6 Common Financial Concerns for Physicians

By: Frances Cronlund, CIMA®, CExP™, CTFA, CFP®
4 Minute Read

The financial needs of physicians present several unique challenges. Cultural perceptions of doctors set them apart from other professionals, and many of these individuals are likely to encounter situations and circumstances that are uncommon in industries outside of healthcare.

As both scientists and caregivers, doctors are known for their ability to apply high levels of education and intelligence to provide an essential service to the public. They are also often recognized as economic powerhouses, generating high incomes for their practices and their families. With this level of responsibility and economic success, physicians take on a significant amount of personal and professional risk—something that could attract both litigations as well as financial solicitations from friends and family members.

Physician wealth is also unique from an investment perspective. During their lifetimes, many doctors accumulate a disproportionate amount of their wealth inside tax-deferred investment vehicles such as 401(k)s or Cash Balance Pension plans as compared to other investors. In addition, they are often faced with the temptation to over-leverage on home purchases, vehicles, or other illiquid assets.

By analyzing these unique factors, we have identified what we believe are the top six financial concerns that doctors will often face throughout their lifetimes. By taking the time to understand these common circumstances, physicians can better prepare themselves for continued financial success both now and in the future.

  1. High Level of Income/Human Capital
    Physicians often reap the benefits of their education and contributions in the form of significant financial success throughout the course of their careers. However, they need to be prepared for the future. The careful selection of disability insurance and life insurance designed to fit their unique needs is essential to protecting the financial future of physicians and their families. For physicians, their disability insurance policy should go beyond insuring their occupation as a medical professional, extending to include their particular specialty to ensure fair compensation. In addition, a physician might need more than one type of life insurance.  For instance, they might benefit from a life insurance policy focused on retirement savings and/or another for providing for their families in the event they do not survive to see retirement.
  2. Delayed Investment Strategies
    Many physicians don’t start investing in their retirement until they are 30-35 years old—about a decade later than other professionals. Their high level of income makes it tempting to over-leverage for mortgages or student loans, which prevents them from saving in the early years of their career, ultimately diminishing the long-term benefits of compounding investment returns. By delaying saving and investing as compared to their non-physician peers, doctors are often forced to invest more capital later, work more years, and may feel they should take on higher risk investments to make up the time needed to “catch up.”
  3. Common Target for Litigation
    For physicians, their high-risk profession, high income level, and high perception of wealth makes them a common target for litigation. For these reasons, it’s particularly important for them to have an appropriate asset protection plan in place to protect their wealth from creditors. This protection plan may include tools for claims payments, such as personal liability “umbrella” insurance policies and malpractice insurance policies, as well as tools to shelter assets from claims of creditors, including retirement accounts, 529s and UTMAs, certain trusts (marital, family, and domestic asset protection), life insurance, and limited liability companies.
  4. Vulnerability to Financial Solicitation
    For the same reasons that make them a target for litigation, physicians are often approached by friends and family members with opportunities to invest in the “next big thing,” or extended invitations to join private equity and hedge funds. Before making such investments, it’s important to ensure they are maintaining a balanced financial portfolio and that further investments won’t impede their ability to contribute to retirement accounts, life insurance accounts, and other short and long-term personal demands on cash flow.
  5. Higher Taxes Compared to Other High-Earning Professionals
    Other high-earning professionals such as real estate developers or small business owners often have more write-offs, which over time significantly decrease their tax payments. Moreover, other professionals often have income sources with varying tax characteristics such as earned income, business income, capital gains, and investment earnings. In contrast, most physicians’ income is taxed as earned income only. This means that physicians have even greater need for robust workplace retirement solutions as an opportunity to shelter income and defer to the future through 401(k) and cash balance plans.
  6. Constant Need to Keep Pace With Evolving Industry Standards
    Keeping pace with the dynamic and evolving healthcare industry introduces many new financial challenges, including increased student loan debt as physicians seek further education for specialization, increased compliance and regulatory pressures, decreased reimbursements from health insurance companies, and increased burnout.

An effective way to overcome these challenges is creating a financial plan that includes saving money early and often; paying themselves first; maximizing workplace retirement plans and benefits; balancing liquid and illiquid investments and personal use assets; and automating and maximizing disability and life insurance programs.

For physicians, understanding what makes their financial circumstances unique is critical to ongoing financial wellness. By working with financial professionals who specialize in the healthcare industry, doctors can learn to make the most of their income by setting and achieving short and long-term financial goals using thoughtful strategies designed to suit their individual needs.

For more guidance and information on this topic, please reach out to the Curi Capital team at 984-202-2800.

Curi Capital is an investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration of an investment adviser does not imply any specific level of skill or training and does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the SEC. Curi Capital only transacts business in states or jurisdictions in which it is properly registered or exempt from registration. A copy of Curi Capital’s current disclosure brochure, which describes, among other things, Curi Capital’s business practices, services and fees, is available through the SEC’s website at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

The opinions and analyses expressed herein are subject to change at any time. Any suggestions contained herein are general, and do not take into account an individual’s or entity’s specific circumstances or applicable governing law, which may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and be subject to change. Distribution hereof does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, investment or other professional advice. Recipients should consult their professional advisors prior to acting on the information set forth herein.

Frances Cronlund, CIMA®, CExP™, CTFA, CFP®

Frances Cronlund is Curi Capital’s Senior Director of Wealth Planning, based in Raleigh, NC.

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