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Every year, about 4 million college graduates are minted in the US. Many enter the professional world with more academic knowledge than practical understanding about how to take care of themselves. So for this week’s Barron’s Advisor Big Q, with graduation season in full swing, we asked financial advisors: What advice would you offer recent college graduates?

Rafia Hasan

Courtesy of Wipfli Financial.

Rafia Hasan, chief investment officer, Wipfli Financial Advisors: From an investment standpoint, probably the best piece of advice is to start saving early, even if it’s only $50 a month. If you develop that discipline early on, you’ll see the value of compounding over the course of your career. Say you invest that $600 in that first year. Over the course of 30 years, compounding at an 8% annualized rate, that amount would grow to about $6,000.

I also think young investors tend to either be too timid or too bold when it comes to their investment strategy. There’s no dearth of headlines about the things people are investing in. Last year it was cryptocurrency, SPACs [special purpose acquisition companies], and meme stocks. That’s where I think sometimes people can get too bold: They’re trying to get that lightning in a bottle. My advice is to go for a much more diversified, low-cost strategy that gives you exposure to public equity markets. And I think having more exposure to stocks, maybe even 100% of your portfolio, given the long time horizon that a recent grad would have, is very prudent. 

Scott Tiras

Scott Tiras, advisor, Ameriprise: It starts with work ethic and having an initial dedication to work an extra two hours a day, which could mean getting into the office early, being the last to leave, or working on Saturdays once in a while. Those extra two hours per day equate to three more months of work over the course of the year. Anyone working that much more than everyone else puts the odds in their favor to learn, grow, and succeed much faster.

In the current “new normal” of working remote, I strongly encourage working in the office, at least part time, with your leader and peers. This is where you can develop relationships and find a mentor. You want to be part of a team, and lots of magic happens in the office, hallway, breakroom, etc.

Don’t be tempted to hop around and change jobs for a slightly higher salary. Depending on your line of work, it may not look the best on your resume. Most of my wealthiest clients worked one place for their entire career. Lastly, don’t look for the biggest salary, but the biggest opportunity.

Olivia Le Blan

Photography by Daniel Baume

Olivia Le Blan, financial planner, Douglass Winthrop Advisors: As a young professional myself, it’s particularly nice to be able to work with a younger generation: I was in their shoes not too long ago. The first thing that we always recommend to our young clients is to keep expenses under control, and in particular, try to pay off student debts. Pay off your credit card balances in full every month. 

The second is to establish an emergency fund. Once you’ve saved three to six months of living expenses in a high-yielding savings account, forget about it. Don’t use it for vacation or extras. It’s really for emergencies and being able to sleep at night. 

The next big thing is to contribute to your 401(k). Try to at least get the employer match: That’s basically free money. 

Aleeza Singh

Courtesy of Merrill Lynch

Aleeza Singh, financial advisor, Merrill Lynch: Take the free money you get through benefits set up by your employer. Obviously, set up contributions for your 401(k). Because you’re young, it can often be advantageous to look at a Roth 401(k) option. The other is a health savings account. If you’re 22 and healthy, your medical expenses are usually going to be fairly low. [The HSA] becomes an additional tax-free savings vehicle, depending on how you use it.

Make sure you’re paying attention to the quality of your credit cards. My personal mistake was that my first credit card was an Express store card. I haven’t used it in the past 15 years, but you establish your credit with those first cards. So make sure it’s more of a broad card that you’re going to use for an extended number of decades into the future. 

Nelrae Pasha Ali

Nelrae Pasha Ali, advisor, Wells Fargo Advisors: Continue to stay curious and to learn. When a lot of us get out of school, we’re like, “OK, we’re done.” The saying in my family was that certified does not mean qualified. So be curious and learn what you’re doing, especially in a new job and career.

Both my parents were attorneys, and there’s a book that my mother gave every one of her eight children when we left for college and again when we graduated: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s still timely. It’s about how to deal with people — being nice, listening, and taking in what’s happening before you make a judgment. Those things may seem corny, but I think they matter. 

Judi Leahy

Photography by Jo Bryan

Judi Leahy, financial advisor, Citi Wealth Management: The first thing I always say to anyone is to write down your goals because things have a way of becoming much more tangible and real when you see them in black and white. 

It’s definitely important to take advantage of your 401(k) plan, especially if there’s a matching opportunity from the employer. Just because your limit on a credit card is $5,000 doesn’t mean that you take it to that. And you should pay off that bill every single month because the blouse that you bought for $100 can turn into $120 fast. 

And I find life insurance to be really interesting. If you buy a whole-life policy, you will have a cash value that gets built up over time. If you don’t need it [prior to retirement], you might use that cash value as supplemental retirement income. 

Jordan Niefeld

Jordan Niefeld, financial planner, Raymond James: People will do business with you and hire you when they know you, trust you, and like you. So being authentic to themselves and being likeable, they should be able to showcase that and allow others to feel like they’re really getting to know them.

Read and absorb as much as possible, about all different types of subjects. And ask a lot of questions. Coming out of college, I tried to leverage my relationships with other successful professionals. I just started asking them questions about what they did, how they ended up where they were, what inspired them to do what they’re doing. And I asked for advice. A lot of people want to help others, particularly those fresh out of college. But if you don’t ask for help and advice from others, people are not going to give it to you.

I’d also say that if you’re a new college grad coming into the business world, you want to be very aware of how you look in the digital world. We all have a digital footprint, whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or whatever. And you should think about how you are going to be perceived by the professional community. Because ultimately, everyone’s looking.

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