Turning 21? 21 Smart Money Moves to Make This Year
Turning 21 is a pretty big milestone.
Aside from the ability to legally drink alcohol and all the responsibility that comes with that, your 21st birthday serves as the final stepping stone into adulthood and all the responsibilities that come with that.
And while it’s all rosé-colored glasses for the first few months, you quickly realize just how much a good bottle of your favorite Cab Sav costs.
Financial Tips and Tricks Every 21-Year-Old Should Know
If you’re freshly 21 — or getting close to it — we’ve got some tips and tricks for making, saving and managing your money so you don’t end up blowing this whole adulthood thing on your first try.
To help you get ready for whatever the next phase of life brings, here are some important money moves to make before you turn 21.
1. Find out Whether You’re Paying Too Much for Car Insurance
For many, car insurance is just one of those things where we cave in and pay. Because, just like the electric bill and phone service, we need it, right?
Yes. There’s no getting around car insurance, unfortunately. But one way you could save money is by shopping and comparing rates twice a year.
“Not only can a lot of circumstances in your life and your car (mileage, age) change in that time, but insurance companies may be changing their pricing as well, and you want to be sure you’re getting the right coverage, service and of course pricing to suit your changing needs,” says Alyssa Connolly, the director of marketing insights at The Zebra.
According to The Zebra’s 2019 State of Insurance report, consumers just aren’t doing this. And car insurance rates keep increasing, with the average person paying $1,470 a year for coverage.
The takeaway? Compare rates regularly. The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in less than 60 seconds.
Just enter information about your car and your coverage needs, and The Zebra shows dozens of side-by-side quotes from top insurance companies for free.
2. Get a 100X the Normal Interest Rate
Operating everything out of one account can make your finances muddy and contribute undue stress to your money management.
To simplify, open an account dedicated to saving, and put your money to work. One of our favorites is Aspiration — you’ll pay no monthly fees, and you’ll earn up to 2.00% APY on your savings.
You’ll get access to two online-only accounts: one for spending and one for saving. The spending account comes with a debit card that earns 0.5% cash back on all your purchases, plus free ATMs, so you can easily access your money when you need it.
After you open your Aspiration account, use it to split your income:
- Automatically deposit a portion of your income into your spending account, and use that to cover basic expenses like rent and bills, plus fun stuff; like eating out, shopping or going on vacation.
- Deposit what’s left into your Aspiration savings to keep it out of sight and let it grow. You’ll earn 2.00% APY as long you deposit just $1 a month. We recommend squirreling more when you can, but we like that you won’t lose the perk when you can’t.
3. Look Into Life Insurance
No, this isn’t a subtle dig about getting older — it’s an important step for anyone who has people who rely on them financially.
Even though life insurance is something everyone in their late 20s should consider, you don’t have to run out and purchase the first life insurance policy someone pitches you.
“The biggest mistake I see millennials making is being duped by insurance salesmen,” says Andy Yadro, a financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin. “Everyone needs insurance, but a very small subset of young people need the insurance that is sold by most ‘financial advisers.’”
If you’re mostly healthy, consider purchasing term life insurance online from Ethos. It partners with a major A-rated life insurance carrier to provide policies for a low price. For example, $30 a month could get your family $1 million of coverage.
Anyone, including independent contractors, can secure term life insurance through Ethos without a medical exam or extensive paperwork; just fill out a digital application.
4. Let This Company Help You Get Rid of Your Credit Card Debt
Don’t go into the rest of adulthood with debt dragging you down.
When Cheryl Cavalli, a stay-at-home mom of two, decided to launch a business as a home-based travel agent, she knew she would need to secure a loan to give herself the best possible financial foundation.
Cavalli and her husband, Virge, used Fiona (previously Even Financial) to find a loan offer that would work for them.
“All of the major loan providers were presented in a very simple table — what their rates were, what the terms were,” Virge says. With a simple search, they found a loan that ticked all their boxes and had an interest rate of just 5.9%.
A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Fiona, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.
Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. If your credit score is at least 620, its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000, no collateral needed, with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.
Whether your goals have to do with paying off debt or financing a new business venture, Fiona’s marketplace makes it easy to find the right loan for your situation.
5. Get a Lower Interest Rate on Your Student Loans
For some, a lower interest rate could be one of the best steps to paying off student loans.
Try getting a lower interest rate on your federal and private loans by refinancing with a company like Credible. Other companies offer similar services, but we like that the average Credible user saves about two interest points on their current federal loans.
Refinancing will generally mean replacing your laundry list of loans with one (or a few) loans that bring all of your student debt under one umbrella.
This could simplify your life with one monthly payment, instead of several. It may also lower your monthly payment, improve your interest rate and/or give you more time to pay.
