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How to Apply for Student Loans

College students often use a combination of funding including grants, scholarships, student loans, and savings to pay for their college education. Scholarships and grants are helpful because they typically don’t have to be repaid. But in many cases, students rely on borrowed funds to help pay for some college costs.

Student borrowers have two major options available to them — private and federal student loans. While both types can be used by students to help pay for college there are big differences in how a student will apply for them. Continue reading for more details on the differences between private and federal student loans and their application process.

Federal Student Loans vs Private Student Loans

Federal student loans are provided by the federal government. Private student loans are issued by institutions such as banks, some schools, and other private lenders. In order to make an educated borrowing decision it’s important to understand the major differences between federal vs private student loans. These differences include:

Repayment Terms

Federal student loans have a standardized set of repayment options. Borrowers can choose any of the federal plans and can adjust their repayment plan at any time without incurring any costs by contacting their loan servicer.
These repayments include income-driven repayment options which aim to make repaying student loans more affordable by linking monthly payments to your income.

The repayment terms on private student loans are set by the lender at the time the loan is borrowed. Some lenders may offer flexible repayment terms, but they are not required to do so. Thoroughly review the loan terms before borrowing.

Interest Rates

All federal student loans have fixed interest rates, which are determined annually by Congress.

Private student loans may have either fixed or variable interest rates. With variable rates, the starting rate depends on factors such as your credit score, income, and employment history, and it can change as the economy fluctuates. Lenders determine the interest rate on a loan based on reviewing borrower information such as income, credit history and score, among other factors.

In-School Deferment Options

Your choice between federal and private student loans may also determine when you start paying back your loans.

If you have a federal student loan, you generally aren’t required to start making payments until you graduate, leave college altogether, or reduce your course load below half-time. Many federal loans offer a six-month grace period after you leave school or cut back to below half-time, meaning you don’t have to make student loan payments during this time.

Certain private lenders allow you to wait to make payments on your private student loans just as you would with federal loans, but others require you to start paying them while you’re still in school full-time. This varies depending on the lender, so it’s important to check the specifics before taking out a loan.

Which Type of Student Loan Should You Apply for First?

Federal student loans tend to be more flexible in regards to repayment options and loan forgiveness, and sometimes offer lower interest rates than private student loans. Because private loans are awarded based on borrower criteria including credit history, undergraduate students with limited credit history may need to add a cosigner to strengthen their chances of being approved for a private student loan.

Generally speaking, federal loans are prioritized over private student loans. But, in situations where borrowers have exhausted their federal borrowing options, private student loans can help fill financing gaps.

How Does the Application Process Differ Between Federal and Private Student Loans?

We’ll dive into an overview of how to apply for student loans, broken down by federal and private loans. But you should know that there are two main differences in the processes: where to apply and when to apply.

Federal Student Loan Deadlines

For federal student loans, you’ll fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA®. You will need to fill out the FAFSA each year you are in school.

When it comes to timing, there are important FAFSA deadlines set by the state and sometimes your individual college. Some states offer aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so procrastinating may not be in your best interest. Jumping on the FAFSA® early could make a difference in how much aid you receive.

Private Student Loan Deadlines

To apply for a private student loan, you’ll fill out an application directly with an individual lender. While private student loans are known for being more stringent with their terms and requirements, they can actually be more flexible when it comes to application timing. There’s no universal private student loan deadline. That’s one reason you may prefer to apply for federal student loans before private ones—to see how much federal financial aid you receive first, then, if needed, you can fill in the gaps with private loans.

Applying for Federal Student Loans

To apply for federal student loans, the first step is to fill out the FAFSA.

Filling out the FAFSA

You can fill out the FAFSA online at the Student Aid website. You can list up to 10 colleges on your FAFSA® form. If you want to list more than 10, you just have to follow a couple extra steps.

The FAFSA form will ask for personal and financial information about the student and their parents (if the student is a dependent). These questions cover your age, marital status, level of degree you’re acquiring, military status, and your own dependents.

You’ll provide necessary financial information. This includes your federal income tax returns and tax documents (and/or your parents’ returns and documents, if you’re considered a dependent). This may sound like a lot of work, but the website makes it relatively easy. It includes an IRS Data Retrieval Tool, and once you enter the relevant information, it should be able to pull up you and/or your parents’ tax return(s).

