First off, not only am I not a financial advisor, an economist or an accountant, I have never been the poster-boy for “financial whiz.” I say this out of neither pride or shame, but for two other reasons. First, as a caveat to the reader that all of this is based on personal learned experience and therefore as limited as it is true for me. And second, because if I can do this, I think you can too.
Money is the Achilles heel of many therapists. We are averse to think about or speak aloud about it, and we come by this aversion honestly. At least in the US, we are raised and educated without a single class or course in financial planning or money management. Ask yourself, what subject have I ever learned about in life that I avoided thinking or talking about? But in the case of finances, many of us emerge into adulthood with huge blind spots about how to function in a capitalist economy and society.
In my coaching and clinical supervision with therapists, and in my talk with colleagues, I have heard some amazing examples of these blind spots. I once heard a colleague justify not charging a patient for a missed appointment because if she has to miss an appointment the patient doesn’t charge her! These statements bely an ambivalent and confused statement about money. Patients are hiring us, we aren’t hiring them. As uncomfortable as this assymmetry is, the fact is that we don’t pay patients to help us and they do pay us to help them.
I have launched into general diatribes before, but today I want to be really specific and concrete. I want to share with you one pointer I share with all my coaching clients about how to make more money and how to manage it better. I’m even going to give you a specific vendor link.
The pointer is this, if you want to make more money, take a look at the bank you’re using. Making money isn’t just about your fee or caseload, but the fees you may be paying out. (I know, some of you who’ve made it this far are already getting ready to click away, hang in there.) One of the things large banks have is large overhead. They are, for reasons too numerous and obvious, in a lot of distress these days. For example, Consumer Reports estimates that the government legislature that required them to cap their fee each time you use your debit card at 24 cents a transaction is going to cost banks 6 billion dollars in revenue lost. So to recoup their losses, they are finding other fees to levy on you that are legal.
What banks are banking on is that we’re afraid of change. And let’s face it colleagues, most of us want to find a place to “park” when it comes to money management. We want to find the fee we can set and not look at again rather than adjust it over time. We want to program our billing into computers or contract it out to services so we can not deal with it. And we don’t want to compare interest rates and fees, but rather find a bank and stick with it.
And the larger banks don’t just gouge you with fees, they use you in another way. Maybe you’ve noticed that when you do use your ATM or the bank website advertisements come up that are eerily resonant with what you spend your money on. This is because banks value your patronage for data mining purposes as well. Many of them are selling this data to big business. I am often struck by the irony that a profession which values privacy and confidentiality for our patients turns a blind eye or accepts the violation of their own financial privacy. So if nothing else, do a little research about whether your bank sells your debit transaction or other data, and if they do, move.
Since 2009 I don’t think I have set foot in a bank to do actual banking. The last time I went in the building was to have something notarized. By the same token, my deposits have become much more quick and efficient in my business, and my fees have been minor. Why is this?
It is because I use an online credit union, Digital Federal Credit Union in fact. DCU is a completely full-service credit union with the emphasis on online banking. This is not surprising since it began in 1979 as a charted credit Union for Digital Equipment Corporation. The eligibility requirements are not at all onerous, in fact your interest in social justice can make you eligible. I say this because my eligibility came from being a disability rights ally. I joined the American Association of People with Disabilities. That was it: Fifteen bucks to a great cause and I was eligible to join DCU.
As an online credit union, DCU is actually more portable than my licensure! I can move to any state, bank from any state, online. Their technology and website are in my opinion excellent. I can transfer funds easily from my account to other family members’ accounts at DCU, and interbank exchanges are almost as easy.
They have a great bill-paying feature that allows me to schedule payments electronically, either one-time or recurring. The bill-pay feature has also been a lifesaver for me when I need to dispute something with a vendor or track how much I have spent on utilities for my practice or home in a given amount of time.
And at tax time, house closing, or any other time you need financial documentation quick, DCU allows me to download check images, statements, etc. into PC files. Or if I am trying to sort my expense deductions for the year I can import the entire tax year into an Excel or other software spreadsheet to sort, locate, and calculate expenses.
But the thing about DCU that makes me go absolutely blissful is their iPad and iPhone app, because it allows me to take photos of checks and deposit them from my office, living room, wherever there is, well, the internet. No more hoarding checks to make a trip to the bank, no more waiting in lines at the bank. In fact, I often do my deposits late at night or on weekends, because banking hours aren’t really an issue.
Think about all the time you are spending, which is money you’re spending, on your banking. Do you spend 30 minutes running to the bank each week? That’s time you could see a patient. Is your income stream stuttering because you avoid depositing check until you have to? And clinically, what message(s) may you be sending your patient that you haven’t cashed their check yet? If you want to be a better therapist, get better with your money. And if you want to get better with your money, use an online credit union.
Oh, I have lots of thoughts and opinions on how to use technology to improve your therapy practice clinically and financially, maybe you want to work with me online or in person?