Let’s talk money. And let’s be real with ourselves. Do you know what your financial profile looks like? Do you know what you should be looking for? Are you planing for your financial future? In all sincerity, when I first started my first job out of graduate school, I didn’t know a lot about this. My benefits package felt like a pile of paperwork written in a different language and I didn’t register for my 401K for an entire year because I was too scared and felt overwhelmed by all of the legal and financial jargon.
Get yourself in the habit of asking, does this decision support the life I am trying to create?
Sometimes, I would avoid looking at my bank account and just Russian roulette my debt card at the cash register to see if it would go through. These are definitely not my proudest moments, but I learned a lot from them. Specifically, I’ve learned that I cannot let my fear or unfamiliarity on a topic stop me from pursuing financial wellness and that denial or ignorance is not a place I want to continue to live my life from.
As we discuss what financial attributes are important to know, here are some of the major areas that you should be aware of to have a better understanding of your financial profile. Please keep in mind I am not a finance professional and this information is purely for informative or entertainment purposes and should not be seen as professional advice. Any action you take from this article is at your own risk.
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Your credit score
This is an excellent starting point to determine an overall estimate of your financial profile, as it provides a record of your open and closed accounts, payment history, potential collections, and more. A credit score is a number within the ranges of 300-850 that determines your credit risk profile, as well as your financial habits such as payment history and overall debt load. This credit score number is vastly important because it can dictate your eligibility for affordable student loan interest rates, eligibility for apartments for rent or for purchase, and approval for automobile purchases.
Thankfully, there are a few ways to find out what your credit score is. One is by reaching out to the three credit bureaus online and asking for a free annual report. The three major credit bureaus are TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Two, and my personal favorite, is to access a bank account or credit card account that provides rough estimates of your credit score on a monthly basis for free. Chase, Discover, and Citibank all currently have monthly credit reports that are generated and linked to your account. You will not receive any penalties for checking your account through these.
The importance of knowing your credit score is that it’s a starting point for you to determine what your financial picture looks like.
Your student loan amount and interest rates
If you do not have student loans, feel free to skip this section! But if you’re like me, you came out of college with a significant amount of student loans and had no idea how to even begin understanding what you owed, how fast it was accruing, and at what interest rate. This can be further broken down in a different blog post, but for now, you can look at your credit score under accounts to see what different lenders are linked to your profile.
In the instance you only have one lender, perhaps a common lender such as Great Lakes, you can create an account on the Great Lakes website and login to find out these data points. They can provide more information about your specific loan breakdown, repayment periods, auto pay discounts, and different interest rates. It’s important to recognize your overall student loan debt and the varying interest rates that you might be juggling to make a game plan for repayment.
For example, since I took out loans during different time periods of my college career, I had over five different interest rate amounts with my student loan provider. Calculating what my highest and lowest rates were and determining how much I was paying in annual interest alone was a huge wake up call. Knowing this number and having a tangible understanding of my total debt picture allowed me to look at refinancing options and other methods of bringing my principal balance down. This was only possible by doing research on my student loan profile and getting clear on who I owed and what I owed.
Your monthly budget
Sincerely, this one has always been tough for me and it’s something I’m continuously working on. As I first started my post graduate life, I threw all of my money to student loans and to traveling and expensive Ubers. I figured I was being responsible by making large sum payments on my student loans, so I earned the flexibility on other areas of my life. Wrong! While it’s not about earning versus not earning fun purchases, it’s about having a game plan that honors your savings, debt repayment, and overall budgeting goals before you dig into your money pot to spend it on unnecessary things.
As I’ve progressed into adulthood, working with a financial planner was incredibly helpful. He provided guidance and a strong starting point for truthfully evaluating my spending habits, my debt repayment goals, my savings for retirement and emergency fund goals, and other milestones I wanted to account for.
In addition, setting a rough budget gives me a mental allocation to my finances once they hit my account. Instead of seeing xxx amount of money and thinking about what I could buy or do, I think about my other obligations first and then come to a more realistic number for my “fun” budget. I also give value to each dollar that hits my account and know where it needs to be allocated to reach my objective. I’ll budget money for shopping or food or other extras, but I primarily make sure my financial commitments are covered first.
Your financial goals
As we mentioned earlier when discussing a proper budget, it’s important to do so because it enables you to reach your financial goals. Failure to plan is a plan to fail. These goals can vary person to person, but can include things like paying off an X amount of your student loans in three years, investing into your 401K or Roth IRA, setting money aside for a big trip or weekend getaway you’d like to take, or putting money away for a three to six month emergency fund.
Your needs may vary, but defining what exactly those needs are and how your current financial profile can meet them is imperative. I’ve found by doing this, I also create a level of tangible accountability for myself where instead of saying “Oh, I’d like to pay off my loans one day”, it’s “I have a goal of paying off 10% of my overall student debt in the next three years and this is the monthly payment I need to reach that goal.” Having that specific goal keeps me on track and makes sure that I honor my personal commitments.
Don’t forget to create fun financial goals as well! Even if it’s a weekly coffee fund or a rainy day fund, give yourself something to look forward to when you’re saving. Once you do get the chance to treat yourself, it’ll feel even better because you know you’re doing it in a responsible way.
Your amount of consumer debt
Credit cards! Points! Travel perks! There are so many wonderful things that credit cards can provide if they’re used appropriately and paid off on a regular basis. But what happens when we outspend what we make and we find ourselves paying massively high interest rates on racking credit card debt?
First of all, it’s important to know how many accounts you have open. Again, you can use your credit score as a starting point to identify what is under your name. Second, you need to find out what is the balance on each of these accounts. Third, you need to evaluate what amount of interest rates are you accruing monthly.
I know it’s easy to get up to the register for a big purchase or even multiple small ones and swipe your card thinking you’ll deal with it later. But then later comes and it’s at the cost of a 28.99% APR and all of a sudden, you’re not sure how you’re going to pay things down.
Knowing your consumer debt profile gives you a starting point and an opportunity to assess where you could be prioritizing making minimum payments versus higher amounts for faster repayment so that you can eliminate them as soon as possible.
Your net worth
Lastly, the previous metrics all come together to compile what is known as your net worth. If it’s negative, don’t fret! You may be working with large amounts of students loans that your savings won’t be able to balance out yet. That’s okay, but having an understanding of what this number overall looks like is an excellent starting point to make a game plan. Your net worth is a wholistic picture of your debts, investments, and savings and provides a picture of your financial and non-financial assets minus your liabilities.
Once you have an idea of what your net worth calculation is, you can begin to make a strategy. What areas do you want to focus on first? Do you have an emergency fund? Can you refinance your student loans for a more competitive interest rate? Can you commit to making larger payments on your consumer debt?
You can calculate this net worth manually with pen and paper and breaking down your financial responsibilities. There are also financial monitoring and planning apps like Mint that automatically calculate this for you based on the accounts that you link to the application.
The idea behind knowing these six key financial attributes isn’t meant to scare you. On the contrary, it’s meant for you to have a clear awareness of what your financial profile is and how you can get started on enhancing it for your future.
It is never too early to start thinking about your financial security and it’s especially important when you start to earn your own money and can make advancements on your financial objectives.
Please note that I am not a financial professional and this is meant to be informative and all information provided here is meant to be taken at your own risk. This is not considered financial advice and is meant for entertainment or informative purposes only.