Just a heads up — you won’t submit the most recent tax return. For example, if you’re applying for aid for the 2022-2023 school year, you’ll attach 2020 tax returns.

If you have any untaxed income from that particular calendar year (the year 2020 from our example), you’ll need to provide records for those earnings. If you’re a dependent, this could include your parents’ income, including sources like child support or disability benefits.

Last but not least, you and/or your parents will provide bank statements. These statements should be current at the time you fill out the application, not from the year of the tax documents and untaxed income reports you submitted.

Recommended: SoFi’s FAFSA Guide

Completing FAFSA Follow-up Steps

After receiving your Student Aid Report, you may want to double-check with the schools you listed on the FAFSA® to make sure they received your information, and to ask if they need you to fill out any more documents. Some schools require different documents, so it may be beneficial to contact each one.

Once a school has processed your information, you’ll receive an award letter from the institution that officially reports how much aid you’ll be receiving. Colleges differ in how long they wait to send out award letters, so if you’re feeling antsy, you can call to inquire about their reward deadline.

Now for a huge follow-up step: applying for private student loans if scholarships, grants, and federal loans don’t cover everything.

Types of Federal Student Loans

There are four types of federal student loans: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans for graduate and professional students, and Direct PLUS Loans for parents.

Direct Subsidized vs Unsubsidized Loans

Direct Subsidized Loans are available for undergraduate students. These loans are for students in financial need, and you don’t have to pay the interest until six months after you’ve graduated, left school, or dropped below half-time enrollment. These six months are referred to as the “grace period.” Interest will still accrue while you’re in school, but the government covers interest while you’re enrolled and during the grace period.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are also for undergraduate students, but they aren’t disbursed based on your financial situation. The government doesn’t cover the cost of interest while you’re in school, so interest will accumulate throughout your time in college. You have the option to pay off the interest while you’re still a student, or you can wait until you start repaying your loans after the grace period—just keep in mind that unlike with Subsidized Loans, you’re responsible for paying the interest from this time period, not the government.

Direct PLUS Loans

The third type of federal student loan is a Direct PLUS Loan for graduate or professional students. The student takes out the loan, which is unsubsidized.

The fourth type is the Direct PLUS Loan for parents. This loan is for the parents of undergraduate students, so the parents would apply for and are held responsible for paying back the loan. Parent PLUS Loans are also unsubsidized.

Direct PLUS Loans require a credit check, unlike Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans.

Applying for Private Student Loans

As mentioned above, you can typically apply for private student loans directly on the lenders’ websites. If you’re having trouble deciding where to apply for private loans but have already narrowed down your top schools, you can contact those institutions. Some colleges have “preferred lender” lists.

However, you aren’t necessarily bound by those lender lists. You may still want to research private student loans to find the right interest rates, interest rate types (fixed or variable), payment schedules, and included fees for your specific needs. Remember, private student loans tend to vary in their terms, so a little research can’t hurt.

Lender Requirements

Make sure you meet the requirements to receive a private student loan. For example, will you be enrolled in school at least half-time?

You should also make sure you’re attending a school that’s eligible for private student loans. If you’re attending a community college or trade school, you may or may not be able to receive a private loan.

Keep in mind that private student loan lenders tend to check things like your credit, income, and job history when you apply. This step will affect everyone differently, but if you’re fresh out of high school, this step could throw you for a loop. What if you’ve never had a job? What if you didn’t even know credit scores were a thing before this moment?

Considering a Cosigner

One thing that may help in this predicament is finding a student loan cosigner.

Your options for a cosigner are fairly flexible, but many borrowers choose someone they trust, such as a parent, close relative, or trusted friend.

Cosigners can also come in handy if you aren’t a U.S. citizen. Maybe someone from your host family or study abroad program can cosign for you.

Still, it may be possible to get a private loan without a cosigner if you have low credit and/or income. Just be prepared to possibly pay more in interest!

