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Investing - Where to put your money now

You make more money than you spend. It’s the right problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless. In fact, every new dollar of savings seems to call for a new investment strategy, but you don’t know where to begin.

When you ignore the problem, cash piles up in your checking account—first $40,000, then six figures. Now you’re getting nervous. If it was hard to invest a smaller sum, it seems impossible to invest more than $100,000.

Then one day, you stumble upon the headline that brought you here, hoping to find the answer. And if this were any ordinary article, you might be well on your way to making the same mistake that most of your colleagues have made at least once in their careers: they pile their money into a hot investment touted at the time.

First they buy it. Then they watch it drop like a rock. And months later, when the promised results fail to materialize, they sell everything and feel foolish.

It gets worse as the cash continues to pile up and your question goes unanswered: “Where do I put my money, now?”

The best investment strategies have nothing new about them and they work. Here are three investment strategies you can use over and over again, decade after decade, to make your savings last.

1. Stop trading stocks. Start owning markets. 

I know you’ve heard stories in the break room about how your colleague’s latest stock pick shot up 147 percent or how he nabbed a tax-free bond paying five full percentage points above average.

Sounds like he’s making a killing, right?

Not exactly. Chances are good he’s gotten killed on plenty of trades, but physician culture won’t allow him to tell you about his blunders. I’ve seen plenty of doctors who stock-picked their way to a small fortune, but most started out with a much larger one.

Instead of taking a bunch of risk by betting on one stock, keep risk in check by owning a whole bunch of them—the easy way. Single stocks can go bankrupt and single bonds can go into default, wiping you out completely. Index funds, which represent ownership in hundreds if not thousands of companies, make it easy to gain instant diversification, diluting the uncompensated or “bad” risk while retaining the “good” risk that leads to rewards over the long haul.

Index funds are cheap. With carrying costs (a.k.a. “operating expense ratios”) as low as 0.05 percent, you can buy an index fund and gain exposure to bonds or stocks around the world for a pittance. That tiny carrying cost also buys you the freedom to stop acting like a stockbroker and get back to serving as a healthcare provider.

Savvy physicians prefer mutual funds for their tax efficiency. Since they follow a buy-and-hold approach to investing, index funds are more likely to realize tax-favored capital gains and tax-qualified dividends than more highly taxed short term gains. This keeps your tax bill in check.

2. Stop timing the markets. Start owning them (all). 

If you have heard about index investing, you probably know about the SP 500, a basket of stocks that represents the 500 biggest companies in the U.S. The index was made famous in the ‘80s and ‘90s as it ran up to the dotcom bubble, then vilified in the ensuing “lost decade” when the ten year return on that index was close to zero.

What index hecklers fail to realize, even to this day, is that there’s more than one index. In fact, you can gain exposure to practically all the stocks and bonds on the planet by owning as few as four mutual funds. Had investors done this during the past ten years, they would have avoided some of the tech wreck, found the lost decade and enjoyed very decent returns after all.

Unfortunately, the average investor seldom receives average returns. According to a recent study by mutual fund data company Morningstar, “the typical investor gained only 4.8 percent annualized over the ten years ended December 2013 versus 7.3 percent for the typical fund.” That’s a yawning 2.5 percent gap.

Why did investors miss out on fully one-third of the market returns? It’s simple. They did the same thing with their funds that your colleague did with his stocks: they traded in and out of the market. To garner the returns advertised over the past decade, or even the last three decades, you would have to own them through thick and thin, no matter how dramatic nor dire the news.

3. Invest like a Nobel Prize winner. 

The main argument against an index-only strategy is exactly that it generates merely average returns in the best case scenario. This logic appeals to doctors who have never once settled for things that are merely average, and that’s pretty much all the physicians I’ve met.

Thanks to the research of Nobel laureate Eugene Fama, we now know it’s possible to reliably beat the averages over the long run—but it’s not free.

Fama, a financial luminary who founded the first small cap index mutual fund way back when fax machines were the size of washing machines, discovered that the smaller a company is, the more likely it is to outperform a larger one. This is known as the “small cap effect,” and it’s robust, having been observed in U.S. market history as well as the return series of developed foreign stock markets and even emerging markets.

Fama and colleague Kenneth French, both researchers who hail from the University of Chicago’s renowned Booth School of Business, also found that the stocks of cheap companies, known as “value stocks,” tend to outperform their more expensive “growth stock” peers in what is known as the “value effect.” This effect is also robust in markets domestic and foreign, and is available to investors using index funds.

While a small cap value tilt may add up to four percentage points more than the average untilted portfolio over long periods of time, it brings more volatility, too. When equity markets decline, those index funds filled with cheap little stocks take it hard, and you may wish you had never owned them. The only way to reliably garner the higher expected returns from small cap value stocks is to remain fully invested and stay the course, even when times are tough.

This too is old news. Even though Fama won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2013, his research on the small cap and value effects has been public knowledge since the 1980s.

These perfectly decent strategies are so mundane—so incredibly boring—that you and your colleagues may never have heard of them. After all, words like “diversified,” “tax-efficient” and “cost-effective” make wimpy headlines. The good news is that you can start using a solid investment strategy and keep using it year after year, decade after decade, secure in the knowledge that you have found a permanent answer to a nagging question. Remember, the answer to good investing is more than where you put your money now. It’s where you keep it over the long haul.

 This article originally appeared in Orthopreneur with the same title "Investing - Where to Put Your Money Now".

 

3 tips for financing medical equipment | Fierce Practice Management interviews W. Ben Utley CFP®

Fierce Practice Management tells physicians that can't or don't want to rely on a hospital for a major purchase to get a bank loan. W. Ben Utley advises them to shop around and let the banks compete but to "just be mindful of politics, saving money and relationships you have." Utley also encourages physicians to have an attorney go over the fine print before signing on the dotted line. "Spending $400 to have an attorney review it to save $5,000 on the loan contract is worth it.”

Read other tips in the article by Debra Beaulieu-Volk.

