Congratulations, graduates! You've made it through all the tests, the early morning classes and the professorial diatribes.
But you ain't seen nothing yet.
Now it's time for the really boring stuff: health insurance, student loans and jobs.
The day you graduate, a heap of financial problems may be dumped in your lap. And the clock may be ticking on some of the decisions you have to make.
Here's a quick guide to making those first financial moves:
-- Consolidate your student loans. Hurry up on this one. If you're graduating this spring, you have until July 1 to lock in some of the best long-term rates possible. In some cases, the interest rates on your loans could end up below 3 percent a year, once you've gotten some on-time payments under your belt.
If you wait until July 1, the rates will pop to over 6 percent. If all of your student loans are from the same lender, call that lender and ask to consolidate your loans. If you've taken out federal student loans from more than one lender, you can comparison shop at a host of lenders, including Sallie Mae (http://www.salliemae.com), Wells Fargo (www.wfedsuccessloan.com/consolidation.html), or Next Student (http://www.nextstudent.com). All lenders will start with the same base interest rate, by averaging the rates on your existing loans. But they'll give you reductions for being a new graduate, for having payments deducted from your checking account, and for paying on time.
They will also eat most of the fees involved. So comparison shop, but not for so long that you miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
-- Get health-care coverage. It's a slap in the face to both high school and college graduates that they can get knocked off their parents' health-care policies once they pick up that diploma. Only about a quarter of college grads will have jobs offering health-care plans this spring, according to a survey by the Financial Planning Association and Aetna. The situation is even more dire for high school graduates who don't go on to college.
But it's important not to let that coverage lapse. Even a bad sprain or torn tendon can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to treat. If you're not covered immediately at work, you can fill gaps by buying so-called COBRA benefits from their parents' policies or by buying a short-term plan.
You can shop for plans at http://www.ehealthinsurance.com.
You may want to shop for a good, less-expensive policy you can keep for a while. That would free you up to take a post-college adventure trip or take a job that doesn't offer benefits. See if your fraternity's national organization or any professional group you might have joined offers a policy, suggests Tracey Baker, a Fairfax, Virginia, financial planner and representative of the Financial Planners Association.
And learn the lingo: You can't really buy health insurance until you know the difference between PPO and HMO, co-insurance and co-pay, she says. You can get a quick Cliff's Notes version of the health insurance scene on http://www.planforyourhealth.com.
-- Start saving soon. Oh, right. Between student loans, rent, cell phone bills, those insurance premiums, the interview clothes, and the occasional night out with friends, you probably don't have any extra money. That's where your parents may be able to help. You can stash $4,000 in a Roth IRA this year as long as you earn at least that much.
If you can't make those payments, perhaps your parents can make them for you. It makes especially good sense to use a Roth when you are young and paid poorly; the taxes you'll pay on your contribution pale in comparison to the taxes you'll save on your earnings.
Start now, put $4,000 in every year, earn 7 percent in a diversified stock fund, and in 10 years, you'll have some $63,000 to use as a down payment. Or let it ride forever, and when you're 50 (Sorry, but you will be someday), you'll have $362,000 in your Roth.
And, as soon as you get a job with a 401(k) plan, participate to the maximum amount possible. The more you save now, the more choices you'll have later on.