Stay Financially Healthy During Medical School

Sylvia Morris, M.D.

Medical school is an exercise in delayed gratification. When your college friends are out of school buying cars and houses in their mid-20s, the typical medical school student is living off student loans.

The median debt for 2013 graduating medical students was $175,000, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.

Having good credit is necessary as a medical student. Good money habits start early, and how you spend while in medical school is a reflection of how you'll spend when you finally get that first job following your residency or fellowship. The goal should always be wealth creation.

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I financed my medical education with student loans for tuition, living expenses and residency relocation. I have not had a problem procuring credit for consumer purchases, including mortgages; however, it is a delicate balance between living for today and planning for the future with competing priorities such as planning for retirement planning, children's education and assistance for aging parents.

Consumer debt is completely in your control. If you haven't seen your credit report, take a look. You can request a free copy from each credit bureau annually. Review them and verify everything on it belongs to you. Credit reports can be full of errors.

Make sure you know how many credit cards you have, along with the balances. Review your credit card purchases for the last six months to identify trends and attempt to modify your spending behavior.

Do you have a plan to pay off the amount before entering medical school? Having a high amount of consumer debt can limit a student's ability to borrow money to pay for medical school.

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Before your undergraduate exit interview, schedule an appointment with the financial aid office, so you know how much money you owe. Be organized about current student loans and avoid default by keeping lenders updated with your current address.

Have a frank discussion with your parents to identify if they will assist with relocation expenses, a vehicle purchase or extra spending money.

Investigate the national health scholarship program and military scholarships as an option to cover medical school tuition and expenses. Postgraduate training loan repayment options include providing care at clinic sites in medically underserved areas.

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 provides loan forgiveness for some federal student loans made under certain circumstances. Working for a nonprofit organization for 10 years and making consistent student loan repayments may also qualify you for student loan forgiveness.

Loan consolidation reduces the number of loan servicers and extends the repayment period. Investigate all options and determine which plan is best for you.

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Don't live beyond your means in medical school, residency or when you first finish medical school. Talk to a financial planner who works with physicians at the end of medical school to create a wealth plan.

It's ideal to meet with an advisor at the start of residency, as students likely have a salary for the first time. You can get a recommendation from a friend or family or check online financial planning resources.

Money should not be the sole reason for entering medical school, or the sole reason to forgo a career in medicine.

The financial impact of medical education is great and lasts long after you sign the promissory note at the financial aid office. But rest assured that you can afford to pay back the money if you make sound financial choices along the way.

Sylvia E. Morris received her M.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine and her Master's in Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine and a community health advocate. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.