Dentists aren’t usually business or financial gurus, and because of that they can run into a lot of problems when it comes to their finances. One of the main sources of these troubles is poor management of cash flow.
But if you don’t know what to look for, how can you know what to fix? Here are five common hurdles dentists have to clear to get their cash flow situations in order.
Corporate and income structure
Choosing the right corporate structure and income schedule for yourself and your practice is crucial, and can help solve a lot of other cash problems. Operating as an S-corporation is most ideal, because it allows a dentist to take some income in a W-2, with taxes withheld every paycheck while remaining the business’s owner.
But an accountant might recommend a sole proprietorship to minimize tax responsibilities. This can slow your retirement savings – you can’t match as frequently on income from distributions, which is 100% of your income in a sole proprietorship. You’ll lose a lot of money from failing to look at the big picture.
Dentists are naturally debt-averse, which sounds a lot better than it is. They’re likely to cut a check for a large purchase rather than financing, and when a piece of equipment costs upwards of $30,000, that could completely deplete your checking account.
It’s absolutely critical to make sure you have a baseline level of cash on hand in your accounts at all times to deal with surprise expenses, and that’s impossible if you pay for equipment and other planned expenses all at once. It may seem stressful to have debt to deal with, but it’s a lot less stressful than having a tax bill you can’t pay because of that shiny new x-ray machine.
The way you pay your taxes is intertwined with how your business is structured. Taxes are automatically pulled from your W-2 earnings in every paycheck, but not from money a dentist takes as a distribution. Practices that are run as sole proprietorships and as S-corps both need to make extra tax payments to cover the amount owed from distribution payments. But if 100% of your income in a sole proprietorship is coming from distributions, then 100% of your taxes need to be paid this way. And those bills can get big.
Since an S-corp allows you to be paid in W-2 income as well, that means that only a fraction of your income tax is your complete responsibility via quarterly tax payments. To an accountant, that may seem more complicated – after all, it’s two tax returns that need to be filed. But for the dentist, it ensures cash flow stability.
Quarterly tax payments fluctuate as your practice does. If you’re growing and the accountant doesn’t take that into consideration, it could mean that at year end, you haven’t paid enough taxes on your distribution income, and you could be hit with a surprise $80-100k payment. With the S-corp, with less of your taxes paid this way, even if there’s a surprise payment it won’t hurt nearly as much.
An established dentist, one who’s been in charge of a practice for 8-10 years, should be running at around 55-60% overhead. In my time at Four Quadrants I’ve seen practices where the overhead level is closer to 90% or even 95%. That’s just preposterous. If your overhead is that high, something is horribly wrong with the way your practice is being run.
In a million-dollar practice, for every 1% drop in your overhead, that’s around $10,000 in savings that you can take home. Paying less improves your cash flow and puts more of your money where it should be – your bank account.
Think about the decisions you make in your practice. How many involve spending $30,000? Probably around one or two a year. How many involve spending $5,000? That’s probably more like one or two a month. Each one doesn’t seem big, but they add up fast – especially if you make the wrong choice.
When you make decisions about things like smaller equipment purchases, raises to employees, or fee increases, it helps to have someone on the outside to advise you. At Four Quadrants we have a “5K Rule” for our clients – if something’s going to cost you $5,000 or more, whether in your practice or in your personal life, ask us about it. We’ll look at the big picture and help you decide if it’s worth it, if now is the right time, and if there’s a strategy to help pay for it easier.