Other Ways to Finance Your Education

Yes, federal and private student loans are tools for receiving money to pay for college. But they aren’t the only options! Remember, you can always apply for scholarships and grants.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships are “gift aid”, which means they don’t usually need to be repaid, and are typically merit-based. You can search for scholarships based on skill, such as academic, athletic, or music scholarships.

There are also scholarships available for people of certain demographics, such as ones for minorities or for women. You could even find scholarships for people of a certain religion/denomination or for those who’ve engaged in community service.

Grants are gift aid awarded based on your financial need. Some grants are provided by the government (state or federal), while others may be offered by your school or a private company.

Work-Study Program

The federal work-study program awards students with financial need the option to work part-time jobs to help pay for college. If you are interested in participating in the work-study program, you can indicate your interest when you fill out the FAFSA.

If you do not qualify for work-study, you may consider getting a part-time job.

The Takeaway

To apply for a federal student loan, and other forms of federal financial aid, students will fill out the FAFSA annually. STudents interested in private student loans will fill out applications directly with private lenders.

Private student loans can be a tool when all other forms of aid have been exhausted. But if scholarships, grants, and federal student loans don’t cover your cost of attendance, finding a suitable private student loan could be the final step to supplementing your education costs. SoFi offers fee-free private student loans with competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers. Plus, SoFi members can access even more benefits like career coaching.

Ready to get started? SoFi offers private undergraduate, graduate, parent student loans, and student loan refinancing with flexible repayment options.

Ready to get started? SoFi offers private undergraduate, graduate, parent student loans, and student loan refinancing with flexible repayment options.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Budgeting for New Nurses

Budgeting as a New Nurse

The member’s experience below is not a typical member representation. While their story is extraordinary and inspirational, not all members should expect the same results.

When Jennifer S. clocked in on her first day of work as a nurse at a major hospital in the South, she remembers thinking, “I’ve got this.” And she did. Nursing school had prepared her well for working in the emergency room.

She felt less confident about navigating her finances, however. Jennifer had to figure out how to balance her living expenses and long-term goals with $40,000 in nursing student loans—while earning $25 an hour.

She cooked meals at home and kept her expenses low. Jennifer also created a monthly nursing budget to help organize her finances. “I saw that I should start saving a little extra during the second half of the month, when I usually had leftover money, in case I needed it for the next month’s bills,” she says.

In addition, Jennifer discovered ways she could make extra money. Consider this nursing budget example: She switched to overnight shifts making an additional $7,000 a year. When a hurricane hit her state, she worked around the clock at the hospital for a week—and earned roughly $6,000, which she put toward a down payment on a home. The hospital paid her an extra $14 per hour during the early days of the pandemic. And she routinely picked up per diem and travel assignments.

Why You Need a Nursing Budget

It’s an interesting time to be a nurse. On one hand, staffing shortages and burnout worsened during the pandemic. The rising cost of higher education, including how to pay for nursing school, has resulted in a growing number of students graduating with debt. According to the latest figures from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), roughly 70% of nurses take out loans to pay for school, and the median student loan debt is between $40,000 and $55,000.

On the plus side, nurses have some leverage. The profession is in such high demand right now that some hospitals are offering incentives like sign-on bonuses, relocation costs, and student loan repayments.

And in general, nurses can earn a good salary. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for a registered nurse in 2021 is $77,600. The median income for a licensed practical nurse or licensed vocational nurse is $48,070. The median income for a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner– fields that typically require a master’s degree–is $123,780 per year. Nurses who are willing and able to take on additional shifts, work overnight, or accept lucrative travel assignments stand to make even more.

If you’re a new nurse who is figuring out your finances, a nursing budget is a good place to start. But there are other steps to take as well. Here’s how to make the most of the money you earn to achieve your financial goals.

Recommended: Budgeting as a New Doctor

Watch Your Spending

With different ways to supplement your income as a nurse, it can be easy to give in to overspending. “When I was doing travel assignments, I just kept working,” Jennifer says. “At the time, I didn’t realize it would stop, so I didn’t think to save as much as I could have.”

In fact, lifestyle creep can be a common pitfall, especially when you start earning more money, says Brian Walsh, CFP, senior manager, financial planning for SoFi. Spending more on nonessentials as your income rises can potentially wreak havoc on your savings goals and financial health. That’s why budgeting for nurses is so important.

