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Becoming financially independent: Four financial planning rules for doctors

Written by Shane O'Hara, CFP®

On September 8, 2021

Financial planning is even more vital for doctors than it is for others. Physicians are the most educated individuals in the world, spending more than 10 years in post-secondary school. The average college graduate starts in the workforce and begins earning a salary at age 23. The average physician completes training at age 30. 

In addition to the late start into their working careers, most of our clients who are physicians also have the goal of being financially independent at a young age, typically before age 60. The combination of coming into the workforce at a later age and the desire to be financially independent from their rigorous profession sooner means that doctors typically have 20 to 25 fewer years to build their wealth and invest their money. 

This combination of seven additional years in school, the high cost of more education, often financed with debt, and wanting to be financially independent from the practice of medicine at an early age means that doctors have retirement guidelines that are very different from the average person. It also means that expert financial planning is essential for doctors. 

Here are four financial planning rules that we advise doctors to follow to reach financial independence at an early age: 

1. Keep your lifestyle manageable

Financial and retirement planning is not typically the first thing on a doctor’s mind after their income stabilizes. It is tough to watch all your friends graduate from college, get jobs, and start spending money while you are still in school or in residency living off Ramen noodles. As a result, we see many physicians who have just finished their training and landed their post-residency six-figure job immediately purchase a large and expensive home. They often use a physician loan to do so and put no money down. 

Doctors also tend to buy a luxury vehicle that comes with a large monthly payment. While it is OK to make sure your home and car are safe and dependable, every debt-financed purchase today is going to reduce the amount that can be put away for the future and could cause a delay in that early retirement. As a doctor, it is important to keep your lifestyle manageable as this can make financial and retirement planning easier. 

2. Save more

Most people have heard that the more time you have investing and letting compound interest work for you, the better off you will be in the future. As we have pointed out above, doctors typically do not have time on their side. The rule of thumb for the average worker is that they need to save 10% to 15% of their gross income toward retirement. However, we typically advise physicians to save 15% to 30% of their gross income toward retirement. We can even help doctors figure out how much they specifically need to save with an integrated financial plan. 

3. Pay attention to taxes

One of the largest expenses that doctors will face over their working careers and into retirement is taxes. Physicians typically find themselves in the top tax bracket while working, and the odds are that federal taxes will likely go up in the future. These facts often add to the confusion to which accounts one should save today: pretax, tax-free or taxable. 

We are big believers in making sure clients have savings in all three buckets for retirement. Taking full advantage of employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k)s, 457(b)s and deferred compensation plans, as well as investing extra money in taxable accounts that can be accessed before age 59 ½, is extremely important. Doing so also comes with a tax benefit now. This adds to the flexibility you have when using that money down the road.

4. …But still enjoy the here and now

With all this said, it is still important to enjoy the here and now, and not postpone all the fun things you can do today just to save everything you can for tomorrow. Life is all about balance and should not be taken for granted. We have seen too many examples of people working hard and saving everything they can, only for life’s obstacles to cause missed opportunities and regrets. 

You have worked extremely hard in school. You are putting a lot of time and energy into your profession. Sure, it’s important to follow these basic rules, but then go out and enjoy life. You have earned it! 

Still worried about your financial situation? Contact ProVise today to schedule a complimentary consultation to talk with us about the financial planning, retirement and other services we offer for doctors.

Shane D. O’Hara, CFP®

Vice President & Senior Financial Planner

ProVise Management Group, LLC

611 Druid Road E, Suite 105

Clearwater, FL 33756

727-441-9022

info@provise.com

Securities offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisory Services may be offered through Kestra Advisory Services, LLC (Kestra AS), an affiliate of Kestra IS, or Provise Management Group, LLC. Kestra Financial’s Reg BI disclosure information and Form CRS can be obtained at https://www.kestrafinancial.com/disclosures. ProVise’s Form CRS can be obtained at https://www.provise.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/FormCRS_040121.pdf. The information herein is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change.

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