Personal Finance

4 must-do money moves for the class of 2017

Key Points
  • Seven in 10 college seniors graduate with debt.
  • Nearly a quarter of new grads plan to save any cash gifts they receive.
College grads saddled with loan debt as they enter workforce: Survey
College grads saddled with loan debt as they enter workforce: Survey

Congratulations, class of 2017! Sorry, but even though you're done with school, you still have plenty of homework to do.

New grads have a lot of exciting (and intimidating) tasks to navigate all at once: Searching for and starting a new job, while balancing a slew of new bills competing for your limited budget. Never mind the added burden of student loan debt. It's not always easy to figure out what to tackle first, or how to prioritize your goals.

Handling these four to-dos will help you get off to the right start:

1) Pick a place to launch

The class of 2017 is entering the best job market in years. The catch? You may need to relocate for that amazing opportunity.

Some cities are better than others for new grads when it comes to a combination of entry-level jobs and starting salaries, as well as housing affordability and commuter friendliness. And they aren't necessarily the ones you'd expect — in a recent WalletHub analysis, Salt Lake City topped the list of "best places to start a career," while hotspots like New York City and Chicago didn't even make the top 10.

(If you boomerang home for a while, make the most of it. A 2016 Fidelity report found that 60 percent of millennials living at home are saving for retirement, and 59 percent have built up a hefty emergency fund.)

Read more: The best and worst places to start a career

2) Get a handle on your student debt

Graduating with debt? Welcome to the club. Seven in 10 seniors graduate with debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. For the class of 2016, scholarship site estimated the average tab was $37,172.

Make sure you have a good understanding of those loans early on — including when repayment begins, how much you'll pay each month and that monthly due date. Be sure that each lender has your latest contact information.

Stewart Cohen | Getty Images

"It's easy for a loan servicer to lose track of you and if you're not getting statements you could go into default by accident," Andrew Josuweit, CEO and president of Student Loan Hero, a student loan management site, told CNBC.

Once you have those basic elements taken care of, you can start strategizing ways to make your payments more manageable and knock out that debt quickly.

Read more: The first steps to repaying your student debt

3) Put grad gifts to work

Odds are good you'll end up with some congratulatory cash in hand: The National Retail Federation projects consumers will spend a record $5.6 billion this year on graduation gifts. More than half of gift givers expect to offer cash, while another third will give gift cards.

Here’s the 411 on how to kick-start your emergency fund
Here’s the 411 on how to kick-start your emergency fund

Be strategic about how you use that money. A survey from investing app Stash found that many new grads plan to save (23.8 percent) or invest (19.2 percent) cash gifts, or use them to pay down student loans (18.7 percent) — all options that could get you off to a great start. (The company polled 214 of its users who are part of the class of 2017.)

Read more: 4 financial gifts for grads that are smarter than cash

4) Set yourself up for financial success

"The amounts you save matter less right now than the habits you form," Ryan Frailich, founder of New Orleans-based advisory firm Deliberate Finances, told CNBC. "The key at the start is to develop habits that will pay off for the rest of your life."

One to get into ASAP: saving. Build yourself an emergency fund, and set up automatic transfers for that and other savings goals — like retirement. (A late start to saving is actually the No. 1 regret among adults, according to a recent survey.)

Budgeting is another good habit to form as a new grad. Understanding where your money is going can help you better juggle all of those new bills, avoid credit card debt and make the most of your income.

Read more: Financial cheat sheet for new college grads