8 items to add to your 2024 financial to-do list

By Altelisha "Lisha" Taylor, MD, MPH
Published February 6, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Strengthen your 2024 finances by examining your financial picture from last year and pinpointing areas of improvement. 

  • With tax season fast approaching, now is a good time to gather the necessary documents. You can even get in touch with a tax professional to ensure efficiency. 

  • One of the most important parts of your new financial plan is to make sure you are investing in the most tax-efficient way. A good start is to update your work retirement contributions, personally contribute to your (backdoor) Roth IRA, and open up a solo 401k for any side income.

It’s the start of a new year, and perhaps you’ve set some goals—maybe you want to exercise more, eat healthier, get a promotion at your job, or spend more time with family. While these goals are commendable, upgrading your finances in the new year should also be a priority. 

Here’s a helpful financial to-do list for physicians to consider as 2024 gets underway.

1. Update your spending plan

A lot of physicians think their money problems will go away when they make more money, but that isn’t always the case. Many people who make more money end up buying more things and acquiring more debt. Try your best to avoid that by updating your spending (and saving) plan.

Has your life or your list of financial obligations changed over the past 12 months? If so, be sure to alter your spending plan to reflect the changes. You can take note of your fixed expenses and your discretionary spending: Are you spending more than you realize? Are there certain things you can cut back on? 

As you examine your spending, look at what percentage of your income is going toward building wealth. Are you investing as much as you’d like? Do you have enough set aside in savings? Are you reserving money for large expenses? Updating your spending plan (by ensuring you have limits on your spending as well as an allotment for saving and investing) is one of the first steps you can take to improve your finances.

2. Gather your tax documents 

Tax season is upon us, and if you’re like me, you may not have your documents as organized as you’d like. 

Before you became a physician, or while you were in training, your income may have been much lower and your financial situation was likely much simpler. For example, while you may have once had one income source paying an average wage, now you may be an an attending physician with multiple different income streams and investment accounts. Your tax situation, therefore, has become much more complicated. 

Start the process early and gather all of your necessary tax forms so that it is easier for you or a tax professional to process. This means thinking back to all the employed jobs you had in 2023 and ensuring you have a W2 from each. It also means thinking about any contract work or locums gigs you had and ensuring those places have given you a 1099 form. 

Lastly, take stock of any other side income you made, and gather receipts for expenses you may be able to deduct.

3. Adjust your work retirement account contributions

When I was in training, I couldn’t contribute the maximum to my work retirement accounts each year—I didn’t make as much money and needed as much cash as possible to live and make ends meet. Now that I make more money, I can afford to fully max out my contribution to the 403b account at my job.

Perhaps you’re in the same situation? Maybe you can now afford to invest more money each year in your 401k or 403b? If so, be aware of certain updates. 

The contribution limits for work retirement accounts, such as a 401k and a 403b, have changed. As of 2024, you can contribute a maximum of $23,000 into the account annually if you are under age 50 and up to $30,500 if you are over age 50. Your employer can also “match” your contributions for a total account limit of $69,000 for people under age 50 and $76,500 for people over age 50. 

Related: Retirement investing: Everything you need to know

As the contribution limits have increased from 2023, be sure to log into your work portal and adjust your paycheck deductions. Figure out what percentage of your total pay allows you to contribute the maximum to your work retirement account and input that into the system. 

For example, if you make $250,000 a year and you want to contribute the maximum of $23,000 to your 401K, then enter a contribution percentage of 9.2%. (Here is an example of the equation you can use: [23,000/250,000] x 100 = 9.2%.)

4. Invest money in your (backdoor) Roth IRA 

While it’s great to invest money in work retirement accounts, consider investing money in individual retirement accounts as well. One type of IRA that many physicians invest money through is a Roth IRA. Unlike your work retirement account, a Roth IRA is not tied to your employer, so you have many more investment options to choose from. 

Roth IRAs allow your money to grow tax free, and you can withdraw the profits tax free as well. A Roth IRA also gives you flexibility, as it allows you to withdraw your contributions at any time if an emergency were to arise or if you need the money for any reason. The only caveat is that many physicians cannot contribute directly to a Roth IRA given their high income.

Per IRS rules, anyone who makes above a certain amount (which is around $161,000 for singles and $240,000 for married couples who file jointly) cannot contribute directly to a Roth IRA. Instead, they have to make the contributions indirectly through the “backdoor” first. This involves putting money into a traditional IRA first, then moving the money into a Roth IRA afterward.  

5. Set up your automatic savings 

Whether it’s saving for a down payment on your first house, paying for your wedding, planning an international vacation, or building up an emergency fund, don’t forget to set up automatic savings.

"If you’re like me, the amount you saved last year may not have been sufficient, so you may need to increase it this year."

Lisha Taylor, MD, MPH

While saving more may be easier as an attending making six figures a year, it’s not guaranteed. You still have to be intentional about it.

You have a better chance of meeting your goals if you make these savings automatic and have them completely separate from your normal checking account. Many people keep their savings in an online high-yield savings account or money market fund at a brokerage firm so they can also earn interest on the dollars they save. You should certainly consider doing the same.

6. Consider opening a solo 401k 

If you’re one of the many doctors with additional sources of revenue from a side gig, consider investing some of this revenue in a tax-efficient way. If you have any source of self-employed 1099 income (from work as a locums doc, your status as contractor, profitable side gigs, or other ventures), then you can open a solo 401K. 

Many physicians think they can only have one retirement account with one contribution, but that isn’t true. You get only one employee contribution, but you can have different employer contributions for each business or source of side income.

Hot tip: Per the retirement account rules, you can invest around 20% of business profits into the account as an employer contribution, in addition to any contributions you make into your main job’s 401k or 403b plan as an employee contribution. 

7. Re-evaluate your debt reduction plan 

Like many physicians, you may have varying sources of debt in the form of student loans, a mortgage, credit card balances, and car loans. Instead of feeling ashamed about you balances, or avoiding addressing your debt for decades, re-evaluate your debt reduction plan—the higher the interest rate, the more having that debt can hamper your ability to build wealth. 

Can you put a little more money toward some of your debts to pay them off sooner? Can you enroll in a loan forgiveness program? There are many options available to physicians, and with our high salaries, we are in a good position to get rid of this debt sooner than we may have realized.

The most important debt to reduce is that which has an interest rate over 8%.

8. Update your estate plan

No one likes to think about the day they may pass away, but do yourself and your family a favor by at least making sure they are taken care of. Many non-physicians or physicians in training may not yet have as high of an income or as many assets contributing to their net worth, but as an attending physician, having an estate plan is essential. Make a living will, consider setting up a trust fund, and choose guardians for your children. Tell your family your healthcare wishes, update the beneficiaries on your investment accounts, and be sure you have all the necessary insurances in place. 

Even if you set this up years ago, make a habit of re-evaluating this periodically, especially if your marital status, family size, or life priorities have changed since the last time you did it. 

What this means for you 

Take advantage of the new year by checking items off your 2024 financial to-do list. Attending physicians, especially, are well-positioned to check off these items and make significant financial progress. Find some expenses to cut back on so that you can make room in your budget to save more per month. Then, adjust your contributions to investment accounts, like your 401k or 403b, given the updated contribution limits. Finally, re-evaluate your debt reduction plan and see if there are ways for you to pay down some of your debt from student loans, car loans, or credit cards even sooner.

Read Next: Investing 101: 5 steps to build passive income
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