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Opinion: A guide to private banking for physicians

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Physicians are dedicated, hard-working individuals with a deep-seated passion for their field. The fast pace and long hours of a physician’s career can leave little time to manage day-to-day finances and plan for long-term financial goals.

When physicians finally begin to practice full-time after eight or more years of required medical school, they may be behind on several financial “must-dos,” from building savings accounts to making investments. Playing catch-up on milestones, plus paying off education loans, means medical professionals often have very unique financial needs.

That’s where private banking advisers can help assess, plan and manage short- and long-term financial goals, so doctors can manage all other aspects of their busy medical practices and schedules. The earlier a physician can connect with a private banking professional, the better, but it’s never too late to start.

In the meantime, physicians may consider the following suggestions for getting a good start on managing their finances, but these practices are only short-term.

1. Live like a resident for a few years.

One of the biggest and most common mistakes physicians can make is growing into their salaries too quickly. It’s tempting to spend that first big paycheck after living on a shoestring budget during residency. Instead, physicians should live like residents for the first two-to-five years out of school to play catch-up on their finances. This will give them a chance to put money toward an emergency fund, retirement or buying a home, which will pay off in the long run. To truly live like residents, physicians should consider setting up automatic deposits to transfer the difference between their current salary and their resident’s salary from their checking to their savings account.

2. Look at every loan repayment option.

One of the first financial priorities physicians often ask about is a strategic approach for repaying education loans. Despite the high salary doctors earn, the debt they face in the years following medical school are often three times as much as they make in a year. The median student loan debt for medical school graduates in 2018 was $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Shopping for a repayment plan is like shopping for a credit card. Ensuring that all the options are on the table and considered carefully is the best way for a physician to ensure they will be able to escape debt in a timely manner. Many newly practicing physicians don’t realize there are plenty of loan repayment options apart from the default standard repayment plan. They should check out other options, like extended repayment plans and the wide variety of income-driven repayment plans, which are custom-made based on income and family size.

3. Start saving for retirement early.

It may seem counterintuitive to talk about saving money for retirement while paying off education debt, but these two should be equal on a physician’s list of financial priorities. According to the 2018 Future of Healthcare report, 54% of physicians plan to retire in the next five years. However, the 2018 Report on U.S. Physicians’ Financial Preparedness revealed that only 12% of physicians who are closely considering retirement feel prepared to finance it. A third of those responses came from doctors under the age of 50.

Clearly, early retirement is appealing to many physicians who may experience burnout quickly because of an ever-changing and high-stakes health care industry. So, it’s important for young physicians to talk about their retirement planning options as soon as they graduate from medical school. One perk to being a physician is that depending on the type of employer, they might have access to 403(b) or 457(b) plans, which are offered only to such organizations as cooperative hospital services and nonprofits. If these aren’t available, their employer should still offer a 401(k). Getting set up with a retirement savings account early is crucial to ensuring stability later on in life.

4. Find a financial adviser you can trust.

Financial advisers, such as private bankers, are a great option for advice after (or better yet, before) medical school. A good adviser can help physicians sort through all the options for student loan repayment, come up with a financial roadmap and talk about savings. The best thing a physician can do is to find a bank that offers integrated financial planning and banking services for residents, so they can get a head start on a successful financial future.

Rhonda Sorensen is a senior private banking adviser for Arvest Bank in Springfield. She can be reached at rsorensen@arvest.com.

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