Junior doctors: look after your financial health by reducing your tax bill and increasing your incomeBMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f7613 (Published 23 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7613
Costs soon mount up for junior doctors beginning their careers. Jessica Griffin looks at the expenses that newly qualified doctors can expect to incur and gives tips for staying financially healthy
The financial starting point for junior doctors is usually already one of debt resulting from student loans. In August 2013, the BMA published the results of a survey of the financial health of first year medical students.1 The survey reported that medical students had a mean debt of £16 167 by the end of the first year of medical school. The BMA predicted that the increase in fees in England could lead to an average debt of £70 000 by the time students graduate.
Junior doctors also face a number of substantial expenses early on in their careers. The table⇓ sets out the combined costs within the first four years after graduation of compulsory expenses and other costs essential for career progression in general medicine and surgery.
Before beginning a foundation year 1 post, junior doctors have to pay the General Medical Council to obtain provisional registration. This is an annual professional body fee, which increases each year. Another compulsory expense at the beginning of foundation year 1 is medical indemnity insurance, which again is an annual fee.
As they progress through foundation year 2, most juniors will begin to think about membership exams. This is not technically a compulsory expense, but for specialty training it is necessary to have full royal college membership, and so the cost of exams is essential for career progression. Also, in core medical and core surgical training, trainees must pay a compulsory fee to the Joint Royal College of Physicians’ Training Board and the Joint Committee on Surgical Training, respectively.
It is therefore essential to be aware of how costs can be reduced. Often, junior doctors are unaware that they are entitled to tax relief on certain expenses. I spoke to Mark Bryant, technical adviser at the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) tax office, for advice specific to the tax treatment of doctors.
Doctors can claim tax relief on fees paid to professional bodies, which includes fees paid to the General Medical Council and the BMA. A list of eligible professional bodies can be found on the HMRC’s website.2 It is worth remembering that retrospective claims can be made for up to four tax years.
The HMRC also advises that tax relief can be claimed on the cost of equipment purchased solely for the purpose of work, such as stethoscopes.3 However, doctors are not currently entitled to tax deductions for expenses related to continuing professional education. This includes the cost of exam fees and courses.
If you are required to travel as part of your job, usually not including travel to and from the workplace, you are entitled to have tax reimbursed on a mileage basis for the journey. The HMRC outlines an approved mileage allowance scheme detailing the amount you should be paid. This can be claimed whether you use your own vehicle or public transport.4
When considering tax, bear in mind that it is just as important to pay tax owed as it is to claim tax rebates, and junior doctors must declare to the HMRC any income they receive in addition to their salary. Most commonly this will mean declaring fees received as part of cremation services.
As well as cutting costs by claiming tax relief, there are other areas in which taxes on expenses can be reimbursed or through which extra income can be obtained.
Many junior doctors are required to relocate as part of their training. The NHS policy for reimbursement of relocation expenses is not always well publicised to junior doctors, but a maximum of £8000 can be reimbursed as a tax-free allowance. This is cumulative from foundation year 1 to the certificate of completion of training. For example, if you relocate more than once during this time the total tax-free allowance would still be £8000. Examples of expenses that can be reimbursed include stamp duty, solicitor fees, agency fees (for rental properties), furniture removal fees, and travel and sustenance expenses incurred during the search for a property.5
Although the HMRC does not allow tax deductions for attending courses, your local trust will be able to advise you on the amount of your entitlement to a study budget. Do not miss out on this, and always inquire within plenty of time, as many hospitals will not allow retrospective claims.
Another potential source of income is the submission of work for consideration of an award, many of which have prize money attached. This can vary in amount from around £150 to £300. As well as the financial benefit, being awarded a prize also gives considerable CV points. There are many awards available for junior doctors. Searching for these on royal college websites is a good start, and you can also ask about local trust or regional award schemes.
Locum work is another way to increase your income. Ask within your local trust for more information about opportunities for working as a locum doctor. It is, however, worth balancing up the benefits of this with the impact the extra hours at work will have on your life. For example, it is hardly cost effective to pay to re-sit an exam that you failed because you were working as a locum and could not revise.
Competing interests: I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.