While you’re starting to establish your spending habits, Walsh recommends using cash or a debit card for purchases. Automate your finances whenever possible by doing things like pre-scheduling bill payments.

Develop Your Savings Strategy

A sound savings plan can help you make progress toward your short- and long-term goals and provide a sense of security. Walsh suggests nurses set aside 20% of their income for retirement and other savings, like building up an emergency fund that can cover three to six months’ worth of your total living expenses. He recommends placing it in an easy-to-access vehicle, like money market funds, short-term bonds, CDs, or a high-yield savings account. The remaining 80% of your income should go toward lifestyle expenses, including monthly student loan payments.

Jennifer found success by adopting a set-it-and-forget-it approach to saving. “Whenever I worked a per diem shift, I got in the habit of putting $100 or $200 of every check into a savings account,” she says. Before long, she had a decent-sized nest egg and peace of mind.

Explore Different Investments

One simple way to build up savings is to contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan, if one is available to you, and tap into a matching funds program. There’s a limit to how much you can contribute annually to one of these plans. In 2022, the amount is $20,500; if you’re 50 or older, you can contribute up to an additional $6,500, for a total of $27,000.

If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, there are other ways to save for the future. “Start by figuring out what your targeted savings goal is,” Walsh says. If you’re going to save a few thousand dollars, you can consider a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. Both can offer tax advantages.

Contributions made to a traditional IRA are tax-deductible, and no taxes are due until you withdraw the money. Contributions to a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars; your money grows tax-free and you don’t pay taxes when you withdraw the funds. However, there are limits on how much you can contribute each year and on your income.

But ideally, Walsh says, you’re saving more than a few thousand dollars for retirement. If that’s the case, then a Simplified Employee Pension IRA (SEP IRA) may be worth considering. “Depending on how your employment status is set up, a SEP IRA could be a very good vehicle because the total contributions can be just like they are with an employer-sponsored plan, but you control how much to contribute, up to a limit,” he says. What’s more, contributions are tax-deductible, and you won’t pay taxes on growth until you withdraw the money when you retire.

Another option is a health savings account (HSA), which may be available if you have a high deductible health plan. HSAs provide a triple tax benefit: contributions reduce taxable income, earnings are tax-free, and money used for qualified medical expenses is also tax-free.

Depending on your financial goals, you may also want to consider after-tax brokerage accounts. They offer no tax benefits but give you the flexibility to withdraw money at any time without being taxed or penalized.

Recommended: Exploring Different Types of Investments

Take Control of Your Student Loans

Chances are, you have different priorities competing for a piece of your paycheck, and nursing school loans are one of them. You may need to start repaying loans six months after graduation, and options vary based on the type of loan you have.

If you have federal loans and need extra help making payments, for example, you can look into a loan forgiveness program or an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, which can lower monthly payments for eligible borrowers based on their income and household size. If you’re struggling to make payments, you may qualify for a student loan deferment or a forbearance. Both options temporarily suspend your payments, but interest will continue to accrue and add to your total balance.

You should also be aware that the Biden administration’s new federal student loan forgiveness plan extends the pause on federal loan payments through December 31, 2022. In addition, the program cancels up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals who make less than $125,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples) and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients who qualify.

Chipping away at a student loan debt can feel overwhelming. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a couple of different approaches you may want to consider. With the avalanche approach, you prioritize debt repayment based on interest rate, from highest to lowest. With the snowball approach, you pay off the smallest balance first and then work your way up to the highest balance.

While both have their benefits, Walsh says he often sees greater success with the snowball approach. “Most people should start with paying off the smallest balance first because then they’ll see progress, and progress leads to persistence,” he explains. But, he adds, the right approach is the one you can stick with.

Consider Whether Student Loan Refinancing Is Right For You

When you refinance, a private lender pays off your existing loans and issues you a new loan. This combines all of your loans into a single monthly bill, potentially reduces your monthly payments, and may give you a chance to lock in a lower interest rate than you’re currently paying. A quarter of a percentage point difference in an interest rate could translate into meaningful savings if you have a big loan balance, Walsh points out.