Physician Financial Success Podcast features W. Ben Utley CFP®

Josh Mettle hosts a series of personal finance podcasts for physicians who want to avoid landmines and make decisions that lead to financial success. In his interview with me, we discussed:

  • The three Ts – time, training, and temperament and how those can hinder or enhance physician’s management of their personal finances
  • Why investing is one of the last things to do when starting your financial plan, not the starting point
  • How to get your kids on a solid financial path when they are young
  • Crucial advice for physicians transitioning into higher incomes and what mindset to adopt for financial success
  • Why having a vacation budget is so important for physicians and their families
  • Proprietary two checking account system for protecting your identity and keeping your money safer

To listen, hit the "play" button below, or read the transcript.

[audio mp3="http://physicianfamily.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Ben-Utley-2014-04-17.mp3"][/audio]

 

Transcript

Josh Mettle: Hello and welcome to the Physician Financial Success Podcast. My name is Josh Mettle, and this is the podcast dedicated to advising physicians how to avoid financial landmines. Today, we’ll be talking with Ben Utley from Physician Family Financial Advisors. Ben specializes in helping doctors and their families stop worrying about money, start taking action towards a lifetime of financial security. Ben is a certified financial planner with 20 plus years of experience, featured in the New York Times, theWall Street JournalMedical EconomicsPhysician Practice, and too many other to name physician-focused publications. Ben, welcome to the show, buddy. How are you today?

Ben Utley: I’m great. Thanks for having me, Josh.

Josh Mettle: Yeah, my pleasure. You know from the little I know about you and from what I’ve perceived on your website, you seemed to be one of the most transparent guys I know. I really enjoyed reading your website and the story about you getting into the industry with your one associate, Emmy. If wouldn’t mind, I’d love to just hear that story and maybe how you got started down this path to serving physicians.

Ben Utley: Right. In the beginning, about 20 years ago, I was Utley and Associates, and the joke around the family was that the associate was my golden retriever, Emmy, who has since then passed on. As the firm has grown over the years, I’ve had staff and I had a whole slew of our first people who helped me out here. Yes, in the beginning, the associate was a dog.

Josh Mettle: I love that. I love that, and so, how did you get you know from there to here where now 90 percent of your business is advising doctors? Can you kind of give us an insight on how you got moving down that path?

Ben Utley: It’s a long story, so I’m going to see if I can give you the Cliff notes version of it. I guess it was back in 1994, I was cold calling at Waddell & Reed for that’s where I started out. I managed to land a BMW dealer at that time. One day, a divorced physician came in who was a BMW-buying client of his who was looking for a financial advisor and just figured, “Well, if this guy is selling luxury cars, he must be doing pretty well. I think I will use his guy.” So that’s how I got into the physician business. She met me, and at that time, I was working in a home office. She came in and sat down and had some will prepared interview questions one of which was, “Why should I work with you?” I didn’t have a ready answer, so I was just honest with her. I said, “Well, because I’ve never worked with doctors before.” And I think she almost fell out of her chair, but I was straight up with her. I’ve never worked with doctors before, and I told her. I said I feel like doctors have a bad rap. I said I think people have preconceived notions about them. I said I don’t go to the doctor. I don’t know any doctors. I said if you will just be honest with me about your life, and you’ll give me the details, and share with me. I’ll do my very best to serve you. And I did, and later on, she married a surgeon which was an interesting challenge for me. I made both of them happy. They referred people that ran their practice who are married to people in other practices, and it grew kind of like that old commercial you know they met a few people, and they met a few people, and so on.

Josh Mettle: Yeah.

Ben Utley: When about 50 percent of my clients were practicing MDs and DOs, I rebranded the firm Utley and Associates to Physician Family Financial Advisors to make it easier for a physician across the country to find me. Along about then, Medical Economics listed me among their 150 Best Financial Advisors, that’s back before you had to pay to be on the list, and the practice continued to grow from there. And so, today 90 percent of the families that I serve contain at least one practicing MD or DO. I like dentists. I only serve one of them who became attached to a doc, and I don’t count him among the ranks of doctors that I serve, but yeah, so about 90 percent of them, and then, there’s a few people who met me before I began to specialize in physicians, but today, it’s exclusively physicians in terms of new clients.

Josh Mettle: I think this story sums up why I call you one of the most transparent guys I know, and I bet she did fall off the chair when you said because I’ve never worked with a doctor before. That is just great. I love it. It’s a great story. Let’s go on to the success you’d had since your first associate, Emmy, and you were recently featured or collaborated on the New York Times article titled, “Investment Advice for Doctors: First, Do No Harm.” In that article, you allude to the three Ts: time, training, and temperament for physicians, and I’d love to just get your insights and thoughts there.

Ben Utley: Yeah. When I got the email and the voicemail from Ron Lieber who penned that article, I thought, “Oh, no. Here we go again. It’s another one of those beat up on the doctors articles.” Because I see those all the time, they’re perennial, they always have the Hippocrates First Do No Harm thing or Heal Thyself. I was like, “Okay. This is going to be different. This is New York Times. I’m going to game up for this.” I got my talking points together, and I thought about why is it that the physician mistakes are just so out there, why is it everybody focuses on that. I think some of its got to do with the mindset of take down the smart guy or take down the rich guy. It’s that kid who is always well on the curve ahead of you, you know when you’re in your science class and you just want to strangle him. I think that comes out for people who are reading these articles today, even if it’s something as broadly read as the New York Times.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Ben Utley: And so, I really started thinking about. I was like, “Why is this?” First I think that physicians have more money to make mistakes with than everyone else does. I mean even a physician who’s just getting started, he’s making twice as much as the average worker, and they may go on to make somewhere between 10 or 15 times as much as the average worker, depending on what specialty they choose. So, definitely more money in terms of earnings and the result is usually more money in terms of assets.

The next thing is that they have more exposure. I mean if you’re a physician, you’re in the public eye unless you’re a radiologist. You know if you’re a pediatrician, if you’re a primary care physician, everybody knows you. You can’t go out and buy groceries without somebody looking at you and saying, “Hey. That’s my doctor over there.” You know you haven’t done your hair or you’re out in your scrubs. I think it’s really those two things combined with the lesson with what I call the three T’s which are time, training, and temperament.

