How to Adult for the First Time: The Essential Money Guide

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.


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One of the most stressful parts about transitioning to adulthood is the sheer number of things you have to remember. Your parents are no longer in charge of getting you to a doctor and dentist each year. The only person keeping a roof over your head is you. And suddenly you have to think about medical benefits, retirement, and how to pay off student loan debt on your own.

When I first became an adult, I wished there was a checklist to help me remember all the tasks I need to do to be “Responsible.” Well, just because I didn’t have it doesn’t mean you can’t!

Here’s the financial checklist everyone in their 20s needs to read.

A financial checklist for your first time adulting

This isn’t meant to be a read-once-and-leave-it kind of list. Instead, you’ll probably encounter each of these issues at different times — and some more than once. Keep this checklist handy so you’ll be ready for anything.

How to negotiate a job offer

There’s nothing scarier than negotiating your first job offer. It’s so hard to break into the workforce that you might think you have to take whatever offer comes your way.

But now is the time to learn to advocate for yourself. Sure, you’re probably not going to get your dream job, amazing perks, and fantastic pay right out of the gate. But that doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate if an offer comes your way.

Career coach and recruiter Angela Copeland suggests waiting to bring up the money conversation when you’re in an interview until they bring it up — but making sure to use sites like Glassdoor,, and Indeed to get an idea of pay for your desired role.

And, when it comes time to negotiate, Copeland let us in on a little secret:

“The first rule of negotiations is don’t be afraid to ask for more. Most of the time, HR has already approved a higher salary amount that they keep in their back pocket…In general, it’s acceptable to ask for 5-10 percent above the offered salary.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be humble and respectful when asking for more money, as well as throughout the rest of the process.

How to get your first apartment after college

Once you’ve snagged employment, it’s much easier to get out of your parents’ house or your college housing. But without those crutches, it could be tricky to navigate this part.

You might not have enough credit yet to get an apartment on your own. Some workarounds to this: ask a parent or guardian to sign the lease as your guarantor or find a place with roommates who have good credit.

And, when you get your apartment, pay on time every month. Not doing so can ruin your credit, leave your roommates or guarantor on the hook for your rent, and possibly even lead to eviction.

Here’s where having student loans can be somewhat helpful for a change — you can build credit by paying your student loans on time.

Why you need medical coverage — and how to get it

You’re young, you’re able-bodied, and you can certainly wait until your 30s to worry about things like medical coverage, right?

Wrong. I found out the hard way about the pain of not having insurance when I was young, after a simple doctor’s visit for strep throat left me with a $120 bill. (And that was before paying for medicine.) The worst part? That’s a best-case scenario. You don’t even want to think about what happens if you end up in the emergency room.

Your age can be helpful if you’re able to stay on your parents’ insurance until you turn 26. But if not, and if your employer doesn’t offer insurance, sign up for a health insurance plan on your own.

It might not feel like it’s worth the money, but this is just one adult cost you’ll have to get used to. After all, even if your job does come with insurance, you’ll likely have to pay something for it each month.

While you’re at it, make sure you have car insurance.

How to start building credit

From interviewing for jobs to finding an apartment to shopping for the best insurance rates, your credit will follow you around nearly everywhere.

That’s why now is the time to begin understanding how credit works. Here are a few quick points to know:

  • Your credit report is not your credit score — your report is your credit history, and your score is a number based off of that history, which can differ based on the model and algorithm being used.
  • You have credit scores from each of the two main scoring agencies — FICO and VantageScore — but you cannot see them on your credit report.
  • There are three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and you should dispute errors on your report with them immediately.
  • You can view your credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus for free once per year at
  • Because there is more than one type of score and model, you have more than one credit score — and the ranges can vary quite a bit.
  • In the old days, credit scores were shrouded in mystery or shown to you for a price, but now there are many places to view your credit score for free.

Now that you know a few basics about credit, here’s what you need to know about building credit in two quick charts. First, the factors that influence your FICO score:

The Financial Checklist Everyone in Their 20s Needs to Read

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Second, the factors that influence your VantageScore:

The Financial Checklist Everyone in Their 20s Needs to Read

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As you can see, both scores care about roughly the same things. Therefore, here are the most important tips you need to know right now for building up your credit:

  • Make payments on all of your bills on time, every single month.
  • If you have credit card debt, start paying it down as much as possible because carrying that debt will hurt your score, while using your card and paying it off every month will help your score.
  • Keep accounts open so they can age and give you a strong credit history.

How to manage your student loan repayment

Speaking of timely payments, not falling behind is incredibly important with student loan debt.

Student loan debt is nearly impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, and if you’re having trouble making your payments, ignoring them is the worst thing you can do. Defaulting on your student loans will send them to collections and destroy your credit. And if you have co-signers on your loans, default will damage their credit as well.

Instead of letting things get to that point, seek an income-driven repayment plan if you’re struggling to repay federal student loans. These plans will cap your payments at a percentage of your income and even help you become eligible for forgiveness if you follow the guidelines.

And whether you have federal or private student loans, you may be able to temporarily suspend your payments with deferment or forbearance if you need a break on payments.

And if you’re not having trouble making your student loan payments, here are a few tips to  help you get out of debt even faster:

How to prepare for retirement — yes, really

This might sound crazy, but the age you are right now is just about the best time to start saving for retirement, thanks to the phenomenon of compound interest.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • If your work offers a 401(k), deduct from your paycheck at least as much as the percentage your employer is willing to match — not doing so is giving up free money.
  • If your work doesn’t offer a 401(k), open an IRA and deposit as much as you can afford each year, up to the annual limit.
  • Interested in exploring investments for the first time? Robo-advisors are a great way to dip your toe in.

Don’t stress about reaching perfection

I don’t know about you, but I found balancing health, finances and other goals right after graduating to be pretty anxiety-inducing.

If you feel overwhelmed, know that perfection isn’t the goal. The question isn’t if you’ll slip up in these matters, it’s when you’ll slip up. Knowing that, give yourself a break if you make some mistakes and focus more on learning from them than preventing them completely.

The beauty about this time in your life is that your responsibilities are probably fewer than they’ll ever be. You’re not dealing with a mortgage, a spouse, or children yet. That means you can experiment, take risks, and find yourself — and that’s what you should do.

Just keep this list on hand so you can be ready to deal with the responsibilities you do have.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2018!
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Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. 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. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.