It might seem like a small difference, but a lower interest rate can mean a lot of savings over time. It’s helping grad Ashley Williams save more than $18,000 in interest over the life of her loan!
6. Don’t Think You Can Afford to Invest? Start With $5
If you’re going to be a real adult who makes small talk at parties hosted by other people your age, investing is a good place to start. And sure, becoming an investor sounds intimidating — but it really doesn’t have to be.
If you’re like most of us and wish your money would just take care of itself, consider starting an investment account through Acorns.
You can start small and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.
Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.
The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. For example, we reviewed how Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to save at a rate of $420 a year!
At that rate, you could set aside $1,000 in about two and a half years — without trying.
The app is $1 a month for balances under $1 million, and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up.
7. Get Paid When You Swipe Your Credit Card
If you’re not using a rewards credit card for everyday purchases, you’re missing out on free money.
You just have to be sure you don’t get too carried away with those purchases — and that the card is paid off at the end of each billing period.
Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.
There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire. We checked Credible’s annual rewards calculator, and it estimates $417 in annual rewards based on our spending habits.* (You can enter your unique spending habits and see what you’d earn, too.)
Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.
*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.
8. Become a Real Estate Investor (Yeah, Before You’re Even 30)
What’s the most adulting thing you can think of?
Stumped? OK, here it is: Investing in real estate.
The cool news is you can start investing in real estate without having to play landlord, and we found a company that helps you do just that.
Oh, and you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars, either. You can get started with a minimum investment of just $500. A company called Fundrise does all the heavy lifting for you.
Katie Smith, who recently graduated from Georgetown University in Washington D.C., has always been a saver.
But after years of watching her carefully tucked away funds sit in a low-interest savings account, Smith decided it was time for her money to start making more money — so she decided to invest it in real estate through a company called Fundrise.
While she technically only needed $500 to get started, Smith decided to invest a little more than that. “It’s a pretty low barrier to entry in terms of the amount of money you need,” Smith said. “I invested a couple grand, and I’ve been really pleased with the results.”
Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money will be split into two portfolios that support private real estate around the United States.
“I can go into my Fundrise account and see what I actually own,” Smith said. “I own a piece of an apartment complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Property on the West Coast. Bits and pieces of apartment complexes in Texas and Denver, a construction loan, a mixed-use property.”
9. Negotiate Your Bills Down
Listen, at 21, you’ve probably made your mind up. You’re either all about those streaming services, or you couldn’t imagine a world without your favorite cable TV shows. But the price of internet and cable just seems to get higher every year.
You’ve probably heard that calling your cable or internet provider can result in having your bills lowered, but if you’ve ever actually acted on that info, you know how long you can sit on hold — and how incredibly frustrating it can be.
That’s why it’s time to call in a robot.
The negotiation bot Trim will negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you.
It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers.
You can sign up simply with Facebook or your email address. Then, upload a PDF of your most recent bill, and Trim’s AI-powered system gets to work. If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll keep negotiating until it can save you some money.
Also, if you have any outages, Trim believes you deserve a credit, and it’ll handle that for you.
Trim takes 25% of the savings tab, and you get the rest.
10. Make the Most of Your 401(k)
OK, so you have a 401(k). And if you’ve been paying into it diligently since you landed your first entry-level gig so many years ago, you’ve probably amassed a nice little retirement fund.
Now, you just need to make sure it’s doing what you need it to. But tapping into that account and deciphering the information — or lack thereof — can be hard.
Luckily, there’s a robo-adviser for that.
Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, will optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.
In 2016, at age 26, Kelsey Buxton opened a 401(k) account for the first time, and soon learned that her projected retirement age was 70 (ouch).
She knew if she wanted to bring that number down, she’d have to get smart about investing and managing her 401(k) — but she quickly realized she didn’t have the time or knowledge required to manage it herself.
“All of the funds and stuff can get overwhelming, so I like the idea of having someone manage it for me,” Buxton said.
Blooom gives you an initial 401(k) checkup for free, and you’ll get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many hidden fees, have the appropriate amount invested in stocks versus bonds, that kind of fun stuff.
After that, the tool is $10 a month to use to continue to monitor your retirement account. Penny Hoarders get the first month free with the code PNNYHRD.
11. Get Smart About Shopping
By 21, you’re probably a shopping pro — no denying that. But what if you could go from a shopping pro to a shopping expert?
By simply saving your receipts, you can start earning cash back when you shop. And if earning money every time you walk into Target doesn’t scream, “I just leveled up in adulthood,” I don’t know what does.
If you’re not earning cash back when you shop, you’re basically missing out on free money.
We know it sounds strange, but Ibotta will pay you cash for taking pictures of your grocery store receipts.