You know you know what your day looks like. You start off at 5 o’clock in the morning. You go in. You do rounds, maybe clean up the dictation that you didn’t finish yesterday, do all the email that your office manager sent you, and then, you actually start your day. Work patient to patient, get pulled into rooms. At the end of it, you go do some rounds. You know, if you’re lucky you might get to have dinner. You wind at home around 7 o 8 o’clock at night, and then you got your kids. They want you to help with their homework. You missed the piano practice. I think most people don’t realize the sacrifices that physicians make for the public good, and a lot of that sacrifice comes in terms of their ability to spend time with their family and also their ability to spend time with their personal finances. I think docs are just lacking the first T which is time.

The second thing that I think that they’re lacking is training. I mean when you think about a physician and the amount of work that goes into creating a physician, we have to apply the 10,000 hour rule which says that, “If you do something for 10,000 hours, you’re going to be a master of it.” Well physicians go beyond that. If you just look at maybe six years worth of training, that’s 2,000 hours in a 9-to-5 day, and we know that docs don’t work 9 to 5 in their first five or six years. They’re working all the time.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Ben Utley: They probably some somewhere between you know 12,000 and maybe 18,000 hours of training by the time they’re sitting in front of you to render advice or you know to do surgery or whatever it happens to be, and we want them to have that. But I also think that they’re lacking training in personal finance, which is practically unavailable. I mean it’s just now being taught in colleges, or just now financial planning degree programs. When I started 20 years ago, that just wasn’t in existence. I think that they just lack the training to be able to make excellent financial decisions and see the big picture and also be able to focus on the minutiae.

And then, the third piece, the third T is what I call temperament. Really it just comes down to exercise. When I exercise, I watch a video, and I go for a walk, because those are the things that I love to do, and so, as a result, I will continue to do those things. I think that the physicians that are successful in managing their own personal finances really like to do it, and the ones that just don’t like to do it, don’t do it.

Josh Mettle: Yeah.

Ben Utley: I mean it’s got to be a priority. It’s got to be something you love to do. You gotta have the time and training to do it for it to get done, and as a result, if they just don’t have the temperament for it, then it just doesn’t get done. And the things that don’t get done usually come back to bite you. It’s the same way it would be if you like have an unattended health issue.

Josh Mettle: I think you’re spot on, and I took a couple of notes here, and first of all, let me start back at the beginning here. You said you gamed up for the New York Timeseditorial, and I just want everyone to know you also gamed up for my little podcast. You were texting, you were emailing me beforehand, and I don’t have it in front of me, but it’s something like, “I want this to be the best podcast of all time. Let’s make sure you’re out for bears. You want to be perfect in this, so I think that’s just a little bit about your personality. My hunch is you game up for everything, and‑

Ben Utley: Yeah.

Josh Mettle: So I think that’s cool. I just want to give you those little kudos.

Ben Utley: Thanks.

Josh Mettle: You’re welcome. There was another thing you said that really kind of struck me because I have noticed that similar type of beat up on doctors articles and a little bit of kind of that ridicule, and I wonder if there is a parallel here between healthcare somewhat being – I’m not saying that healthcare has been nationalized, but we seem to be moving in a more controlled medical environment, and maybe parallel to the media, maybe a national media giving a heavy scrutiny towards physicians. So, then, when we take away their rights or we mandate what they can earn, then we kind of maybe embrace the nation for the fact that they’re not perfect and they deserve to make less. Am I really stretching it there or do you think there’s any parallel?

Ben Utley: Well, I think the public is constantly guilty of short-term thinking in a long-term world. I mean when you look at the viability of a nation, it really comes down to the strength and the health of its people. It comes down to their education, and it comes down to their fundamental belief system and value system that they all share and live or die by. I think it’s very easy to underestimate the value of a physician in a community when everybody is healthy. You know it’s like you’ve done your job as a doctor, and everybody’s healthy, so gosh who really needs docs. Let’s cut their pay, you know. Let’s make life harder for them. But you know when you’re sick, when my kid’s sick in the middle of the night she’s barfing, I got no clue as what to do, I’m not a physician. You know I got a science degree. I’ve got two chemistry degrees, and my wife is looking at me like, “What do we do?”

I’m like, “Call the doctor, you know.”

Josh Mettle: Right.

Ben Utley: But in that moment, in that moment, when my kid is sick, she got a 102-degree temperature, my god, I want a doctor on the phone, and I want him on the phone in 5 minutes. I want the doctor. I don’t want a nurse practitioner. I don’t want an RN. I don’t an urgent care person. I want that person who’s got the solution to solve my kid’s problem. I love that child more than anything else in life, and I think it’s at that moment that we either should or do appreciate our physicians. In that moment, we would pay anything to be able to have the problem solved. I think if we can instill that kind of reality in the minds of the people who make the laws in our country, then we will have a better healthcare system. We’ll have a better life for doctors, and we’ll also be healthier.

Josh Mettle: Well, great job for articulating your beliefs in that article particularly, making sure that it didn’t come across as a beat up on your doctor. I thought you did a great job.

Ben Utley: Yeah.

Josh Mettle: So let’s talk about your website and some articles that I read there, and specifically there was some advice for young physicians. Much of my business is young physicians, and I think that’s the time to strike with financial literacy, whether they do it themselves‑

Ben Utley: Exactly.

Josh Mettle: Or whether they get good advice, but like you said if you don’t have the disposition for it, it may just not get done, and you don’t want to be looking back in the mirror 15 years down the road. Share with us an overview of the advice you offer young physician clients. I’d love to just talk about that for a few minutes.

Ben Utley: Right. With young physician clients, we want to cover the bases. First thing is an assessment with some basic question like how many banks do you have? Do you like your bank because that’s where all the money is going to start out its life. Once it’s your paycheck and it’s in your bank, and it gets dispatched from there to all three of the S’s: spending, sharing, and saving. We’ll look at something as fundamental as banking. Then, we’ll move on, building emergency funds, have an emergency fund plan that tells you exactly how much money you’ll need be setting aside in your emergency funds, you know, wind up with $150,000 in your checking account or something crazy like that.

