Oncologists' Wealth and Debt: COVID Had Little Impact

Zosia Chustecka

August 16, 2022

Last year bought welcome relief to oncologists, whose incomes generally rose as practices reopened after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and patients ventured out again, concludes the latest Medscape Oncologist Wealth & Debt Report 2022.

Comparing the findings with those in the larger Medscape Physician Wealth & Debt Report 2022, which surveyed more than 13,000 physicians in 29 specialties, the findings for oncologists show how they compare with those who chose other paths in medicine.

Oncologists' income rose, on average, by 2% in the past year and now stands at an average of $411,000 annually, up from $403,00 in the previous year's report.

This puts oncologists in the top third of specialties, with plastic surgeons again in the top slot (with average income of $576,000 this year).

One fifth (20%) of oncologists surveyed reported a family worth of more than $5 million, which represents substantial family wealth, the report comments.

However, 22% of oncologists reported that their family net worth was less than $500,000, and another 10% estimated that it to fall between $500,000 and $1 million.

For comparison, the average US family net worth is about $749,000, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

Most Live "Within Their Means"

Most oncologists (94%) and also most (94%) of all of the physicians surveyed said that they live within or below their means.

How does one do this? Just paying off credit cards each month and contributing enough to a 401(k) account to receive an employer match does not meet this standard, says Joel Greenwald MD, CFP, a wealth management advisor for physicians. To live within or below your means, you also need to be saving at least 20% toward retirement, pay down student loans, contribute to your kids' college savings, and set aside rainy day cash, he explained.

When physicians were asked about their favorite cost-cutting tactics, replies included bringing lunch to work, keeping a car for 15 years, and carrying out their own household maintenance and repairs. One doctor described a "24-hour rule" when it comes to shopping: "revisit the desired purchase after 24 hours to see if it's still desired."

But how well do these tactics go down with 'the other half' and the rest of the household? Two thirds (66%) of oncologists, and a similar proportion of all physicians, said that they argue with their significant other about spending. This appears to be high in comparison with the finding from a recent survey that across the United States, about 1 in 4 couples (25%) argue about money at least once a month.

Regarding spending, the top expense among oncologists was for childcare (16%), private tuition for offspring (14%), mortgage on a second home (14%), college tuition for offspring (14%), and a car lease (12%).

Around 17% of oncologists reported that they are still paying off their own college or medical school loans. For this statistic, they are about in the middle of all specialties.

The report notes that freeing oneself from medical school debt is very costly. Physicians in the United States pay an average of $356,000 to $440,000, about half of which is interest.

Little Change Over Last Year

The COVID pandemic had much less of an impact on physicians than it had on the general population when it comes to keeping up with payments, and most physicians were not affected. Only 3% of oncologists said they fell behind with payments for mortgage; 6% fell behind with payments for other bills.

In comparison, nearly half (46%) of Americans missed one or more payments of rent or mortgage because of COVID, according to a 2021 industry survey.

Over the past year, most oncologists (70%) did not change their spending habits, and only 11% cut expenses by deferring or refinancing loans. Also, most oncologists (75%) avoided major financial loses. Only 8% reported financial losses due to problems at their medical practice.

However, a slightly higher percentage of oncologists reported a stock or company investment that had turned sour this year (37%) in comparison to last year (28%).

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