Whether you're a student or you have a house, spouse and kids, here are five easy steps to take control of your money.
1. Upgrade your bank account
Bank accounts are more than just places to stash your dough until you spend it. As soon as you start making some money, the first thing you’ll want to do is put it to work for you.
Choose a checking account that won't charge you for everyday ATM transactions or hit you with other ridiculous fees that take bites out of your hard-earned money.
For impressive returns on savings accounts, online banks like Ally and Discover lead the pack. While more traditional banks offer just 0.01% annual interest on your savings, high-interest accounts from web-based banks can pay close to 2%.
2. Apply for a (new) credit card
You have hundreds of different credit cards to choose from — and some are better choices than others. If you have a student card with a low credit limit or a card with no rewards or cash-back options, then you're definitely missing out.
You can find rewards credit cards that offer cash back when you buy gas or shop for groceries. Other cards will help you earn free flights or hotel stays, or can save you money at your favorite store.
Once you get a new credit card, make sure to always pay your balance in full at the end of the month. Because each time you use the card, you'll be adding to your credit history — and helping the credit bureaus set your credit score.
Using 30% or less of your available credit will make it easy to pay your balance and will show the credit agencies you’re not overextending yourself. This will translate to a healthy credit score and easier access to mortgages, car loans and other credit you'll be needing.
3. Invest in your future
Even a very modest investment can grow substantially over time. Financial advisers agree that the sooner you start investing, the better!
If you were to put aside $100 a month from age 20 until you’re 65, you’d save $54,000 — and investing it at an average annual return of 7% would grow it to nearly $370,000. But if you don't start until you're 40, you'd retire with just $81,000.
Don’t despair if you’re in your 30s and haven’t started investing yet! Now’s the time, and it’s easier than ever.
4. Insure yourself
You’re not planning to leave this world anytime soon — but if something happens that shortens your schedule, you can save your family a lot of pain by having life insurance.
If you have outstanding private student loans, then a life insurance payout could cover the rest of your payments so your family isn’t saddled with debt. Or, when you own a home, insurance could cover your mortgage payments after you're gone.
Buying insurance in your 20s or 30s is dirt cheap, and term life insurance for 10, 20 or 30 years is the best option for young people.
If you have no debt at all, have some insurance coverage through your job, or are not planning on owning a home or having kids, then you may not need to buy life insurance.
5. Make out a will
Everyone needs a will — even you. According to estate law experts, writing a will should be a prerequisite to graduating from high school!
With a will, you can give directions on how your social media accounts, photos and finances should be handled if you make an early exit. You can name a guardian for your pet and give instructions to sell certain possessions to cover expenses for your fur-baby.
If you’re the charitable type, you can even will your money or belongings to your favorite nonprofit. And — getting heavy here — you can leave directions on the lengths that should be taken to keep you alive.
More importantly, having a will ensures that your money and possessions are kept out of the court system and that your family or partner can access your life insurance money.