Then, we move on to look at other bases like disability insurance and life insurance. I got some great contacts that sell those products. My firm is a fee only firm, so we just give advice in those areas. We don’t actually sell the products, but we do figure out what you have, what you don’t have, what kind that you need and what amounts that you need. Those are the bases.

And then, we look at something like retirement and college, and the real thing in a retirement fund plan or a college fund plan is the what and the where. What do I need to save and where do I need to put it? Those are the two essential questions. If you can get that out of the plan, then you really got the start of it. Then, of course once you have a plan, overcoming financial inertia is a huge thing and just getting those things rolling, so opening an account, putting money into it, automating so it happens all the time, and being comfortable with what’s happening is huge.

And then, once all of those accounts are open and all the money saved into them, then you can tackle the investment question, which is kind of like everybody just wants to dive into the sauce. Everybody just wants, “I’ll manage my investment. Let’s talk about stocks.” Well, it’s like the 7th thing on the agenda, and of all the things that you can do, it’s the least controlled thing of all. I mean you can’t control what the market does. You’re predicting what a million idiots will do out there with your dollar bill you expect to live on thirty years from now. So, it’s really – the thing that the media is selling, the things that you see in Money magazine and the newspapers is the last thing that you do, and everybody wants to start there.

No wonder it’s so confusing because you know there’s a stepwise progress to this, and skipping steps causes you to be exposed. I think it’s important to just kind of work through it one piece at a time, and there’s nothing magic about what a good financial advisor does. There’s nothing that is exotic about the advice I give. The fact is that it’s just decent advice, but the implementation of it, actually getting it done is what really matters. I mean it’s just the ordinary things done in an extraordinary way is really the formula for success. And once you’re on track, then avoiding mistakes will keep you on track and make sure you wind up with financial security.

Josh Mettle: Yeah, we’re going to talk a little bit about mistakes. You got some good advice there, but from what I’m hearing you say, it sounds like step 1 is you’ve got to be intentional about this. You’ve got to start with a good foundation, and I agree with you with everything that young physicians have to worry about between education and boards and licensing and relocating and families and children and spouses. I mean, it’s a lot to pack on a financial plan and a foundation around building a safety foundation around you with savings and insurance, and that’s why I think it gets neglected. It’s just more things to juggle as a young physician than if you’re in about just about any other profession in the world, and that’s why I think the advice from someone with experience like you is so crucial at that point.

Ben Utley: Right. Thank you.

Josh Mettle: You also have some specific advice for young physicians starting families. I love that about you when it comes out, I mean it comes out loud and clear in your website that you’ve been doing this for more than six minutes. You’ve seen the mistakes. You’ve seen what’s successful. You kind of have that recipe figured out, so just share a little advice for us about physicians starting a family.

Ben Utley: Well, I’m speaking from the voice of experience here, but not the ton of experience. I have two daughters ages 10 and 12. Since my children were old enough to conceive of resources and to talk about money, I told them a couple of things about it, and this is neither the same things I would advice to the extent that I’m licensed to give childrearing advice. I would advise other families to do. The first thing I tell my kids is that I’m never going to give them money, and I’ve held to that for 12 years with my older daughter and 10 years with my younger daughter. Second thing I tell them is it’s my job as a parent to take care of all their needs, some of their wants, and a few of their wishes, right?

Josh Mettle: I love it.

Ben Utley: And to teach them to be able to take care of their own needs when they’re adults, to give them all the tools that they need. That’s my job as a daddy, and that’s her job as a mommy to make sure that happens for them. Then, I’m going to teach them about the three S’s, which is spending, sharing, and saving, and just kind of roll forward from there. At this point, my 12-year-old knows how to calculate compound interests, and she’s familiar with how mortgage functions, and she knows the proper use of debt, and saying she’s going to save automatically, but I think you have to set up the rules in your household, you have to figure out what your values are around money, and then really adhere to that or if you’re not at home a lot, and you have a spouse who’s there, if you have a caretaker to make sure that they get your values and they understand what your expectations are for your children to start out early.

There’s a great book called Love and Logic. You can find it on Amazon. It really talks about making choices. You know your child comes equipped with the abilities to make choices, and you come into that world at the moment when you kind of hold a red ball in one hand, a blue ball on the other hand, and your child can gesture at the red ball and the blue ball saying, “I want that one.” You know even if they don’t have the words, it’s at that moment that your child can make decisions and it is that moment you can begin to craft good decision making habits in your child, and I think that the good decision making habits are the fundamental building blocks for good personal finances because it all comes down to what do I do with this dollar?

Josh Mettle: My wife has Love and Logic, and I know she’s read it a couple of times, and I haven’t read it. Thank you for giving me the motivation to pick that up.

Ben Utley: Get on it.

Josh Mettle: Yeah. I think I need to take a little responsibility there. Thank you for kicking me square in the pants, and at the conclusion of the interview, I’m gonna need your home address and I’ll be sending Zander and Aria your way for the summer, and I appreciate you‑

Ben Utley: I have four copies of Love and Logic sitting right here on the desk, I’ll prepare yours.

Josh Mettle: Man, I love it. All right, that is such sage advice, man. I love it. I love, “I’m going to take care of all of your needs and some of your wants.” That is just beautiful.

Ben Utley: Right.

Josh Mettle: And the transition showing them at the end of this deal, you got to get yourself to the place where you can provide for your own needs. That is just cool to give someone so young the vision of where they need to be, and how that departure from the nest is going to look one day. I love it. I think it’s great.

Ben Utley: Right.

Josh Mettle: Now, we have this young physician who’s started a foundation and some savings and some insurance, and the final step there may be they started to do some investing. You’ve given them some advice on maybe philosophy towards children. You’ve given great reference on a book. So, now, this young physician is moving on to the next stage of their career, and let’s say that they’re going to make partner or they’ve finally got the attending position they’ve been working so hard for, and you’ve mentioned in your website you’ve got some advice around that transitional place of advancement and career. You want to share some of that advice with us?

Ben Utley: Yeah. This is the hard part. I’m a longtime tropical fish lover. I did that when I was a kid. I’m still into life sciences and fish, especially fish, there’s this thing about fish that most people don’t know. The average fish, if you feed it, it will grow to the size of its environment.

