physician finances

Life, Death and Taxes

By Lisa Koerner, Insurance Advisor

If you are looking for some creative ways to avoid paying taxes, don’t overlook the benefits of life insurance. There are several different types of life insurance policies that serve different objectives, the greatest is a tax-free death benefit for your beneficiaries. Also, the death benefit does not go through probate, so only your beneficiaries can receive the money. There are a few things to look for when searching for the right life insurance.

When choosing life insurance programs, term life policies are typically the most popular. Term policies offer a larger death benefit for a smaller premium, however, the rates are only locked in for a certain number of years and don’t provide any cash return if you outlive the term or cancel the policy.

The advantage of a permanent policy is that it can build cash value in the policy that you can access tax-free while you are living and still provide a tax-free death benefit for your beneficiaries.

Universal life plans offer more flexibility but are also driven by interest rates. When setting up this policy, it is very important to work with your agent to make sure it is properly funded in the beginning to avoid the need to put more money into it later on.

Whole life policies can also be a good option for cash value growth, but there are things to look for here as well. If you choose a policy that has dividend options, you can set up the policy to allow you to access the dividends tax-free in the future without worrying about having a loan on the policy that could affect how the policy pays out. The biggest thing to be aware of with cash value policies is that if you take out more money than what you put in, the gains would be considered taxable income.

To learn more, reach out to Lisa Koerner or the WisMed Assure team at, complete this quick online form or call 608.442.3810 for help with your insurance needs.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as insurance advice related to your specific policy or situation. Please consult with a qualified insurance advisor or professional before making any policy decisions. Full disclaimer and contact information.

Protecting your most important asset can be a daunting task

By Lisa Koerner, Insurance Advisor

What is your most important asset? It’s your ability to earn an income. When choosing disability programs to protect your income, there are a number of different companies and benefits. It’s often a task that takes time and research, along with several discussions with an insurance agent. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is finding an agent who is willing to work with you at the times that you’re available. Many of the people I work with are surprised when I respond to phone calls, emails and text messages after 5 p.m. and on the weekends. I know the schedules for students, residents and physicians can sometimes be challenging so I try my best to accommodate them.

A resident I recently worked with scheduled several meetings with me after 6 p.m. so we could discuss the different benefits available in the quotes I had shared, how they worked and the different costs. As we worked out the best benefits, the premium still came in a little high for his budget. The insurance provider I worked with offered an option to pay a lower premium in the beginning, then increase it over time with an option to level out the payments after he started his fellowship and increased his income. He was very thankful that we were able to get him the benefits that were important to him with payments that were affordable.

I once had a client tell me that I don’t act like an insurance agent because of the way I try to explain things. That was the best compliment I’ve ever gotten. I try to explain things in a way that I would want them explained to me.

Our goal is not just to sell you a policy, but to provide guidance in helping you find solutions for you for now and for the future. The greatest gift we have to offer is the gift of education.

Reach out to Lisa Koerner or the WisMed Assure team at, complete this quick online form or call 608.442.3810 for help with your insurance needs.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as insurance advice related to your specific policy or situation. Please consult with a qualified insurance advisor or professional before making any policy decisions. Full disclaimer and contact information.

Different Kinds of Debt: The Good, the Bad, and the Just-Don’t-Do-It!

By Rufus Sweeney

Amassing a considerable amount of debt during medical school is “situation normal” for practically every medical student. Even though debt is rarely seen as a good thing, you need to know the difference between good debt, bad debt, and debt to be avoided at all cost.

Choosing wisely now makes paying off your debt much easier.

In the category of “Just-Don’t-Do-It”, all sorts of credit cards are available and in many cases, actively promoted to medical students with special offers that include an interest free period, cash back on purchases, and all too easy sign up terms. But once that interest free introductory offer ends, you’re on the hook for anywhere from 12 to 25 percent interest on any balance you carry from month to month.

When you use a credit card to finance your lifestyle choices or, worse case, pay for essentials without a plan for paying off your balance each month, you’re playing with financial fire.

The “bad” in comparison to credit card debt, doesn’t look all that bad, but still with interest rates ranging from six to 10%, unsubsidized student loans are an expensive choice.

The “good” are those loans with the lowest possible interest. For example, interest rates for institutional loans from medical schools range from four to five percent. If low interest was the only criteria for determining “good” debt, then a mortgage at three to five percent and car loans at four to five percent would also fall into this category. That said, check out my previous blogs and podcasts on the pros and cons of buying a home and the reasons why it is a good idea to live like a resident, even after you become an attending physician.

Paying the piper

No conversation about interest rates is complete without a word or two about repaying debt.

Generally speaking, there are two popular methods: the snowball method and the avalanche method.

Popular financial expert Dave Ramsey recommends the snowball method because he says, “… personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior. You need some quick wins in order to stay pumped enough to get out of debt completely.”

