Most FPs Live at or Below Their Means: Survey

Marcia Frellick

July 22, 2020

Family physicians (FPs) were the specialists most likely to report a net worth of $500,000 or less, a Medscape survey has found.

According to the Medscape Family Physician Debt and Net Worth Report 2020, almost half of FPs (46%) reported having that amount as their net worth, compared with the 18% of gastroenterologists and 19% of urologists who fell into that category.

And whereas 19% of orthopedists reported at least $5 million in net worth, only 3% of FPs did.

A Third Are Paying Off Student Loans

FPs were also more likely, along with physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians, at 34%, to report that they are continuing to pay off student loans. Conversely, 14% of gastroenterologists and 15% of nephrologists and rheumatologists said they were still paying off the loans.

Student loan debt was third on the list for FPs. Two thirds of FPs were paying off a mortgage, and 41% had car loan payments.

Overall, FPs appear to manage their finances well and are living within their means. Only 6% of FPs said they live above their means, whereas 51% said they live at their means, and 42% said they live below that threshold.

Joel Greenwald, MD, CEO of Greenwald Wealth Management in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, told Medscape Medical News he recommends saving 20% of gross salary each year.

The survey was completed before February 11 and before the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could be known. The report is based on responses from more than 17,000 physicians across 30 specialties.

A lower level of net worth among FPs corresponds with their being close to the bottom among physicians in compensation. They made $234,000 on average, according to the report. By contrast, orthopedists made more than twice as much, at $511,000.

Smaller Homes, Less Mortgage Debt

FPs were among the least likely to indicate that they had a home of more than 5000 square feet. That was true for only 6% of FPs; it was true for 22% of plastic surgeons and orthopedists. Most (61%) lived in dwellings of 3000 square feet or less.

At the same time, FPs reported smaller mortgages than many of their colleagues.

Nearly half (49%) of FPs have mortgages of $300,000 or less; 26% have no mortgage at all. That figure was much higher than the 37% of physicians overall who had mortgages of $300,000 or less, though almost the same percentage had no mortgage at all.

Most Had No Financial Loss in the Past Year

In further good news, most FPs (70%) said they did not experience a financial loss in the past year. Of those who did experience a loss, the top reasons were problems with their practice, such as reimbursement changes or changes in practice situations, or bad investments.

FPs socked away more into tax-deferred than taxable accounts, the survey showed.

More than half (54%) of FPs put at least $1000 into tax-deferred accounts, such as college savings or retirement accounts, though 14% said they do not regularly contribute to such accounts.

Fewer (29%) contributed at least $1000 to a taxable account.

As for who pays the day-to-day bills in households, 56% of FPs said they pool resources with a spouse or partner and pay bills from a common fund. Only 4% split the bills equally, no matter the income difference. One in four said they do not have joint finances with a spouse or partner.

FPs were divided as to whether they are currently working with a financial planner (38%) or had not worked with one (37%); the rest said they had met with or used one in the past.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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