Josh Mettle: Wow.

Ben Utley: When you start off with your personal finances being an intern, you’re making very little, but you can live on that. And then, you make resident, you make solo, and you make a little bit more, and then you practice, and you get a pretty substantial jump there, and the size of your goldfish bowl grows, and the question is, “Does your goldfish grow with it?” Of course, your goldfish is going to grow a little bit, but your goldfish bowl is the size of your income. Your goldfish is the size of your consumption habit, it’s how much money you spend. The trick is to keep the goldfish from outgrowing the dang bowl. When you make partner, usually that’s the jump to light speed for most physicians if they’re going to make higher six figure incomes. It’s going to be when the make partner, maybe after they’ve outpaced their buying and debt, but the trick is really just to keep the goldfish in the bowl.

If you can adopt a resident’s mindset about your personal finances and hold that mindset as opposed to having kind of a Monty Hall mindset about your new earnings, then you’re more likely to make it because it’s simply just preserves your margin. So, your margin is the money that you get on your pretax basis, less taxes plus all the cost of living, and that margin that’s leftover is what I call money for financial security. It’s the money that you get to save for college to send your kids to school. It’s the money you get to put away for retirement, so someday when you want to hang it up, you’ll be ready. It’s the money that you can use to buy disability insurance. It’s the money you can use to some term life insurance.

Money for financial security is what I call it, and the major competing factor with money for financial security is a home. I think it’s important that people think very consciously about the size of their home, and I’m sure you’ll give some excellent advice about how much to put in it, when to buy it, and those kind of things. It really just drills down to that level, but keeping that resident mindset is important in terms of being able to actually achieve financial security because it’s not focusing on a budget. It’s not talking about how much you spend on a latte, how many times you got dinner out. That really doesn’t matter at all. The only thing that matters is whether or not you save, how much you saved, and how early you saved.

Josh Mettle: I hate the “b” word, budget, but I love the philosophy from The Richest Man in Babylon, which I think is kind of what you’re mentioning or alluding to here which is, you know as long as you pay yourself first, as long as – and in my house the way we do that is that whenever there is a deposit into the checking account, it’s always followed by a debit out to the savings account or to the investment account. Then, that’s the amount of money left to be spent.

Ben Utley: Perfect, perfect.

Josh Mettle: That’s just what works for me. I hate, like you’re saying where are we at with vacation spending, or where we’re at with latte spending. I really like the – we try to make that a 30 percent deal. If we can do more, we do, but that’s the debit that goes out every deposit, and I think that’s a great way to think through it. That’s the kind of advice that you give clients is just make sure that whatever your margin is, that’s happening. You pay yourself first before you pay the rest of the world.

Ben Utley: Yeah, exactly. I agree with you. I hate the “b” word as well. Budget is just there’s just something that’s unhappy about it. When I do this work for clients, I call it a spending plan. Before you have a spending plan, you need to have a banking plan, and that’s not really something that’s a product or service. It’s something we talk about. I encourage physicians to set up two checking accounts: one is what I call the inbox, and the other is what I call the outbox. The inbox receives all your inflows. It receives all your ACH deposit of your paycheck, and the major outflow from that is your cost of living.

Once a month, you move your cost of living out of the inbox checking account and into the outbox checking account. From there, you spend it down to zero, and you repeat that every month. Meanwhile, back at the ranch your inbox balance is growing. What I want you to do is to tie that to automatic savings plan to put money into a 529 plans and IRAs, and if you’re self-employed maybe a SEP, those kinds of things such that you know it’s not going to change the cash flow, it’s just going to change the awareness of the cash flow. And I think even somebody who doesn’t have the temperament to really do a lot of personal finance – just becoming aware of the cash flow is crucial.

One of those cash flows from the inbox should go into a vacation fund, you know. I talked about cutting back on latte. I think we could probably all use a little bit less caffeine, but the thing that physicians should not skimp on, the thing that they should never skip is a vacation. For a couple of reasons, not the least of which is compassion fatigue. I mean show me a physician that hasn’t had a vacation in three years, and I’ll show you a guy who is absolutely miserable.

Josh Mettle: Yeah.

Ben Utley: I think that the compassion fatigue builds up and wells up in physicians, and I think it probably sneaks up on younger doctors more likely than it is on older doctors. Cause the old doctors see this coming. They know that they have limited battery power. A young surgeon, you know he’s taken all the calls he can get. He’s working on as many people as he can. He doesn’t see his family, and what you do is you wake up one day, you’re like, “Oh, my god. My kids grew up, you know. I didn’t spend any time with them.” And your family vacation is a chance for you to reconnect with them and kind of get back on the ground level with them and let them see the human being that’s underneath all the medicine and all the running around and getting things done. I would encourage people ‑ you don’t have to have a palatial vacation. In fact, the shorter vacations are more effective in terms of recharging batteries, but you do need to have a vacation fund. It does need to have money in it. It does need to be set aside separately. That way you and your spouse and your kids can talk about where you’re going to go together, which is a part of enjoyment of getting time away.

Josh Mettle: I love it. So that’s actually similar to what we do. We have you know like a money market account that we do the debit on that goes directly in there and that’s the savings. And when that builds up to where we want to do something with it, then, we advise it according to whatever the plan is at the time. You actually have, just so I understand, you actually have a separate checking account. Money flows into an inbox. You’ve got a predetermined amount of that money, which you’re going to leave in the inbox where that’s a percentage or dollar amount or whatever that is‑

Ben Utley: Dollar amount, yeah.

Josh Mettle: Dollar amount, and then, you’re going to move the rest of your living costs into the outbox and that’s kind of what you’re looking at. If I go to the ATM, I’m going to pull money out of my outbox, correct?

Ben Utley: Exactly. When you write your mortgage bill, you’re going to pay it out of the outbox, and you’re going to pay all of your bills out of the outbox. It also functions as security because when you send a check out of the world, you’re giving your account and your writing number to the universe. As a result, that outbox is kind of like your public checking account. It’s one that everything is tied to. If somebody grabs your identity, that’s the one that going to be out in the public place.

