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Financial Survival Guide for Recent Grads

Written by
Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 3 min
Updated on July 31, 2023
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The real world is scary, but you can take these pro tips to the bank.

How Can Recent Grads Avoid Credit Damage?

The diploma is on the wall. The graduation cap is stashed in the attic. Two months after walking, how’s the class of 2018 doing?

For many, unfortunately, the transition from college life to the real world can be tough. In fact, a recent survey by OppU found that seven in ten recent grads had damaged their credit within two years of finishing school.

So how do young people entering adult life and all the responsibilities that come with it avoid the mishaps that tank the credit of so many of their peers?

We spoke to four financial experts and asked for their top tips. Here’s their survival guide to navigate the financial pitfalls of early adulthood.

Money Management

Alayna Pehrson, BestCompany.Com

  1. Only purchase items you can afford. Many people see a credit card as a way to buy things they can't afford upfront. Unfortunately, this can result in exceeding your credit limit and having large bills you can't pay. Stick to using your credit card on things you CAN afford and you will lessen your risk of credit damage.
  2. Take advantage of apps and other online resources. Most college students are tech savvy already and thrive off of using apps. There are many apps and online sources you can use to keep track of when you have to pay your bills. Since paying your bills on time is incredibly important when it comes to your credit score, use what you can to keep track of payments.

Credit Cards

Brent Dunn, Wholesome Financial Partners Inc.

  1. Make at least minimum payments. Set payments on auto-pay for ALL accounts.
  2. Get a zero percent introductory APR if needed. Buy essentials with that and just pay minimum payments.
  3. You DON’T need to carry a balance if you want good credit.
  4. Pay credit cards in priority of APR while paying minimum payments for lower APR loans.
  5. No debt is good debt. You have to pay it back. Use it with caution.

Student Loans

Abril Hunt, ECMC

  1. Monitor your debt.
  2. Monitor student loan debt throughout the college career so when you graduate you know what you owe. Informed students who know what their payments will be have an easier time keeping up with payments and planning for them.
  3. Students can easily track their federal loans via the National Student Loan Database System (NSLDS).
  4. Pay your student loans on time.
  5. Not paying your student loans will negatively affect your credit score. Make sure you choose a repayment plan where you’ll be able to make your payments every month and still live comfortably.
  6. There are now many more choices for loan repayment than in the past. Borrowers should consider their estimated income, other financial commitments, the length of time they will be repaying their loan, and the total amount of interest they will repay over the life of their loan.


Shawnee Huie, Cleared Renter

  1. See if your bank lets you use your savings for overdraft protection. Even in college I was approved for a $1k overdraft line just in case I ever went over my daily budget. Would rather spend a few dollars in interest than overdraft fees!
  2. Set up budgets and alerts in I use to categorize my expenses and send me alerts when I'm over my usual spending, or the budget I set for each category. For example, it just told me this week I've spent way more on restaurants than usual, so I know to keep an eye on that the rest of the month now.

Article contributors

Alayna Pehrson is the content manager for the credit repair, identity theft, and merchant account blogs for

Brent Dunn is a 2018 college grad with a degree in finance. He is now working as a financial planner specializing in young couples and millennials. He focuses on decreasing any stress in life caused by money while empowering clients to take control of their finances. He can be reached by email at

Abril Hunt is manager of Outreach & Financial Literacy for ECMC, a nonprofit that focuses on student success in higher education and provides financial literacy training, support and outreach to better educate students on paying for college and managing their debt. In her position, Abril facilitates and manages ECMC’s award-winning national educator trainings, which provide valuable, free-of-charge lessons in financial literacy and higher education planning to students in middle school, high school and college. Abril also serves as the writer and co-host of ECMC’s weekly national webinar, Financial Awareness Basics.

Shawnee Huie is a serial entrepreneur currently working on making it easier for quality renters and landlords to find each other at Staying on top of her finances and keeping expenses low is how she's been able to have the flexibility to average one international vacation a month for the last 5 years.

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