Here’s how it works: Before heading to the store, search for items on your shopping list within the Ibotta app. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt and scan the items’ barcodes.
Plus, you’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus after uploading your first receipt.
Don’t feel like leaving home? No worries. You can earn cash back online when you shop through Ebates, a cash-back site that rewards you nearly every time you buy something online.
We love it around here, because it’s an instant way to save on everything you buy. For example, Ebates gives you 10% cash-back on online purchases at Walmart.
Plus you’ll get a free $10 gift card to Walmart for giving the site a try.
To earn your gift card:
- Sign up for Ebates with your email or Facebook account.
- Use the Ebates portal the next time you need to buy something. It’s connected to thousands of stores, including Walmart, Amazon and Target. You’ll need to make your first purchase through the site within 90 days and spend at least $25.
- Your account will be credited with rewards points you can cash in for your $10 Walmart gift card.
12. Protect Your Home and Belongings
You’ve worked hard and for a long time to create your home. The stuff you’ve accumulated, whether you rent or own a home, is worth protecting.
If you have homeowners or renters insurance, you might be paying too much for it. Try shopping around.
If you’ve never looked into it, start by getting a free quote.We recommend the online insurance company Lemonade, through which renters insurance starts at $5 a month and homeowners insurance starts at $25 a month.
Beyond affordable rates, Lemonade adds a layer of transparency you don’t often see in the insurance world. Instead of profiting extra when it doesn’t have to pay out claims, the company keeps a set 20% of your premium for itself, and 80% goes into a pool for paying claims. Money left over after paying claims each year goes to a cause of your choice.
That also means Lemonade isn’t going to be super stingy about granting customers the claims they deserve — ’cause the money isn’t going into its pockets.
Lemonade is available in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin.
OK, so now that you know Lemonade has your back, here’s how to get a free quote. It’s easy — and you can do it all online. (Nope, it won’t hurt your credit score!)
- Click “Check Our Prices.”
- Get to know Maya, Lemonade’s chatbot. She’s nice and will ask you a few questions.
- Once you complete the application, you’ll receive a quote within a minute or two.
It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll feel better knowing your hard-earned belongings are insured. After all, when life hands you lemons… (OK, we’re done.)
13. Find Your Free Money
You’re not living paycheck to paycheck anymore. And that’s no accident.
You take charge of your money and have started to build your personal wealth. You have investments, savings accounts and credit cards. You enjoy monitoring your accounts and making the right moves. Retiring early just may be on your bucket list if you can stick to your budget.
It just gets… complicated.
You’re on the right track. Make staying there easy with the Empower app.
Empower helps you organize and track your financial goals. Simply link your accounts, and every time you log in, you’ll see a simple snapshot of where you stand on your monthly budget. Are you above or below the line? In one second you’ll know whether you’re on track or need to dial things back a bit.
Empower even has a cool “find free money” feature. It’ll do things like negotiate your cell phone bill, review your insurance coverage and cancel unwanted subscriptions.
14. Get Rewarded for Paying Your Bills on Time
Your mom probably gave you an allowance for washing the dishes and sweeping the floor when you were a kid. Now all you get for doing it is a kitchen that’s clean for, like, 15 minutes.
As an adult, you don’t typically get rewards for doing things that are expected of you… until now.
This app kind of rules them all: MoneyLion, a free all-in-one app for managing your personal finances.
MoneyLion offers rewards to help you develop healthy financial habits and will literally pay you for logging onto the app.
You can earn points in the rewards program by paying bills on time, connecting your bank account or downloading the mobile app.
You can redeem those points for gift cards to retailers like Amazon, Apple and Walmart.
If credit cards aren’t your thing, MoneyLion is like having a rewards credit card without the temptation to overspend.
The app also connects with all your bank, credit card, student loan and other financial accounts. Based on your income and spending patterns, it offers personalized advice to help you save money, reduce your debt and improve your credit.
15. Know Your Credit Score
Your credit reports are basically the Holy Grail of your finances — and your life.
Financially, they can influence many of your big life decisions, like buying a house or a car. These decisions can become a whole lot more difficult if your credit reports have an error.
This is easy to prevent, though, especially if you just check in on your credit reports (you’ve got three major ones) every so often.
One option is to use a free app like CreditWise® from Capital One®. There, you’ll get a free TransUnion® credit report, which you can review for signs of error, theft or fraud. It’ll even give you personalized suggestions to help you improve your credit score.
16. Get Some Help Paying Your Credit Card Bills
Carrying more than one credit card balance can feel a bit like herding cats. Just when you think you have one under control, you realize you’ve let a different one slip away.
High interest rates and late fees can make it feel like you’ll never get those bills under control.
