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Published April 9th, 2014
Budget Basics for New College Graduates
Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an independent college advisor who draws upon 25 years of higher education experience to help guide and support the college admissions process for students and their families. Dr. LaScala is a member of NACAC, WACAC and HECA. She can be contacted at (925) 891-4491 or elizabeth@doingcollege.com. Visit www.doingcollege.com for more information about her services.

Here's a question I'm often asked by new or soon to be college graduates: "I am looking for a job. Can you help me figure out how much income I will need to pay bills and start to reduce my student loan debt?" The answer to this question will depend on your net income after taxes, rental costs for your residence, and the cost of living in your area. In California, you can count on about 30 percent of your paycheck being withheld for federal and state income tax, social security, Medicare and California State Disability Insurance. You can get an estimate of these costs by working with the paycheck calculator (visit http://www.adp.com/tools-and-resources/calculators-and-tools/payroll-calculators/salary-paycheck-calculator.aspx) and experimenting with deductions for dependents, retirement contributions, health insurance premiums and more.
With regard to household rents, most sources agree that you should spend no more than one-third of your gross pay (pretax earnings) on rent http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/19/AR2006051900643.html. This figure includes basic utilities like gas and electric. Whatever's left after this is available to pay for food, clothing, transportation, phone usage, and insurance ... and, of course, your student loans. Including loan payments the most common recommendation is to plan on spending no more than 40 percent of your pretax income on housing and loan payments (this amounts to a loan payment of $280 a month). For a good resource on student loans and loan calculators that estimate income needed to pay off a particular loan amount visit http://www.finaid.org/calculators/loanpayments.phtml.
An example will help make these costs clear: If you make $48,000 a year or $4,000 a month before taxes, you should plan on spending up to $1,320 on rent plus basic utilities (about 33 percent of pretax income). If you have student debt, you should plan to spend no more than $1,600 a month (about 40 percent of your pretax income) on housing and loan payments combined. In this example, your after tax income with be about $2,800 and after rent, utilities and student loan are paid, only about $1,200 will be available to pay for food, clothing, transportation, phone usage, and insurance. This is a pretty tight budget.
Before shopping for a place to rent, be ready for landlords to check your credit report. If you pay them a fee to check your credit, you are entitled to a copy of the report. Remember that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status, but under some conditions a landlord can require that you prove you make a certain amount of yearly income before renting to you. In addition, if this is your first time renting, the landlord might ask for a cosigner on the lease. It is also common for landlords to ask for your first month's rent plus a security deposit equal to two months' rent. Gas and electric companies require a security deposit as well. Your landlord must refund your deposit when you move out, minus unpaid rent, and a basic cleaning charge. They can take money to repair any damage as well so take photos when you move in so you can prove the prior condition of the premises when you move out. Finally, figure on moving costs - out of college (or your parents' home) into your new home. Now that you have your college degree, welcome to the real world!

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