What CRNAs Need to Know About Money Post-Graduation

Like other high-income professionals, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) face unique financial challenges when it comes to cash management, risk and accumulation.

A nurse looks at his phone as he walks outside.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As a certified registered nurse anesthetist, or CRNA, you are an independent, highly respected professional in a rewarding, advanced-level career. Your lifestyle — and finances — are unique. Your strategies for achieving your financial goals should be, too.

Here are some common things we hear from our CRNA clients when they first come to us for help:

  • “I am busy working a full-time job, which I am a professional at. I do not want to also become a professional when it comes to managing the money I make.”
  • “I do not know what to do when it comes to investing in the stock market to try to grow the money I work hard for.”
  • “I do not want to read the tax law to find what strategies pertain to my unique situation.”
  • “I am afraid I may make a mistake from not knowing what is out there financially.”
  • “I do not know if I should pay my student loans off or not.”
  • “I need help doing a backdoor Roth IRA.”
  • “I do not know how to do a Roth conversion.”
  • “I am not sure if I need disability insurance or not.”
  • “What about life insurance?”
  • “Should I do 1099 or W-2?”
  • “What should I do with my extra moonlighting income?”

To answer the questions above, we follow our “CRNA Process” to help our clients build a financial plan based on their unique situation and personal goals. Our process goes like this:

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

C – Cash management

Guidance and strategies for paying o­ff student loans, filling emergency funds and funding upcoming large expenses (buying a home, having children, starting a business, etc.) are important as you begin your financial plan. We like to do a detailed analysis on our clients’ student loans. Our typical strategy is to pay off higher-interest loans first. We are not always quick to pay off lower-interest loans if we feel we could use that money somewhere else to get a better rate of return over time, unless our client is adamant about paying them off.

For emergency funds, we recommend keeping about $20,000 to $30,000 available. We choose that number because it is enough to fix the roof, cover expenses for a few months if you lose your job or pay for most other big expenses that could pop up unexpectedly.

If you plan to have a large expense in the next one to three years, you may want to make sure that money is liquid and available, so it is probably not smart to invest that money in the stock market because of short-term volatility. Intermediate-term goals between three years and retirement will need to be liquid so you do not face penalties when you access your funds, but you may want to seek more growth here if you have the time to do so.

R – Risk management

This involves protection options for your highly paid profession and the lifestyle it provides to your family. We look at all insurance options should an injury prevent you from working or you pass away — family-first strategies.

The main types of insurance CRNAs need to be aware of are disability insurance and life insurance. To express the importance of disability insurance, I will share an example of my mother. She was rollerblading with her grandson at a roller rink, and someone ran into her and caused her to fall and break her wrist. I told this to one of our CRNA clients, and she was instantly concerned that if something like that happened to her, she would not be able to perform her job, and her family would not have the income they needed. This is why she made sure she added disability insurance to her plan.

Life insurance is a pretty simple concept: If you pass away, it will leave money to your family to replace your income so they are not burdened. If you have a family that you love, do not skimp on this; typically, term life insurance policies are very inexpensive in relation to your high income, but it can derail your family’s financial plan if you pass away without it.

N – Now!

You are young and at the peak earning years of your life. Compound growth is powerful when you can have 50-plus years of it working for you. If you invest $20,000 today, and it grows at 7.2% per year, that money will double over 10 years (rule of 72). This means in 10 years, you will have $40,000; in 20 years, you will have $80,000; in 30 years, you will have $160,000; in 40 years, you will have $320,000; and in 50 years, you will have $640,000.

You could go from $20,000 to $640,000 without adding a penny more, just by giving your investment time to grow and compound over the years. That is how you build wealth.

A – Accumulation

We look at wealth management and investment options that are suited for young professionals making a higher income. Should you do a Roth 401(k) or a traditional 401(k)? Are you 1099-reportable, and should you open a solo 401(k)? Where do you invest your money after you max out your 401(k) and IRA? Which stocks or funds should you be investing in?

These are the questions you need answers to in deciding the best way to accumulate your money over the years. We also look to implement “backdoor Roth IRAs” for many of our clients since they make too much to contribute to a Roth IRA. Roth conversions can be another fruitful strategy to grow your wealth in a more tax-efficient way for early career professionals if you have old 401(k)s or traditional IRAs.

Ultimately, we ask the CRNA professionals we meet with, “Would you rather do this financial planning on your own or get professional assistance?” When I think about putting a needle in my arm before a surgery, I do not contemplate whether I should do it myself or pay a professional. I enthusiastically seek professional guidance from a medical professional like a CRNA because I do not want to risk making a mistake that could cost me more money over time, hurt me and be counterproductive. The same goes with your financial plan.

I love the concept “Who Not How” by Dan Sullivan, and I think it applies to CRNAs. He argues that it’s not about trying to figure out how you can do everything, but rather who can do it for you. That way, you can focus on what you do best. Instead of spending 10-plus hours a week researching investments and reading the tax code, seek help from a professional and use that 10-plus hours to either pick up extra shifts and make more money than what you would pay a financial planner or “buy time” to do what you enjoy, like traveling and spending time with family and friends.

For more information on our CRNA Process, visit www.peakretirementplanning.com/crna.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Joe F. Schmitz Jr., CFP®, ChFC®
Founder and CEO, Peak Retirement Planning

As Founder and CEO of Peak Retirement Planning, Inc., Joe Schmitz Jr. has built a comprehensive retirement planning company focused on helping clients grow and preserve their wealth. Under Joe’s leadership, a team of experienced financial advisers use tax-efficient strategies, investment management, income planning and proactive health care planning to help clients feel confident in their financial future — and the legacy they leave behind. Joe has also written a book, titled I HATE TAXES. You can find Joe on YouTube, where he creates educational videos for those in or near retirement. If you would like to talk to Joe’s team, you can schedule a meeting.