Doctors, lawyers and other highly-trained professionals often have their sights on lucrative salaries once they complete their courses of study – but many are also saddled with a less pleasant graduation gift: outstanding student loans. For those who’ve landed a well-paying job in their desired fields, the dual reality of commanding a big salary while being encumbered with debt can lead to financial mistakes. But, as with many complexities in life, having a plan in place can help.
If you find yourself in the camp of high-income, high-debt professionals, consider the following four steps to manage your finances, pay down your obligations and pave the way to a confident financial future.
1. Spend wisely
The income you earn today may seem staggering compared to what you were accustomed to in the years before receiving your degree. Before you increase your spending, it’s important to take a step back and consider how to tackle multiple financial goals at once. Start by earmarking part of each paycheck for your future goals. Knowing you have dedicated savings for future purchases like a new home or sending your kids to college can help you have confidence in your everyday finances – including an occasional splurge. However, until you have your other debts paid off or dramatically reduced, it may not be prudent to take on a large mortgage or a loan for an expensive vehicle.
2. Manage your debt effectively
Keep up on student debt and if you can, consider accelerating your payments. Paying extra will not help you eliminate the debt sooner, but will reduce the total amount you pay in interest. Refinancing the debt to ease your monthly payment schedule may be an option, but given your likely cash flow, it may not be necessary. If you have accrued other debts such as car loans or credit card borrowing, repay them as quickly as possible. Make it a priority to reduce the impact that debt has on your monthly budget.
3. Start saving for retirement
A good rule of thumb for any young professional is to try to save 10 percent (and more, if possible) of their income in accounts designed to build wealth for the long run. While the idea of retirement may seem a lifetime away, starting to accumulate money in a retirement account as soon as possible can be especially effective. Those who begin saving for retirement in their 20s or early 30s can most effectively leverage the power of compounding interest. At this age, you have time on your side and the ability for your investments to grow over the decades to come.
4. Keep it all in perspective
You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and earning a big paycheck is a justifiable reward. Your professional and financial journey is just beginning, so treat your financial life as a marathon, not a sprint. At the very least, focus on living within your means. To the extent you are able, try to live even more modestly with the goal of paying down debts as quickly as possible. You never know what the future holds and what opportunities may arise. Your income level could change, either by your own choice or due to unavoidable circumstances. Take advantage of your good fortune today to strengthen your financial future.
Scott D. Serfass, CFP®, CRPC®, CDFA™, CLU®, ChFC® is a financial advisor and senior partner of Serfass, Phillips & Associates, a financial advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. His team specializes in helping people retire confidently and develop a plan to effectively share wealth across multiple generations. Throughout his career, he has witnessed many families continue to grow despite global and economic turmoil. This experience and research paved the way for his book, Family Success.