Answers to Your Questions on Managing Loans, Insurances, and Budgets

As resident physicians who work crazy hours, we have a lot on our plate. With so many competing responsibilities, it can be difficult to balance our personal lives with our careers and some things may inevitably fall by the wayside. While there are many things we can put off for another month or even another year, our finances shouldn’t be one of them. Here’s a financial check list of three things you must do to make sure you’re on the right track: 

Have a concrete plan for your student loans

Figuring out what to do with your student loans can seem a bit overwhelming. Here are a few steps to help you navigate through the madness.

  1. Decide whether or not to consolidate or refinance your loans. Consolidation is when you combine all your loans into one giant loan and this can usually be done through the federal government. Refinancing is when you combine your loans with a private company outside of the federal government. Refinancing your loans usually allows you to get a lower interest rate on which can save you money over time but it makes you ineligible for several government loan forgiveness programs like public service loan forgiveness (PSLF). Since I’m enrolled in PSLF, I chose to consolidate my loans through the government instead of refinancing them with a private company.  
  2. Pick a repayment plan that you can afford. If you have federal student loans, you will be automatically enrolled into the standard repayment plan. This plan may require a higher monthly payment than you can afford. If this is the case for you, as it was for me, switch into one of the income driven repayment plans that cap your student loan payment at 10-15% of your discretionary income. 
  3. Sign up for public service loan forgiveness if your residency qualifies. Enrolling into the program isn’t binding and may give you the chance to get tens of thousands of dollars in student loans forgiven, tax free. Take five minutes out of your day and submit the form to officially enroll, if your resident program meets the qualifications. 

Make sure you have insurance

Many of us didn’t think much about insurance in medical school. We probably had health insurance from our parents or our schools and didn’t worry about anything else. Now that we’re out in the “real world,” here are three things to do to make sure we are thoroughly protected in residency: 

  1. Verify that you have medical insurance. Even though most of us are young and healthy, we still need health insurance. Whether it’s for yearly checkups, acute illnesses, the birth of a baby, prescriptions, or unforeseen injuries, we have to make sure we’re protected and have an affordable way to cover these costs. As residents, most of us should get free or low-cost coverage through our programs. Just make sure you’re enrolled.
  2. Get disability insurance. After taking out loans and spending most of our 20s in school, let’s make sure that our income is protected. If we get in an accident, are diagnosed with an illness, or simply have an injury that prevents us from working to our full capacity, disability insurance will kick in and give us money to replace the income we may have lost. Group disability insurance policies through our residencies usually don’t have enough coverage or adequate protection. I purchased an individual specialty-specific disability insurance policy that will pay out $4,000 a month if I am unable to work at 100% capacity as a resident. The policy will increase and pay out $12,000 a month when I become an attending. 
  3. Decide if you need life insurance. Life insurance pays money to our families if we were to pass away. While many of us have a life expectancy well into the 80s, life can be unpredictable. If something were to happen to us, we’d want to make sure our family was taken care of. As a resident, many of us have a small life insurance policy from our employers, but if you have a spouse or kids who depend on your income, that group policy may not be enough. You may need to purchase additional term life insurance.

Create a monthly spending plan

As resident physicians, life is much different now than it was when we were medical students. Instead of getting one lump sum of money each semester, we now get paid on a consistent basis. In order to make sure we’re not spending too much money and are actually saving a decent amount for emergencies, paying down debt, retirement, and vacations, it’s imperative that we implement a spending plan. I categorize my spending into 3 buckets: 

  1. Things I need to buy, which are necessities like rent, bills, and food.
  2. Things I want to buy, which are discretionary entertainment expenses like concert tickets, movies, books, meals at restaurants, or clothes.
  3. Things I should buy, which are investments I make to increase my net worth whether that’s by paying down debt, saving money into a separate account, or investing toward retirement.  

Simply allot a percentage of your check to each of these three buckets to make sure you’re living within your means and making responsible spending choices. 

To summarize, getting your finances in order doesn’t have to be difficult. Have a concrete plan for your student loans by deciding whether or not to consolidate or refinance your loans, enrolling into an affordable repayment plan, and signing up for PSLF. Next, make sure you have all the insurance you need like medical insurance, disability insurance, and life insurance. Lastly, create a spending plan to ensure that you’re paying your bills, increasing your net worth, and investing in your own self-care. 

Dr. Altelisha Taylor is a family medicine resident at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. She has a passion for primary care sports medicine and enjoys writing articles on personal finance and health policy for several media outlets including her blog, CareerMoneyMoves.com. Altelisha is a Doximity 2019-2020 Fellow.

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

More from Op-Med