The inbox, the other checking account is the one that is, you know, nobody is going to see that except the other financial institutions when you linked them by ACH. It’s not as exposed, and you don’t want to connect those two together. You just want to be able to move money from one into the other on a monthly basis. And this one thing, I can say saved the bacon for a few of my clients. I mean, when you work with 40 or 50 families, you see identities on a pretty regular basis, and I think knowing that only one of those accounts, the smaller of the two is exposed, is really helpful, and the reason it’s two checking accounts is there is some federal rules that they limit the amount of money that you can move and the number of transactions you can have in and out of an account. When that’s a true savings account, the limit is five, whereas with a checking account, you can move money in and out as often as you like.

Josh Mettle: Great advice. I’m glad we untapped that. That’s fantastic. Okay. You alluded to avoiding mistakes, and I think that’s probably a big part of what you do as an advisor. Share some thoughts with us around specifically physicians and the importance of avoiding mistakes.

Ben Utley: Well, physicians, it’s no mystery that they’re making six figures most of the time. That’s a good start. If they’re able to make a plan for the six figures so they know where everything is going to go and how much it’s going to be, and how much money to save, that will allow them to know what to do. Then, they get on track, so they implement the plan, and they follow it, and they keep it up to date. Being financially secure and becoming financially secure is not rocket surgery, you know. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in it. You don’t have to be a nationally recognized expert to do it, but you do have to it, but once you do it, you have to leave it alone, you have to not mess it up. And it’s the mistakes that physicians make that cause them to be standing in the OR when they’re old and gray, thinking about sitting on the beach, you know. It’s those mistakes that cause them to have to work longer than they want or have to work in an occupation that they no longer care to. You know for the young doctors who are listening to this, this comes as a fully foreign concept, you know because usually I will sit down and say, “What were you thinking about for retirement?”

“Maybe 65 or 70 would be good.” But when I sit down with these physicians I first served for 20 years, they’re now in their early 50s, I say, “When are you going to retire?”

They’re like, “Yesterday will be great.”

Josh Mettle: Right.

Ben Utley: Because there’s always going to be a change, you know whether it’s managed care, or it’s EMRs, whatever happens to be. There’s always going to be a change, and it won’t be the same. And so, I encourage them to pretend like they want to actually retire when they’re in their mid-50s which will blow a lot of people’s doors with docs coming out with a quarter million dollars of student loan debt. I’m here to tell you that it can be done, and you’ll work real hard to do it, and once you’ve got that all worked in, you sure as heck don’t want to blow it. Avoiding mistakes that physicians make is a big piece of it. Some mistakes are little. Some of them are huge. I typically see six figure mistakes in about 20 percent of the populations that I serve. That can set you back a whole year at least because that’s six figures on an after-tax basis.

Josh Mettle: That’s right.

Ben Utley: I mean you go to work, you make your money. You give about half of it to the government. If you’re in my house, you give more than half of what’s left over to your family and your kids. You give some to your retirement account, you cross your fingers with the rest of it. In my pocket, it’s about $100 a week, but you do have to avoid mistakes to be able to stay on track and actually reach your destination. The destination is building financial security that can actually last a lifetime, which is to say you invest in your kids and their college education, and that education will take care of them for the rest of their life. You save for retirement, and that’s the money you’re going to spend until you literally hit the grave. You want to make it last by avoiding mistakes.

Josh Mettle: I think there can be no better advice for physicians because as you said, you know the six figure income is a given. It doesn’t have to be rocket science. You need a basic plan and you need to follow it. I’m reminded of a client of mine who didn’t have a plan and was very high six figure wage earner and quite frankly didn’t have an advisor that was advising him like you do to avoid mistakes and ended up building a $2.8-million home in Las Vegas in 2006. Let me give you one guess as to what happened on that transaction. Not good.

Ben Utley: Gosh. I can’t even guess, Josh. What would that be?

Josh Mettle: Well, they got halfway through it and the builder went bankrupt. Then, the project was $1 million over budget by the time it was done, and as that 24 month construction program was wrapping up, the entire Las Vegas market melted down, ended up short-selling the home, devastating his credit, and he took a $1 million loss, cash loss.

Ben Utley: Right. Before we take a bat to that guy’s head about this $2.8 million debacle, you have to step back and you have to ask yourself why.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Ben Utley: Why would that, why would that mistake even be available to this guy, why did he want the $2.8-million home? Why does anybody want to live in Las Vegas to begin with, you know what I’m saying, but sorry. I’m in Oregon. It’s beautiful up here. I moved from Texas, and all I can say is I like Oregon, and I’ve been to Vegas. But you get back to it and you’re like why would somebody need a $3 million home to be happy? I mean happiness is having joy in what you do. Happiness is spending time with the people that you love. Happiness is knowing that you’re secure and that things are going to be okay, and happiness is doing your best to making a difference in the lives of others, and none of that calls for a $2.8-million house unless you just got like a thousand friends, and they all like Vegas.

Josh Mettle: Yeah.

Ben Utley: You know, I think having your values in line and kind of how you point your compass north is really crucial, and that’s not something that’s really financial advice, but I think that when you work with someone who’s grounded and centered and really knows what they’re about, that you have someone who can mirror those things back and say, “Is this something that you really want to do?”

Josh Mettle: That’s exactly right. Where I was going with that whole story was, you know, not in the least to take a bat to his head, but to really point out that with a lack of a plan and with an overwhelm of work and responsibilities to your practice, mistakes can be made, and it’s important to have someone to bounce that off, whether it’s a financial advisor, a father figure or whomever‑

Ben Utley: Somebody, a best friend you know.

Josh Mettle: Somebody.

Ben Utley: A stranger, bounce that off a stranger, they’ll tell you you’re not sane.

Josh Mettle: Yeah, the taxicab driver may have said that wasn’t the way to go.

Ben Utley: Yeah.

Josh Mettle: All right. I always know we’ve done a good interview when we’re past our time, and we still have more questions, so I’m going to wrap with this. I can’t let you go without quickly having you share with me the beliefs that you have posted on your website because you know I’m a young guy, two young children, a 4- and a 2-year-old, and each one of these beliefs just hit me right between the eyes. Would you share with me the three beliefs on your website just a real quick overview of what those are?

