By Jackie McKinney
“How do I write a check?” “What is a credit score and why is mine 500?” “How do I make a dentist appointment?” “How do I rent an apartment?” Do you find yourself asking these questions? Maybe you’re straight out of high school or college and, like most young people, you were never taught important “grown-up” things like this. Maybe, like me, you fake your way through being a grown-up and it seems to work out for you at least half of the time. Luckily, when I was in high school my parents put as much adult responsibility on my shoulders as they saw fit and the knowledge from that time has served me well, but it also made my life incredibly difficult.
I know to call AAA when my car breaks down. I know that credit eventually has to be paid back with interest. I know walk-throughs are vital if you want your deposit back. And I know that taxes are due on April 15, but this is only enforced if you owe money. But I learned all these things the hard way. I firmly believe that there should be mandatory classes in school for learning real-life skills so we’re not just winging it. Ideally, parents would also teach most of these skills to their children, but let’s be realistic—even if parents have the time and energy to teach their children these things, most of them have been winging it for ages, too.
So I’ve compiled a list of tips on being a grown-up. They are simple and straightforward. I do not claim to know all the answers, these are simply things I and my fellow Millennial friends have struggled with and what we have learned.
Do not rent the first apartment/house you see. First impressions are not always right. We live in the age of Google; research the rental company, the neighborhood, everything; read reviews from past tenants.
Do not blow off the walk-through. Most landlords don’t want you to get your deposit back, so if you don’t nitpick every minor issue during the walk-through, they’ll catch them when you leave and charge you for them.
Keep a good relationship with your landlord. Even if you think they’re terrible people, fake a smile and keep things calm. This will work out in your favor when you need a repair done, you’re more likely to get it done more timely; if there’s ever a month you know your rent will be late, they will likely be more understanding if they think you’re a trustworthy tenant.
Pay your bills on time. Pay them in advance if you can. Not just for your rent but having a good standing with you electric company will come in handy when you lose your job and they want to shut off your power.
If you get a shut-off notice, or a notice to pay or quit, do not just let it happen. Call the company and work out a payment plan with them and ask them about low-income help if you’re struggling. There are often local agencies that can help you with your bills in times of hardship.
Shop around. Remember, Google is your best friend. You don’t have to go with the popular cable or insurance company. Often you can get the same and sometimes better service for a fraction of what the big name companies are charging. Don’t let them fool you.
Pay your bills properly. You can pay your bills so many ways these days. You can write a check the old-fashioned way and mail it or hand-deliver it. But most places let you pay online or over the phone, some you can set up automatic payments the same way so you never have to think about it. If you’re worried about a company or landlord having your personal account information, many banks offer bill-pay options where the bank sends a check straight to the company without your account numbers for the world to see.
Know how to write a check. It comes in handy when you’re out of cash or you need to pay for something now but the money won’t clear in your account until tomorrow (be wary of this though since mobile banking became a thing, people can deposit your check instantly, but usually this still takes a day to clear). Due to the risk of identity theft, try to only write checks to people that you trust and know that you do not have to write your driver’s license number on the check (some companies ask this in case your check bounces, but if your check gets into the wrong hands, both your bank account and driver’s license numbers are there for the taking). Also, utilize the Memo line for referencing exactly what you’re paying for in case the records get separated for the check.
When tax season comes around, don’t do them yourself or even pay someone to do them for you—unless you make a ton of money. Instead search for AARP tax preparers in your area. These people are volunteers who are trained in simple tax returns and want to help you get as much money back as possible, without charging you anything. What a beautiful idea.
When opening a bank account, make sure you know all the fees attached. Many accounts have a minimum you must keep in the account or deposit into per month to avoid service fees. Other accounts add service fees no matter what. Know what you’re signing up for and, as always, shop around.
Know how to balance your checkbook and do it daily. Mobile and online banking is great but sometimes charges don’t hit your account right away and what you think you have left to spend may not be the case. Also, banks make errors and identity theft happens. Know exactly what goes in and out of your account and for what the moment it happens.
Beware of insufficient funds! If you’re not balancing your checkbook, this is very likely to happen when something you swiped your debit card for three days ago finally hits your account, and before you realize, you have less money than you thought. When this happens, most banks will give you a certain amount of time to deposit money to avoid an insufficient-funds fee, try to deposit money in that time frame. If you miss the time frame or know you won’t have the money for another couple of days, call your bank as soon as you can. Let them know what happened and that you’re working on correcting the mistake and ask them to waive the fee and give you extra time if needed. If this doesn’t happen often, banks are usually more than happy to waive the fee.
Know your credit score. We’ve all seen the commercials with the catchy songs for free credit scores—in fact, I’ve even seen the infamous band in concert—but many of those sites ask for your credit card and then charge you after so many days for continued monitoring (freecreditscore.com, for example). This isn’t even in your best interest as checking your score too often puts a soft inquiry on your report. Find an actual free site and check every few months at most and know what you’re looking for. These sites (personally, I use Credit Karma) will tell you exactly what your score means and how to make it better or keep it up.
Have a credit card. If you have a low credit score, opt for a secured credit card where you put in a deposit first. Remember the rule of 30: only use 30 percent of your credit card limit to effectively build your credit. And pay your credit card payments on time no matter what. If you’re only using 30 percent of your limit, your minimum monthly payment shouldn’t be unreasonable. Also, make sure to research the credit card company; be extremely cautious of lesser known companies.
Learn how to make appointments for yourself. No matter who the appointment is with, remember that it has to fit both of your schedules. If the dentist you want to go to can only book for the time your boss absolutely needs you in the office that isn’t going to work. Don’t be afraid to ask for other times or tell them what days and times work for you.
If you don’t like your doctor or dentist or therapist or whatever, don’t feel like you need to keep going to them or that you should go at all because of a bad experience. Look for someone else. Call your insurance company or use their online system if they have one for providers in your area and research them and interview them over the phone or through email if you can. Don’t settle for what’s convenient.
This is the tip of the iceberg of tips to being a grown-up. Like I said, these were simply the top concerns I’ve been noticing my fellow Millennials struggle with, and that I have had personal experience with. Hopefully, I was able to teach you something you didn’t already know so you no longer have to just wing it and hope for the best.
Jackie is a 22-year-old AmeriCorps Volunteer in Truckee, Calif., who still has no idea what she really wants to be when she grows up. Among her drive to help people in general, Jackie is very passionate about mental health and suicide prevention. She believes that being a sufferer of mental illness makes her an advocate for others struggling, specifically teens and twenty-somethings. The one thing she does know about her immediate future is her dream of opening a nonprofit is fast approaching. As an INFJ, she often finds herself in heated online discussions but sitting in the corner in a room full of people. When she isn’t practicing naked yoga or participating in half-marathons, she is getting into impromptu water-fights with her brother or binge watching “Supernatural.”