If you’ll be graduating from college soon in 2014, there’s no doubt that getting a decent-paying job is probably high on your list of goals. For those of you with good post-graduation jobs already lined up, congratulations!

But for soon-to-be college grads still looking for work or fretting about your employment options, realize that there are some key steps you can take to make yourself more financially secure—and more attractive to prospective employers too. That’s critical right now, with the unemployment rate currently standing at about 6.7% nationwide in March 2014. Unemployment is nearly double that level, though, for African-Americans, who must grapple with a 12% jobless rate.

Despite the numbers, you don’t have to be a statistic. Here are four financial and job strategies for the Class of 2014.


1. Beware of Credit Traps

Once you leave campus life, it’s important to learn how to juggle a host of new expenses—rent, food, utilities, and more. If you haven’t already landed a job, you might be tempted to rely on credit cards to make ends meet. But for your own sake, resist that temptation.

Keep a tighter rein on your budget by using a debit card instead, and just say no to payday loans, car title loans and other high-cost credit traps. Unfortunately, studies show that twentysomethings are more likely than other groups to use these loan products.

That’s a big mistake and can set you up in a cycle of debt from which it’s hard to escape. Owing payday lenders is the last thing you want when you’re fresh out of college.

2. Stay on Top of Your Student Loans

If you borrowed money to pay for college, you probably had an “exit interview” in which the financial aid staff at your school reminded you that those student loans were just that—loans—and not free money.

Still, much of what’s explained in those exit interviews seems to go in one ear and out the other for many students. But the fact remains, you can’t afford to let your student loans go delinquent—or even worse, fall into default status.

So if you have any trouble whatsoever paying your student loans, or anticipate that you might, reach out immediately to your lender or loan provider. Particularly if you’re not yet employed, find out what options exist, such as getting a loan forbearance or deferment of payments.

3. Polish Your Credit

When you were in school, the three digits that mattered most were your GPA. Now that you’ve left college, or are preparing to, it’s all about your FICO credit score, a three-digit number that ranges from 300 points to 850 points.

Maintaining a good credit rating is important, because it’ll help you do everything from renting an apartment to getting cheaper auto insurance rates. Also, having bad credit could hurt your chances of getting a job, since the Society for Human Resource Management reports that about half of all U.S. employers do some form of credit checks when screening job applicants.

Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get your credit reports free of charge from each of the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. By law, you’re entitled to get one free report from each credit bureau every 12 months. Check your reports and dispute any mistakes.

If you have a Barclays or Discover card, you can get your FICO score free. Other credit card companies, like Capital One, offer free online credit tools and educational credit scores. Alternatively, pay for a FICO score via MyFICO.com. Also, use these six guidelines to help boost your credit score.

4. Use Graduation Gift Money Wisely

If you collect big bucks from relatives and others who want to help the college grad in the family start off on the right foot after graduation, be sure to use that money wisely. If you’re lucky enough to get graduation money, don’t just splurge and blow that cash on clothes, electronics or other things that will depreciate over time.

Instead, stash those dollars away in an emergency fund so you’ll have a cash cushion for when times get lean. This is especially important if you haven’t yet landed a job.

By using these four strategies, college grads from the class of 2014, including those of you with jobs and those of you still looking for work, will be better prepared to financially transition from campus life to life in the real world.