That’s where Tally comes in. It’s a simple app that lets you store and manage your credit card payments in one place, optimizing the amounts and times.
Simply download the iOS app, scan in your credit cards, and if you qualify (with a minimum credit score of around 675), Tally will give you a line of credit with an interest rate between 7.9% and 19.9%* and use the lower interest rate to make managing your payments easy.
No more missed payments. Lower interest rates. All in one place. And don’t worry, Tally uses bank-level security, so your information is safe.
Tally is currently available in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
*Your APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will depend on your credit history and varies with the market based on Prime Rate. Accurate as of July 2018.
17. See if You Can’t Cut Back on Your Monthly Bills
If you’re like most of us, you’re probably paying for more subscriptions than you realize.
To clear them up, download Truebill, an app that’ll help you identify and cancel unwanted subscriptions. The average Truebill user has $270 in subscriptions per month, the company reports. Some of them you want. Some of them you don’t even remember signing up for.
Simply connect your bank account to Truebill (It uses bank-level security!), and it will review your recurring payments. Find any subscriptions you don’t need anymore, and click to cancel them through the app. The more accounts you connect, the more likely you are to find those sneaky subscriptions.
Truebill users cancel an average of $60 per month in unwanted subscriptions. That’s a savings of $720 per year. Just imagine what you could do with that extra money.
Truebill can also help you lower your monthly bills, such as cable and internet, and find potential refunds if you experience an outage. It’s free to submit your bill; Truebill just keeps 40% of your savings for the first year.
A premium subscription on a pay-what-is-fair model from $3 to $14 a month gets you access to concierges who will automatically manage subscriptions and get refunds for bank fees.
18. Set up a Passive Income Stream
Passive income is exactly what it sounds like: income that comes to you without you lifting a finger — at least, after the initial setup.
While you can’t expect free money to just appear in your bank account, you can take steps to set yourself up with a cash flow that comes in automatically with little to no upkeep.
Why is it important to have a source of passive income? Well, Brad Hines, who estimates 10% to 15% of his income is passive, puts it this way:
“When zero of your money is passive income, that inherently means every minute you’re not working, you’re not making money.”
To make the most of your down time — like that big trip you’ll take to celebrate turning 21 — set up a passive income stream of your own.
Passive income sources can range from really big (think: owning a business) to really tiny (think: owning a gumball machine).
If you don’t mind the initial work of setting up your passive income streams, the payoff and peace of mind can be sweet.
20. Start Saving for Kids
Cue the mild panic attack.
If you don’t have kids yet, the thought of adding everything from diapers to daycare to your budget is enough to send you into a tailspin of financial worry.
If you already have kids, you know just how expensive they can be. And you might also be in a tailspin of financial worry. Totally fair.
Whatever your situation, it’s time to start thinking about saving for your kids’ futures.
(And if you’re just trying to give your dog the best possible life, we feel you. You can just keep moving.)
Let’s get real for a second: Kids are incredibly expensive. No, like, reaaaally expensive.
And surveys show that most parents underestimate exactly how much they’ll spend once those little humans start populating those once-quiet homes.
While saving up a general nest egg isn’t a bad idea if you’re thinking about having kids, it’s also important to think about all the different ways you can save for your child’s future, such as a low-risk savings bond or a 529 plan to cover college expenses.
21. Build Healthy Habits for Life
Sure, you’ve made it to 21 without paying much attention to what you eat or how often you work out. But sooner or later, you’re going to have to get some healthy habits in place.
In 2016, Teresa Suarez was frustrated by the thought of a possible future in which she continued to ignore her health — and by her own lack of motivation.
“I knew I could be at 300 pounds within months,” she recalled.
So Suarez signed up for HealthyWage — a company that will literally pay you to lose weight.
She bet $125 per month that she would lose 60 pounds in six months. When she achieved that goal, she won a whopping $2,415.28 — more than tripling her initial investment in herself.
Betting on herself and knowing she would lose the money if she didn’t follow through was the kickstart Suarez needed to actually make lasting lifestyle changes.
Here’s how it works:
- Read our full HealthyWage review, and sign up.
- Define a goal weight and the amount of time you’ll give yourself to achieve it.
- Place a bet on yourself ranging from $20 to $500 a month.
Depending on how much you have to lose, how long you give yourself to do it and how much money you put on the table, you could win up to $10,000!
A Real Adult With Real Adult Finances
Yeah, that’s you — the real adult.
And whether your plans involve grad school, a life of travel and adventure, or getting a jumpstart on your career goals, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your finances to ensure they’re going to get you where you want to go.
In the meantime, though, feel free to pop a few bottles to celebrate the last birthday people will actually get excited about.
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.