After four (or more) years of hard work, thousands of college seniors will finally walk across the stage, receive their diplomas, and enter the working world.

While things like job and apartment hunting are important, so too is setting a strong financial foundation that you can build upon throughout your adult life.

Here are five pieces of financial advice for every graduate to consider.

Make a Plan to Pay Off Student Loan Debt

In the state of Arkansas, the average student loan debt for Class of 2023 graduates is $33,830. The good news is, you don’t have to start paying off your student loans right away.

Federal student loans – and most private loans – normally offer a six-month grace period after graduation. That said, because of the student loan payment pause, all federal student loans aren’t currently accruing interest and you don’t have to start making payments… yet.

We don’t know exactly when payments will resume but we have some idea. On Feb. 28, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from two cases challenging President Biden's student debt relief plan.

If the Supreme Court rules on the lawsuit before June 30, 2023, borrowers with remaining balances will need to start repaying loans 60 days after the court decision, at which point interest will also start accruing again.

If the Supreme Court does not rule before June 30, 2023, borrowers will need to start repaying loans 60 days after June 30, at which point interest will also start accruing again.

Either way, you’ve got some time to assess your loan situation and make a plan.

First, update your information with the loan server – including your address and email – to ensure everything is accurate.

Next, make a payment plan. Look at your budget and determine how much of your income is going toward your debt payments. If you have multiple loans, try and focus first on paying off the debt with the highest interest rates.

If you do have student loans with a high-interest rate, you could consider refinancing them to get a lower APR.

Finally, the smartest way to ensure you make sure your student loan payment every month is to set up automatic payments through your loan service provider. Many offer a 0.25% interest rate reduction with autopay, so you’ll also save a few extra bucks each month.

The 50/30/20 Rule

Budgeting is important throughout life, and an easier habit to keep if you start early. We suggest using the 50/30/20 rule.

Start by writing down your income and monthly expenses. Your aim is to spend 50% of your income on essentials such as rent or mortgage payments, student loan debt, food, utilities, health insurance, and car payments or other commuting costs.

20% of your budget should get put away into savings, an emergency fund, and investments like your retirement funds.

The last 30% of your budget can go toward spending on nonessential expenses like travel, eating out, and shopping.

Build an Emergency Fund

We mentioned an emergency fund in the last section and would advise everyone to have one. At last check, more than half of all Americans wouldn’t be able to afford a $400 surprise expense.

A surprise expense could be a wide range of things, from unexpected medical bills, to appliance or vehicle repairs, to a speeding ticket.

Most financial experts believe you should have enough money in your emergency fund to cover at least 3 to 6 months' worth of living expenses. Don’t let that amount overwhelm you. What’s most important right now, is to start saving.

Set up a separate savings account – one with a higher interest rate if possible – and have a percentage of each paycheck automatically deposited into it to ensure that it grows regularly.

Start Building Your Credit Score

We’re not saying you should go out and sign up for a bunch of credit cards and start using them. That would be irresponsible.

That said, when you want to make your first major purchase – like a new car or a house – having a good credit card is going to be vital.

A credit score is a rating that financial institutions look at to determine how likely you are to pay off your debts. It can help you secure lower interest rates on loans and better credit card offers, which can make your life more affordable.

If you have no credit history, you can start by either opening a secured card or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.

If you choose to open a credit card, search for options with low interest rates that require low spending levels to receive rewards. Also, be sure to set up automatic payments with your bank and continue to monitor your transactions and payments often.

Remember, it’s not enough to just have a credit card; you do have to use it. Credit cards can have a negative or positive impact on your life, so make sure you choose and use them wisely.

You can also become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card to increase your credit score. The primary cardholder is responsible for making the payments, so if they have good credit habits, it can boost the authorized user’s credit score as well.

However, make sure you have a clear agreement with the primary cardholder so that you’re repaying them for anything you charge each month. You don’t want to put their credit score — or yours — at risk by not paying off the balance on time each month.

Be Open to Career Opportunities

We know you just spent years working toward a degree and are now looking for your dream job in that field. But one thing we would say to every college graduate; Don’t stress about it. You're still young. You have time to get there.

Honestly, many people have found rewarding and fulfilling careers in industries completely different than what they thought they would love.

So don’t be disappointed if you can’t get that one job you’d hoped for right out of the gate. Be open to whatever opportunities come your way, even if they’re just dream-job adjacent.

Real-world experience is invaluable. So too are finding a place you enjoy working or a job with opportunities for growth or advancement. Don’t be so focused on finding the perfect job that you miss a unique opportunity to advance your career.