5 Things I Wish I Had Known About Money Prior To Residency

Dr. Nii Darko from Docs Outside the Box shares his top 5 financial tips for residents.

There's no doubt that residency is a challenging time — for both residents and their loved ones.

There is so much to learn in residency and the learning curve can be steep, especially in the beginning. But residency only covers clinical knowledge and skill. How do young doctors learn about money?

Think about it! If you entered medical school not too long after graduating from college, being a doctor in residency might be your first full-time job! This may be the first time you’re getting a consistent paycheck and benefits.

Residency might be the first time you can actually afford more than you could have in the past. It certainly was for me! Let’s face it, though, a resident’s salary is better than living on student loan disbursements.

So, before you unleash all that delayed gratification and start spending, I’ll share five things I wish I had known about money before I started my residency.

1. Take Advantage of Your 401K or 403b

Not saving for retirement is a plan to never retire. If your residency program offers a 401K or 403b, contribute to it as much as you can.

This is especially important if your employer offers a match. For example, if you contribute 3%, your employer may contribute an additional 3%. This is essentially free money that can help you save for retirement.

I wish I had started contributing to my retirement from the very beginning to get the most benefit out of compounding interest. Time is on your side in residency.

Start accumulating money while you’re young in your career, because it can become more of a challenge to do when you are older.

2. Rent Instead of Buying a House in the First Year of Residency

Residency can be a transient time, and you will likely move several times during your career.

One of my biggest mistakes was buying a house in a new city without understanding the real estate landscape. Is it a good neighborhood? Is it family oriented or more of a singles scene? What about schools, proximity to shopping and restaurants and crime rates? What does the resell value look like?

I’m willing to bet that most new residents are more concerned about proximity to the hospital than anything else.

Renting allows new docs to get their footing before committing to a mortgage. This will give you the flexibility to move when necessary. It will also give you an opportunity to save money and understand the expenses that come with maintaining a home.

If you do want to buy a house after your first year of residency, consider waiting until you’re established in your program and have a better idea of your long-term plans.

3. Open an Online-Only Savings Account to Start an Emergency Fund

The only thing you can plan on is unplanned emergencies.

An emergency fund is important for anyone, but especially for residents who have a lot of debt and a relatively low salary. You never know when you will have an unexpected expense, such as a car repair or medical bill.

Having an emergency fund helps you avoid going into further debt to pay for these unexpected costs.

One easy way to start an emergency fund is to open an online-only savings (not checking) account. This way, you can easily transfer a small percentage of your paycheck into the account each month.

Online accounts should be accessible enough for emergencies, but not so accessible that you’re ordering takeout with that money. I recommend not having a bank card for that account. Instead, transfer money into your main checking account when you need it.

Plus, you might get better interest rates with online banks.

4. Find Out Which Companies Hold Your Student Loans

Student loans get sold to other lenders. It can be confusing to start out with one lender and to be asked by another lender to pay.

If you have student loans, it’s important to find out which companies hold your loans. This way, you can contact them directly if you have questions or problems.

Additionally, find out if you can consolidate your loans soon after graduating from medical school or sign up for an income-based repayment plan.

This is important because as a resident, your income will be low, and you may struggle to make your monthly student loan payments. By consolidating your loans or signing up for an income-based repayment plan, you can lower your monthly payments.

This will make it easier to manage your debt during residency and avoid defaulting.

5. Understand the Consequences of Student Loan Deferment or Forbearance

If you are having trouble making your student loan payments, you might be considering deferment or forbearance. However, it’s important to understand the consequences of these options before you decide.

Deferment allows you to temporarily pause your payments, but interest will continue to compound on an increasing principal balance.

Forbearance (different from the government forbearance) can help you temporarily lower your student loan payments. However, you will continue to pay interest on an unchanging principal balance.

Either way, you will end up paying more money in the long run. Additionally, deferment or forbearance might negatively impact your credit score.

Again, if you are having trouble making your student loan payments, consider other options such as consolidation or an income-based repayment plan. These options can help you lower your monthly payments without accruing additional interest or impacting your credit score.

Final Thoughts

There you have it. These are five important financial tips for residency that can help ensure your financial security both during and after residency.

It’s important to focus on your long-term financial goals, such as saving for retirement. By taking the time to plan for your future now, you can set yourself up for success down the road.

Meet Dr. Nii

Dr. Nii Darko is a trauma-critical care surgeon and host of Docs Outside the Box podcast. Dr. Nii looks into the minds of cutting-edge and innovative doctors, professionals, influencers and entrepreneurs who are earning, saving and investing their way to lifestyles they've always wanted.