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Does it Make Financial Sense to Become a CRNA in 2016?

| February 01, 2016
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From college undergraduates to medical professionals considering a career change, a common question I’ve heard is, “is it a financially worthwhile to become a CRNA today?” When we initially think of doctors, nurse anesthetists, and other medical professionals, we think of highly compensated positions.

But the path to a high paying position includes expensive tuition costs, lost wages while in school, and delayed higher earnings. While there isn’t a simple answer to this question, let’s dive into the financial components of becoming a CRNA, as well as the strategies for financial success as a nurse anesthetist.

How Much Will it Cost?

First, we need to understand what it takes to become a CRNA. Beyond an undergraduate college education, you will also need a Master of Science in Nursing degree, which is typically a two-year program. On average, one year of tuition can cost anywhere between $35,000 and $60,000.1

For the purpose of this example, let’s say the average is $45,000. Along with your two-year master’s degree, you’ll need to pass the certification exam, which costs about $725.2 This means you are paying close to $100,000 for higher education. On top of that, don’t forget to add on an average 5.84% student loan interest rate.3 If you take 20 years to pay off the loan, you could pay an additional $70,000 in interest.

While you’re in school, you will miss out on two years of full time income. For an average employee with a bachelor’s degree, this amounts to about $100,000 total.4 Many students incur the costs of these lost wages as student loans, since they need the money to pay their monthly living expenses while they study. This can bring the total student load debt to over $200,000.

What’s the Return on Investment?

To understand your return on investment, let’s compare the average income of a college graduate and a CRNA. On average, a college graduate’s starting salary is around $46,000.5 A CRNA early in her career can expect to make at least $110,000 and, as she gains experience, can expect to make close to $200,000.6

Taking a conservative approach, say you plan to make $110,000 per year or around $9,166 per month. After taxes (assuming a hypothetical federal tax bracket of 25%), your monthly income is around $6,875. To repay a $200,000 student loan within 20 years, your monthly payment would be around $1,400 per month. However, this still means your monthly income after your loan payment is around $5,475 — considerably higher than the average college graduate's income of $3,833 per month before taxes.

This example does not include the effect of federal/state/etc. taxes and if included may significantly affect the outcome. Your individual tax rate may differ from the example provided.

Minimizing the Cost of Debt and Taxes

The two factors that can significantly disrupt a CRNA’s wealth accumulation are debt and taxes. Luckily, there are strategies to help manage your debt and legally minimize taxes. Creating a budget, staying on top of credit card bills, and avoiding additional debt can help you pay off your debt faster, which will save you money.

There are also a variety of strategies available for reducing your adjusted gross income (AGI) and, as a result, reducing the amount of taxes you owe. Some of these strategies include claiming eligible tax credits and exemptions (such as the Education Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit), deducting eligible business expenses (if you work as a freelance CRNA), and contributing to tax-qualified retirement accounts.

Other Factors to Consider

Although tuition costs, living expenses and certification fees can quickly add up, CRNAs have a great opportunity to secure a high-paying salary in an important field. Job opportunities for CRNAs are expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade — 31% for CRNAs compared to 11% for all occupations.7

By working with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner who specializes in serving the unique needs and circumstances of CRNAs, you can develop strategies to help you build and preserve your hard-earned wealth in a tax-efficient manner. Do you have questions? Call us at 855.304.3748 or email inquiry@crnafinancialplanning.com.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

About Jeremy Stanley

Jeremy Stanley is the founder of CRNA Financial Planning®. He has been providing advice and guidance for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) for over two decades. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Jeremy has met rigorous certification and professional standards set by the CFP® Board. He is committed to adhering to the principles of integrity, objectivity, competence, fairness, confidentiality, professionalism and diligence when dealing with clients. Jeremy is also the author of the book “The Wealthy CRNA,” which lays out a foundational roadmap for CRNAs to help them plan their financial future.

Jeremy Stanley is a financial professional with and Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Private Advisor Group, a registered investment advisor. Private Advisor Group and CRNA Financial Planning® are separate entities from LPL Financial.

1. "Weighing Costs of an Online Master's in Nursing." US News.

2. "Nurse Anesthesia (CRNA): Tuition and Costs." University of Detroit Mercy.

3. "Interest Rates and Fees on Federal Stafford Loans." Advisors.

4. "College Degrees With the Highest Starting Salaries." Forbes.

5. "College Degrees With the Highest Starting Salaries." Forbes.

6. "CRNA Salaries." Anesthesia Zone.

7. "Nursing Anesthetist Careers & Salary Outlook." Nurse Journal.

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