth the path to either goal.

Refinancing Existing Student Loans

If you’re heading back to school and have existing student loans from your undergraduate degree, refinancing might allow you to qualify for a lower interest rate. This can either help you pay off the loan faster and/or decrease how much you pay each month. You can also lower your monthly payments by refinancing for a longer loan term. However, this will result in paying more interest overall.

You can refinance private or federal student loans. It’s important to note that when you refinance federal student loans with a private lender, you forfeit certain federal benefits, such as forbearance and forgiveness programs.

What Is Student Loan Entrance Counseling?

If you plan to go back to school as an adult and take out federal student loans, keep in mind that all federal borrowers must go through student loan entrance counseling. This is a short, online course that is designed to help ensure students understand the responsibilities and requirements that come with borrowing student loans. It highlights the terms and conditions of borrowing a loan, and also emphasizes borrower rights.

The federal government conducts student loan entrance counseling online. You can get details on the course by logging into your account on the Federal Student Aid website.

The Takeaway

When evaluating whether or not going back to school is worth the cost, you’ll want to factor in things like your career goals, the anticipated job market after graduation, typical program costs, and average salaries for the career you are pursuing with the degree.

Going back to school is a personal choice. While it typically comes with added expenses, you may decide that the potential returns make it well worth the investment.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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