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: List your debts from smallest to largest regardless of interest rate
Step 2: Make minimum payments on all your debts except the smallest
Step 3: Pay as much as possible on your smallest debt
Step 4: Repeat until each debt is paid in full

Here’s an example using four different debts:

  1. $500 medical bill—$50 payment
  2. $2,500 credit card debt—$63 payment
  3. $7,000 car loan—$135 payment
  4. $10,000 student loan—$96 payment

Using the snowball method, you would make minimum payments on everything except the medical bill. You would pay as much as possible each month on the medical bill until it is paid off.  You would then take the money you used for the minimum payment on the medical bill, plus as much extra as you can afford and use it to pay off your credit card debt. As soon as that debt is paid, you take all the money you previously used to pay the medical bill and credit card debt off and apply it to your car loan.

By the time you are ready to pay off your student loan, you’ve got a pretty big debt repayment snowball working for you.

The avalanche method takes a more practical approach… at least mathematically speaking.  You make minimum payments on all debt and use any remaining money to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate. Like I said, this method is a more practical approach because it allows you to save hundreds of dollars in interest payments and reduce the time it takes to pay off all your debt.

When it comes to choosing which method to use, remember what Dave Ramsey says… “personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior”.

In my next blog, we will explore the different ways in which interest rates are calculated.

If you need help managing your debt, one of your best resources is your financial aid officer. And, I highly recommend visiting the White Coat Investor website. It’s a great source for guidance on how to acquire and manage the “good” forms of debt.

Physician Financial Wellness Matters

New course battles financial stress and physician burnout

By Christopher Rufus Sweeney

The survey says… wait, that’s wrong. Start again: 42 percent of all surveyed physicians say that they are burned out. And that number is steadily rising.

My research shows that financial anxiety is one of the primary drivers of physician depression, burnout, and suicide. When asked why, physicians say it’s because of their job. But, when asked what would reduce burnout, their first answer is increased compensation to avoid financial stress.

But, think about this: getting a higher salary is often not something you can directly control. On the other hand, you do have direct control of how you manage your salary. You can control what you have.

That’s the great news my colleague Emma Crawford and I are spreading through our new course being offered to students at the School of Medicine and Public Health at UW-Madison.

Funded by a grant from the Wisconsin Medial Society Foundation, our goal is to help med students make smart, well-thought-out, intentional financial decisions now so that you are able to enjoy your life with less financial stress later.

Medical students, residents and physicians are busy and have little financial training, which can result in suboptimal decision-making and being targeted by less than scrupulous “financial planners”. This can be scary, intimidating, and discouraging.

I am speaking from experience here. Before entering medical school, I was talked into a bad investment and quickly realized physicians represent a vulnerable combination of high income and poor investment skills. This makes us an ideal target for salesmen posing as financial planners. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to helping others avoid the mistakes I made.

You can’t blindly luck into financial independence, even with a physician’s salary. No one is born good at managing finances! Financial decisions both large and small are more psychological than logical. The good news is that anyone can learn it. That’s why we’ve put together this course. From budgeting and living on a resident’s salary to figuring out whether you should rent or buy a house during residency, this course arms students with carefully distilled personal financial wisdom to better navigate their financial journey when they graduate from SMPH.

The Wisconsin Medical Society’s insurance agency, WisMed Assure, has asked me to share some of the course’s highlights over the coming months.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Budgeting: The word budgeting sounds like a scolding… it’s a lot better to think of it as Goal Setting
  • Live Like a Resident: If you live and work like a resident, you can become financially independent in 10-12 years. That feels good.
  • Rent or Buy a House in Residency: In residency, most of the time, the answer is rent!
  • Different Kinds of Debt: Knowing helps you choose the best repayment method.
  • Types of Educational Loans: Don’t pay people to help you with student loan repayment. Don’t get bamboozled!
  • Compound Interest and Loan Basics: Compound interest is unfriendly when used against you… it’s quite nice if you use it to your advantage
  • Emergency Fund: Consider setting aside about $5k as a resident, and more as your resources and liabilities accumulate
  • Income Driven Repayment Plans: The many ins and outs of income-driven repayment options
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: A great deal for many physicians, but you have to do it right
  • Insurance: Insurance works best when it is low probability, but high consequence
  • Taxation: Navigating safely through the sea of taxes and deductions
  • Retirement: Never, ever raid your retirement account

While there are a few pitfalls in personal finance, there are many more ways as to be successful. Most often, what works comes down to what is most important to you and you alone. That’s why we created this course to teach students how to make a plan for their finances based on their personal goals and individual situation. It will give them a scaffolding on which to build their futures.

Looking ahead, think about what James Dahle, MD, “The White Coat Investor” says: “If you are willing to live like no one else will early in life, then you can live like no one else can later in life.”

Next Blog: Budgeting: Goal Setting is all about giving your money a job… and it really is an empowering activity.