Ben Utley: Yeah. I would. First belief, I believe that every child has potential for greatness. To be able to learn, to grow, to reach their full potential. In order to be able to do that, their needs have to be met, some of their wants, and they have to feel like they’re safe and secure, and I think that having a financially stable home helps with that stable home anyway. That’s the first thing. It’s part of why I serve families.

The second thing is I believe money is – excuse me, I believe that life is precious, and your time is really the only real asset that you have. I mean when you leave the planet, you can’t take your money with you. We all have a limited amount of time, even though we don’t know how much it is, so it’s not really about saving time. It’s about using your time wisely. It’s about sharing it intentionally. It’s about using it to do things good in the lives of others.

And then, the last thing I believe is that money is a store of life energy. You’re going to trade your time as a physician for money, and that’s going to be time that you’re away from your family. If you treat that money poorly, that means that it’s almost like you’ve wasted timed you could have been with your family. If you treat it well, it’s like you’ve honored your family through the use of those resources. Basically I believe those three things, and all of those call for values, for process, for understanding, and for really knowing what you want to do with your money which is a call for planning, and that’s why I do what I do, that’s why I persist in the business. It is a pretty tough industry, and it’s just part of what causes me to love what I do. I feel like it’s a privilege when I wake up in the morning, and it’s an honor to serve the people that I do serve.

Josh Mettle: Ben, you’ve been gracious with your time. I appreciate you sharing your wisdom, and I love what you’re doing. If our listeners want to find out more and read your articles, how do they connect with you?

Ben Utley: A couple of ways. One is if you Google Ben Utley, B-E-N U-T-L-E-Y, and the word physician. You’ll find me pretty much in the top ten hits in any search engines you go to. If you want to go straight to the heart of things, you can hit me atwww.physicianfamily.com, P-H-Y-S-I-C-I-A-N and the word family and dot com. otherwise, you can give me a ring at (541) 463-0899. I answer my own phone. I carry my cell with me, so like I said, when I call my doctor, I want the doctor. When you call your financial advisor, you want to get me. There is no receptionist, just straight to the heart of things. Don’t be surprised if I pick up the phone on a Friday afternoon because that’s how I roll.

Josh Mettle: That’s the Texan in you coming out. Thanks again, buddy. It was a pleasure. I look forward to connecting with you soon. Truly, thank you for your time.

Ben Utley: Yeah. Thank you so much, Josh. It’s a pleasure.

Three ways to make the best of a bad (401k) situation | W. Ben Utley CFP® writes for Orthopreneur

We see the changes that physicians make to improve their financial security, but one item is usually beyond their control: their 401(k) plans. Unless you are self-employed, there is practically nothing you can do about your 401(k)’s underwhelming investment options, ridiculously low contribution limits or perverse tax consequences. If your 401(k) is your main (or maybe your only) investment vehicle for retirement, we have good news for you. It is possible to work around your 401(k) plan’s limitations, so that you can get back on track toward retirement.

Low Limits Many physicians operate under the mistaken belief that if they max out their 401(k) plan contributions, they will be set for retirement. But did you know that the maximum amount of money you can elect to defer into your 401(k) this year is only $17,500 ($23,000 if you will be age 50 or older by December 31)? That’s roughly $1,400 deducted from your paycheck each month ($1,900 per month if you are age 50 or older).

Have you ever met a physician who could live well on $1,400 a month? We haven’t. In fact, the physicians whom we serve are planning to spend more like $10,000 per month in retirement, and that’s after tax. It would take a miraculously high rate of return to turn $1,400 per month pre-tax into $10,000 per month after-tax. As you can see, many physicians are well on their way to a retirement disaster.

To improve your odds of reaching your retirement goal, you can save outside of your 401(k) plan. Even if you cannot deduct the contributions you make to a Traditional IRA, you can still contribute $5,500 this year ($6,500 if you will be age 50 or older by December 31), and if you max out your own IRA, your spouse can also contribute up to $5,500 to his or her IRA ($6,500 if he or she will be age 50 or older by December 31), even if they are not earning an income. Depending upon your tax situation, it might also make sense to convert these contributions to a Roth IRA, doing what is known as a backdoor Roth IRA contribution. Once the money is in a Roth IRA, it can grow tax-free for the rest of your life. Of course, this still might not be enough to allow you to retire comfortably, so you should consider investments outside of your 401(k) plan and IRAs.

Underwhelming Options You probably haven’t read the fine print behind your 401(k) plan, but you are betting that your practice manager has carefully vetted both your 401(k) plan provider and the investments offered inside your plan. Don’t believe it! We have found that busy managers either fail to read the fine print or lack the experience to understand what they have read. Despite new laws requiring plain English disclosures of investment-related fees, many employers continue to keep physicians locked into expensive plans with unpalatable investment options.

If your plan charges more than 50 basis points (0.50 percent) on top of mutual fund operating expenses, your plan’s costs are draining an unfair share of your retirement savings. To get this under control, you need to raise your voice, but carefully. We regularly see very expensive plans that persist simply because of office politics.

It’s more common to see an investment lineup consisting mostly, if not entirely, of actively managed mutual funds. This is a sign of ignorance on the part of your plan fiduciaries. At a time when most prudent investors recognize that passively managed index funds have been shown to have delivered better results at a lower cost than the average actively-managed fund, there’s no good reason that your plan should continue to limit you to subpar investment options.

To work around these issues, look at your retirement investments holistically. Think about your 401(k) plan, your Traditional IRAs and your after-tax accounts (mutual funds and brokerage accounts) as if they were all one retirement portfolio. Then use the least-bad investment options from your 401(k) and pair them with the best options available within other accounts that make up the balance of your portfolio.

Tax Time Bomb You already know that physicians pay more than their fair share of taxes. But did you know that you are probably setting yourself up to pay more taxes on your 401(k) than you really should? That’s right. There’s a perverse little wrinkle in the tax code that can turn your 401(k) plan into a tax time bomb.

