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How to Use Your First Real Paycheck as a New Grad

April 26, 2019 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

How to Use Your First Real Paycheck as a New Grad

You’ve graduated from college, degree in hand, and are headed into the workforce. After countless applications, phone screens, and in-person job interviews, you’ve done it—you’ve secured your first, full-time job as an adult.

As you experience the thrill of getting your first paycheck, it can be tempting to splurge on a celebratory dinner or a new outfit for work. But before you spend your paycheck on something indulgent, it could be worth thinking about how to spend it more wisely. Here are our best tips for spending your first paycheck as you start your new job.

Set Up Your 401(k)

You’ll learn pretty quickly that you’ll end up losing a decent chunk of change to taxes. One way to offset that is to invest money in tax-advantaged accounts, including a 401(k). As a part of your offer package, you will likely receive information on the company’s benefits—including any healthcare and 401(k) options. It can seem easy to brush this information off as you get started in your career, but reviewing it closely is an important part of deciding whether to accept a job in the first place.

A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan that allows both you and, depending on your plan, your employer to contribute to the account. Employers may offer a contribution match of a certain percentage or specific amount. Each employer offers contribution matches at their discretion, so if you’re not sure what your company offers, check with HR or consult company policy.

It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. The earlier you begin making contributions, the more time you give yourself to take advantage of compounding. Basically, the interest you earn can then be reinvested, allowing your money to grow over time.

Consider investing at least enough to take advantage of your employer match. If your employer matches 6%, contribute 6%. That way you’re not leaving any money on the table. (Once you set it up, the money you contribute will probably be taken directly out of your paycheck.)

Set Up a Checking and Savings Account

Before you get your first paycheck, set up a checking and savings account. If you already have these types of accounts, now is a good time to assess whether they are still a good fit for your current financial needs. Take the time to review interest rates at various banks and online financial companies.

For example, SoFi Money is a hybrid account that earns you more and costs you nothing. You can easily access your money online or from any ATM without any fees.

Once you’ve set up your checking and savings accounts, consider setting up direct deposit. That way you don’t have to worry about depositing a check every time you get paid and you can start earning interest on that money as soon as it is payday.

You can also consider keeping your spending money in a checking account and setting up automatic transfers to your savings account. It’s an easy way to force yourself to save some cash at the beginning of your career.
An interest-bearing savings account is a great place to store your emergency fund. Conventional wisdom suggests saving anywhere from three to six months of living expenses to cover emergency expenses, such as unexpected medical bills or car repairs.

We know you just got started at your new job and may not be ready to think about these scenarios, but, in the event that you get laid off or the company goes out of business, having an emergency fund will allow you to stay afloat until you find your next gig. Even contributing $50 per paycheck to your emergency fund can help set you up with a little safety net should something unexpected happen.

Make Payments for Student Loans

Another important expense you should factor into your first paycheck is student loan payments. Even if you start your new job during your student loan grace period, you should probably consider your monthly payments and start setting the money aside. If you have unsubsidized loans, use the money to make interest-only payments on your loans.

If you have subsidized loans, it’s possible to save some, then use the money you have saved to make a lump-sum payment on the loans when your grace period ends. Both of these options can help set you off on the right foot when it comes to student loan repayment. By factoring your student loan payments into your budget upfront, you get used to not using that money for casual spending on things like dinner out or drinks with friends.

It’s also a good time to review your repayment plan on your student loans. If you have federal student loans there are a variety of repayment plans to choose from, including the standard 10-year repayment plan and four income-driven plans. If you have a combination of private student loans and federal student loans, you could consider refinancing them with a private lender, like SoFi, in the hopes of securing a lower interest rate.

With a lower interest rate you could potentially reduce the money you spend on interest over the life of the loan. This could be a great option if you are on a standard repayment plan and are interested in securing a lower interest rate.

If you’re taking advantage of federal programs like deferment, forbearance, income-driven repayment, or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, refinancing your student loans may not be for you, as you will no longer qualify for those programs.

To see how much refinancing could impact your loan, take a look at SoFi’s student loan refinance calculator. When you refinance with SoFi there are no prepayment penalties or origination fees.

Start an IRA

Even if you’re already contributing to a 401(k), setting up an IRA could be beneficial. There are two kinds of IRAs, traditional and Roth. When you contribute to a traditional IRA, the contributions are deducted from your taxes, meaning you’ll pay taxes on distributions when you retire.

When you contribute to a Roth IRA, your contributions are taxed upfront but can be withdrawn in retirement tax-free—and that includes any capital gains you’ve earned.

You can contribute up to $6,000 to either type of IRA annually. If you are over the age of 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000 as catch-up contributions.

An added benefit to opening a Roth IRA: You could use it to fund part of a down payment on the future purchase of a home. As long as the Roth IRA has been open for five years, you’re allowed to withdraw $10,000 from your Roth IRA to buy your first home without any taxes or penalties. This could be a good start for saving for retirement or for your first house.

Still Have Money Left? Treat Yourself

If after paying your monthly expenses and contributing to your various savings goals you still have money leftover, you can use it to splurge on something you’ll really enjoy like trying out a new restaurant, buying tickets to a concert or a sports game, or having a night out on the town.

Or, you could use the additional money to save up toward another short-term goal—maybe an international adventure, a TV, or a new bed frame. Or if you’re feeling frugal, use the extra money to make an additional payment on your student loans.

Paying more than the monthly minimum is one of the fastest ways to accelerate your student loan repayment. At the end of the day, you’re working to earn money to live your best life, so make sure you are enjoying it and saving for your long-term financial goals at the same time.

If you’re ready to tackle your student loan debt, consider refinancing with SoFi. See what your new interest rate could be in two minutes or less.


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.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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SoFi Money is offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . Neither SoFi nor its affiliates are a bank.

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