5 Personal Finance Tips for Nurses Fresh Out of Nursing School

If you just graduated from nursing school, personal finance is probably the last thing on your mind. You’ve burned the midnight oil memorizing medical terms that sound like a foreign language. You’ve put in rough clinical hours dealing with trying patients. You’re cramming for the NCLEX. And you’re ready to get out there and just do the job.

You might be thinking, “I went to school for a solid career, so the money will take care of itself.” Nurses do make pretty good salaries—you’re not wrong about that. In 2016, on average nurse practitioner made nearly $105,000 a year, registered nurses made more than $72,000, and practical and vocational nurses made $44,000. Demand for nurses of all stripes is growing, with the number of positions expected to increase between 16 and 31%, depending on the role, in the decade through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, a good salary doesn’t change the fact that you’re in debt and will still need to figure out your finances (and payback plan) on the road ahead. Just like patients who don’t eat well or exercise, you could damage your long-term financial well-being if you don’t tackle your student loans, stick to a budget, and develop other good money habits. And just like medical problems that go untreated, your financial situation won’t improve if you ignore it—in fact, it can get a whole lot worse. So here’s how you can get on track for financial wellness post-graduation, and enter nursing in a solid place both in your career and your wallet.

Don’t go crazy with spending just because you’re making money now

After living as a student, having a regular salary can feel like a windfall. But if you don’t watch how much cash you’re dropping, it’s easy to go into debt. All those lattes and Diet Cokes to get you through your shifts add up. Make a monthly budget to help you stay on track. Account for fixed expenses first, so you know how much is left to play with. Apps like Mint and PocketGuard make it easier to budget and avoid letting emotions rule your wallet.

Pay off credit card debt first

Getting rid of any outstanding credit card debt should be your first priority. If you don’t pay the minimum balance, your credit score will take a nosedive, making it hard to get a good rate on a mortgage or car loan. But don’t stop there. If you don’t pay the entire balance each month, you’ll be throwing away money on sky-high interest rates (the average was nearly 14% as of late 2016). If it makes sense and you have multiple outstanding credit cards, consider consolidating them with a personal loan for a lower interest rate.

Save an emergency fund

If your car breaks down or your computer goes on the fritz, how will you pay for repairs? Would you be able to make rent if you lose your job? And what if you have a medical emergency? You know first-hand how expensive those can be. Before you start investing or squirreling away for other goals, save six months’ worth of living expenses. To make it easier, set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account into savings.

Consider refinancing your student loans

Nursing students graduated with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt as of 2014. Those who went to graduate school had a median debt of $40,000 to $54,999, according to a a 2017 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. While borrowing for your education was a good investment, high monthly payments and climbing interest can be a significant hurdle. Refinancing your loans could get you a lower interest rate and make payments more manageable. SoFi members, for example, save an average of $228 a month, or $22,359 total, when they refinance.

Start planning for retirement

Fewer and fewer nurses are able to count on pensions in their golden years. It’s up to you to save for retirement, and the earlier you start, the better. If your employer matches contributions to a retirement account, such as a 401(k), max out that benefit — it’s free money.

Beyond that, calculate how much you’ll need to put away each year to live the retirement lifestyle you envision (meeting with a financial advisor can help you make those estimates). The power of compound interest means the funds you put away now will pay off in spades later. To figure out if you are on the right track for retirement, check out this retirement calculator and continue towards your financial goals.

Getting a handle on personal finance isn’t just for math majors. Investing in your financial health after nursing school can make a big difference for your future. When you take care of your financial wellness, you’ll ensure you’re out there helping people for years to come.

Taking control of your student debt could mean significant savings. Find out whether refinancing your student loans with SoFi is right for you.

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