To understand this trap, you need to know a little bit about how investments are taxed. Withdrawals from your 401(k) plan will be taxed at your marginal income tax rate, which may be as high as 39.6 percent for Federal income tax. At the same time, capital gains and qualified dividends from mutual funds held in taxable accounts outside your 401(k) plan are taxed at a maximum Federal rate of 23.8 percent (which is 20 percent plus the new 3.8 percent Medicare surtax).

This means that your 401(k) nearly doubles the tax rate you pay on capital gains and qualified income by effectively converting these tax-favored returns into tax-trapped ordinary income. Consider holding equity mutual funds in a taxable account, or better yet, own them in your Roth IRA or the Roth subaccount of your 401(k) if you have one.

If your 401(k) is a lousy place to stash your stock funds, what should you hold there instead? Consider low growth, income-producing investments, including bond funds and stable value funds. If you have an appetite for more aggressive fare, consider high yield (junk) bond funds or emerging market bond funds. Outside of your 401(k) plan, these investments may be taxed at your highest marginal rate, so it’s a good idea to protect your income by keeping it inside of the tax shelter of your 401(k) plan.

Again, the best workaround for this tax trap is to view your entire retirement portfolio, including your 401(k) plan, your IRAs and your other accounts that are earmarked for retirement, as one portfolio. Choose to own the best investments in the accounts that make the most sense from the standpoint of expense, risk, return and taxation.

Summary Even if you are stuck with a stinky 401(k) plan, you can still make the best of a bad situation. All you have to do is take a look at the big picture, think outside the box and make smart moves to put yourself on track for a solid retirement.

 

W. Ben Utley, CFP®, is an attending advisor with Physician Family Financial Advisors, a fee-only financial planning firm helping physicians throughout the U.S. to save for college and invest for retirement.

Lawrence B. Keller, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®, RHU®, LUTCF, is the founder of Physician Financial Services. Based in New York. He offers income protection and wealth accumulation strategies for physicians nationwide.

This article originally appeared in Orthopreneur with the title "Overcome 401 (k) LImitations: Three Ways to Make the Best of a Bad Situation".

Fit for a physician: 3 ways to buy your million dollar home | W. Ben Utley CFP® writes for Orthopreneur

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do anything that matters, and for many of you, owning a comfortable place that you and your family can call home matters. But this necessity often bears a hefty sticker price. The path you take to purchasing a home can affect your available assets for future investments. So, how do you go about buying, or more precisely, financing a home?

Most people have only two options, but physicians have three.

1. Pay with Cash The downside of paying cash for a home is obvious: many physicians just don’t have the capital. But there’s more to consider here.

Say you’re interested in purchasing your million dollar dream home. Plunking down $1 million in cash will tie up those resources for years, keeping you from investing for retirement or perhaps buying a practice. Paying cash is also a liquidity trap, since the only way to regain access to that cash is to sell or refinance. There’s one more thing to worry about: lawsuits. If you don’t title your home correctly, that equity makes a tasty target for anyone who sues you. Your home equity is a matter of public record in most states.

The advantages of paying in cash are that you’re “done” paying for a home and can feel secure in the decision. Also, it may be easier to close on the home, since you dodge the administrivia that goes with getting a loan.

Paying cash might be a good move if you are near the end of your career and have saved up most of the resources you’ll need for retirement, or if you can’t stomach the thought of investing while being in debt on your house.

2. Go Conventional If the Veteran’s Administration can back it or Fannie Mae can buy it, your home mortgage will bear one of the lowest rates available in the marketplace, which is the big advantage of so-called “conventional” mortgages.

For physicians, though, conventional does not mean convenient. “To get conventional financing, you have to squeeze yourself into a tiny box for the sake of underwriting, which isn’t always a good fit for doctors,” says Josh Mettle, a senior loan officer with Utah Physician Home Loans. Like everything touched by the government, strict guidelines and red tape are the norm, so some physicians—particularly those just out of residency—simply do not qualify.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to purchasing that million dollar home is the down payment. The current limit for conforming loans is $417,000 throughout much of the U.S., and up to $625,500 in pricier markets. Your down payment may run up to $583,000.

Mid-career physicians, those in the more highly-paid specialties and terribly thrifty savers who are stepping up from a less costly home, should consider conventional financing. Everyone else should keep reading.

3. Secure a Doctor Loan Back before we heard the words “new normal,” practically anyone with a pulse and a paycheck could land a seven-figure home with a low down payment and easy approval. Fortunately for physicians, that’s still the case. A special bank-based home loan program known generically as a “doctor loan” uses underwriting criteria that recognizes your earning capacity as a medical practitioner, making it easier to qualify for the loan.

If you’re a newly-minted physician, you may have been denied a loan due to insufficient earnings history. That’s a real pain if you’re trying to buy a new home and start a new job at the same time. Don’t worry, though. Some physician-centric lenders will allow you to close on your home purchase up to 90 days before your first paycheck arrives, basing their underwriting decision on your signed employment contract or offer letter.

Have student loans? Unlike conventional financing, your student loan debt will not count against you when you apply for a doctor loan. This means you’ll go into underwriting with a better debt-to-income ratio and come out qualifying for a bigger home.

How much bigger might that home be? A doctor loan with down payment as low as $50,000 can fetch you a $1 million home, according to Mettle. With decent credit, physicians can borrow up to $400,000 with zero down.

Banks do not sell these loans to the government, which means doctor loans often demand interest rates that can be 0.25 percent to 0.75 percent more than conventional loans, with slightly higher closing costs. There’s a tradeoff here, since doctor loans do not require private mortgage insurance like conventional loans do.

Whether you pay cash, go conventional or secure a doctor loan, a bigger home will have a bigger impact on your ability to invest for retirement, save for college or buy into a practice. Consider your options carefully and consult your financial advisor before you make your final move. The only thing more important than your family’s comfort today is their financial security tomorrow.

W. Ben Utley, CFP®, is the lead advisor with Physician Family Financial Advisors, a fee-only financial planning firm helping physicians throughout the U.S. to save for college and invest for retirement.

Lawrence B. Keller, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®, RHU®, LUTCF, is the founder of Physician Financial Services. Based in New York. He offers income protection and wealth accumulation strategies for physicians nationwide.

This article originally appeared in Orthopreneur with the title "Financing Matters: 3 Ways to buy your next home".