With so many Americans feeling uneasy about the economy and their finances right now, we decided to ask some of our financial advisors across the country to share their insights and advice for uncertain times.
Below, Leo Tucker, a Northwestern Mutual wealth management advisor based in Washington, D.C., offers advice to students and recent college graduates as they navigate the coming months.
A lot of students are wondering if now’s a good time to take a gap year. What should they be thinking about first?
Given everything that’s going on, I can understand why students would be interested in a gap year. However, there are things to consider first. When we’re working with and advising our clients, we help them plan for various goals and circumstances just like this. We may not have labeled that goal “pandemic” when we were planning — maybe it was an emergency fund or a “fun” fund — but the point is, do you have resources set aside to fund that goal that won’t impact you downstream? If you do, then it could be a great time to take a gap year. If not, it might be time to visit an advisor who can help you plan for a gap year.
What career advice would you give recent grads, given the current job market?
If you’re a young person just coming out of college, you should certainly have an optimistic view. Now is the time to reflect on some unique opportunities that you perhaps didn’t think about before you graduated, such as self-employment.
I remember back when I was coming out of college, I thought, “How do I take control of my life?” I wanted to be in business for myself, but I didn’t like the idea of being in business by myself. For me, that was the financial services industry. Twenty-nine years later, I have no regrets about that decision.
If you’re concerned about your career because you’re in an industry that’s hurting, do a thorough analysis of the industry and the opportunities that exist. That might open up some new ways of presenting yourself in the job market.
How should people budget for essential bills?
This pandemic is leaving many people feeling stressed and anxious about budgeting for things like rent or health care. If that’s you, the smart reflex is to call an advisor — someone you can trust and who can walk you through how to prioritize your budget.
When my daughter graduated from college a year and a half ago, the first thing we discussed was how to budget for necessities. We had to make sure that she was able to cover those staple items. Then, we were able to build a budget that also gave her room to plan for the things that were fun and important to her, like travel and eating out. Thinking about budgeting is totally normal, but if it’s stressing you out, it’s OK to ask for some help.
Many students have already paid college costs for the fall. What should they do if their school doesn’t reopen?
This is keeping a lot of young people up at night. From what I’ve seen, a lot of colleges around the country are scrambling and creating resources to make sure they can deliver a virtual experience that’s going to count in the same way that an in-classroom experience would.
Also, a lot of colleges are offering credits for the semester so that you don’t lose that money, and some are even offering refunds. So for some individuals, it might be a good time to take a semester gap, especially if those credits can be applied to the following semester.
For people with college savings plans, can that money be used for something else?
Whether or not you choose to go back to school next semester, the money in your 529 plan doesn’t expire. If you don’t fully exhaust the dollars in your 529, you can use that money for future education. If you're the person funding the plan, you could save it for your grandkids’ education if you don’t use it all on your kids, or even for your own continuing education. Having access to that money now and in the future is one of the reasons 529 plans work so well.