Personal Finance Advising for Alumni: The Path to Financial Freedom
Sara Schultz, MD ’10, rang in the new year with a sign of relief — specifically, student loan relief. As in, all of it.
Sara Schultz, MD ’10
By G.K. Schatzman
For Schultz and many other alumni of Drexel University College of Medicine and its predecessor institutions, thousands of dollars of federal student loan debt have been wiped clear by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), thanks to responsive financial advice from Drexel’s executive director of financial planning, Michael R. Clancy, MBA, CFP, CLU. The PSLF program, launched in 2007 to encourage continued service in high-needs public sector work, has proven notoriously elusive as college-educated medical staff, government employees, educators and not-for-profit workers have tried to cash in on the promise after over a decade of service. According to the Department of Education1, the program “forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.”
Findings from the Government Accountability Office2 that “the PSLF program had denial rates upwards of 99%” in 2017 suggest that the keyword here is, indeed, “qualifying.” Many financial advisors, perhaps anticipating a reversal or failure of the PSLF program, pushed graduates to aggressively pay down their loans in key early career years. According to Schultz, some of her colleagues are regretting it. “I know people who graduated the same year of medical school as I did but were given bad advice from their medical school,” Schultz says. “They were told that public service loan forgiveness wouldn’t really be a thing and that they should pay their loans down aggressively. And those people obviously missed out on several hundred thousand dollars of loan forgiveness. I’m very grateful I went to Drexel and that I was given the best advice.”
When it comes to loan forgiveness, access to solid financial advice can make a six-figure difference. Fortunately, alumni from Drexel and its predecessor institutions can take advantage of the school’s financial planning services long after graduation to navigate key financial goals and challenges, from marriage and mortgages to debt and taxes. Clancy, who is a certified financial planner, offers free one-on-one consultations to help them navigate those often-choppy straits. For Schultz, Clancy has been a trusted personal contact through big financial decisions. “Physicians are not always given the same financial skills as other more corporate fields,” Schultz says. Though she remembers taking detailed notes during group financial advice sessions in medical school, she also remembers feeling overwhelmed by it all. At that stage, there were just so many things to focus on other than debt.
DRAWN TO SERVE
What drew Schultz to medical school was a combination of care and fascination for a topic she stumbled upon partway through her undergraduate study at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster: infectious disease. While all people are generally capable of attracting infectious diseases, Schultz is one of the few for whom the attraction is mutual. “When I was a junior in college, I took a course on tuberculosis, and I loved it so much that I said to the professor, ‘Man, I’m pre-med, but I wish there were doctors that only took care of people with infections,’” she recalls. Upon being informed that there are, in fact, doctors who do just that, she set her sights on medical school and infectious disease as a specialty.
Working with infectious disease has offered countless opportunities for Schultz to give back to her home city of Philadelphia, particularly around harm reduction. While at Drexel, she worked with the Streetside program from the nonprofit harm-reduction organization Prevention Point Philadelphia. “It was really my first taste of what street medicine looks like and of the infections associated with injection drug use,” she says. “I saw how a lot of patients were heavily stigmatized, and how the medical community doesn’t always treat people who use drugs with the dignity that they deserve.” That stigma compounds for patients with HIV, for which injection drug use is a risk factor.
Sara Schultz, MD ‘10, (far left) with Drexel medical student volunteers from the student-run Streetside clinic at Prevention Point in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. The team served walk-in patients with street medicine needs including wound care, hospital follow-up care, antibiotics, and linkage to care for opioid use disorder and HIV/hepatitis C.
CARING FOR A COMMUNITY
Schultz would return to Drexel, and to her work in harm reduction for HIV-positive patients and patients who use injection drugs — after her residency at Jefferson and a fellowship at Temple — this time as faculty. Today, she is a faculty member at Temple, where she directs the same infectious disease fellowship that she participated in years ago — what she calls “a dream job.”
“Both my clinical interests and my research interests are in compassionate care for people who inject drugs. How do we take care of their complex infections?” Schultz says. “We’re really learning all the time. This is all brand new stuff.”
You might argue that another one of Schultz’s interests is Philadelphia. “I’ve always been someone who is committed to Philadelphia,” she says. “I love it here. It’s my home.” It doesn’t take a Philly native to know how vital harm reduction work is in the city. Long dubbed one of the epicenters of the opioid epidemic, Philadelphia made headlines again this January in a New York Times article3 on the proliferation of xylazine (or “tranq”) in the city’s — and, to an increasing degree, the nation’s — fentanyl supply. For doctors like Schultz, that story has been developing in our city for a long time. In the end, isn’t this what Public Service Loan Forgiveness is made for: to enable us to develop our skillsets through higher education and keep giving back where it’s most needed?
“IT ALL WORKED OUT”
For Schultz, it was amid all that work in the years after graduation that the time came to focus on planning ahead financially with trustworthy help. She arranged to work with Clancy, connecting both via email and virtual appointments. “I felt it would be silly to not take advantage of this amazing resource. And then, once I got to know Mike and how receptive and how helpful he is, but also how knowledgeable, he sort of became this automatic person that I would touch base with about financial decisions.”
One part of financial planning is being able to prioritize your goals — for example, making sure you can plan to reach your benchmarks for things like home-buying and education costs while also focusing on longer-term objectives like college funding and retirement. Here, Schultz is once again grateful for Clancy’s advice. “He’s helped my husband and me meet all of our financial goals. And he’s really coached us on how to meet our goals in order.”
To those walking similar paths, Schultz suggests thinking about whether it’s time for that next step. “If you have a financial obstacle or a financial goal, I think it would be a good time to reach out,” she says. “There’s a lot of information online, but you don’t always know what applies to you. Mike is able to choose what fits your personal situation. It’s very personalized and very customizable.”
The payoff, of course, can mean financial freedom. “I always followed exactly what Mike Clancy said, and my loans were forgiven on January 1st of this year. I just feel so grateful to him, because he gave me advice and told me very specific things to do that I would not have done, and my loans would not have been forgiven,” Schultz says. “Several of my friends who graduated from Drexel also had their loans forgiven this year. I’m not the only one. We’re almost 13 years out, but it all worked out for us.”
1. U.S. Federal Student Aid Office: studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service
2. U.S. Government Accountability Office: https://www.gao.gov/blog/eligibility-public-service-loan-forgiveness- has-changed-temporarily.-heres-what-it-means-borrowers
3. “Tranq Dope: Animal Sedative Mixed With Fentanyl Brings Fresh Horror to U.S. Drug Zones,” New York Times, January 3, 2023: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/07/health/fentanyl-xylazine-drug.html
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