Still, refinancing your student loans may not be right for everyone. By choosing to refinance federal student loans, you could lose access to benefits and protections, like the current pause on payment and interest or federal loan forgiveness plans. Be sure to weigh all the options and decide what makes sense for you.

The Takeaway

Nursing can be a rewarding career, with flexibility and opportunities to add to your income. However, as a new nurse, you are likely trying to stretch your paycheck to cover student loan debt and everyday expenses. Fortunately, by using a few smart strategies, you can start to pay down your loans—and save for the future.

If refinancing your student loans is one of the strategies you’re considering, SoFi can help. When you refinance with SoFi, you get benefits like flexible terms. And with our medical professional refinancing, you may be able to qualify for special low rates for nurses.

Find out more about SoFi’s medical professional school refinancing for nurses and other healthcare workers today.


Photo credit: iStock/FatCamera
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Budgeting for Residents

Budgeting as a New Resident

The member’s experience below is not a typical member representation. While their story is extraordinary and inspirational, not all members should expect the same results.

As a resident, Dr. Saira Z. worked in one of the most expensive places in the country—the New York City area. Besides managing the high cost of living on a residency budget, Saira was also paying back loans from medical school.

Figuring out how to stretch her $65,000 a year medical resident’s salary wasn’t easy, even after she got married. She and her husband tried to be as frugal as possible. When they took stock of their spending, however, they found places to cut back.

The couple drew up a budget to help them stay the course through Saira’s three-year residency and when her medical fellowship salary dipped. It also allowed them to set good habits that still serve them well. Saira and her husband are now expecting twins, and she’ll be joining a private practice on the East Coast.

As Saira learned, residency can test your finances. While you’re finally drawing an income—the average annual salary of a first-year resident is around $60,000, according to 2021 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges—a residency budget needs to cover a lot. Your medical school finances likely include considerable student loan debt. The median medical school debt for the class of 2021 is $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which doesn’t include undergraduate student loans, credit card balances or other debt.

Having a financial plan is a way to make the most of your income and set up for the future. These tips for budgeting for residents may help you get started.

Identify Your Biggest Budget Busters

A budget can serve a variety of purposes. It can help you make progress toward your savings goals, adopt healthier spending habits, and pay down debt. It can even allow you to spot the biggest drains on your money so you can look for ways to curb spending.

For Saira and her husband, meals out with friends were a top budget buster. But they had no idea that was the case until they reviewed their finances. “You don’t realize eating out is such a huge expense until after the fact,” Saira says. As a result, the couple decided to temporarily stop going to restaurants, which allowed them to put that money into their savings.

Build Your Financial Foundation

Budgeting for medical residents should include working on your financial foundation, says Brian Walsh, CFP, senior manager, financial planning for SoFi. “These foundational pieces are so critical to establish,” Walsh says. “Then, once you get that big paycheck, it will be much easier to sock away 25% or more of your income toward retirement.”

Here are a few steps he recommends:

•  Pay off “bad debt.” Walsh defines “bad debt” as anything that accelerates consumption and comes with a high interest rate (such as credit cards).

•  Build up an emergency fund. This stash of cash should cover three to six months’ worth of your total living expenses and be placed in an easy-to-access place, like money market funds, short-term bonds, CDs or a high-yield savings account.

•  Protect your income. There are two types of protection you may want to consider. Disability insurance covers a portion of your income in the event you’re unable to work due to an injury or illness. Monthly premium amounts vary, but generally, the younger and healthier you are, the less expensive the policy. You may also want to consider purchasing a life insurance policy if other people depend on your income.

Recommended: Short Term vs. Long Term Disability Insurance

Start Saving for the Future

Next, Walsh suggests putting any leftover funds into retirement. Over time, as your emergency fund grows and “bad debt” diminishes, you’ll be able to put more money into retirement.

One simple way to build up savings now is to contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan, if one is available, and tap into any matching funds program. There’s a limit to how much you can contribute annually to either plan. In 2022, the amount is $20,500; if you’re 50 or older, you can contribute up to an additional $6,500, for a total of $27,000.

There are other investment vehicles Walsh suggests exploring if you have additional money to save, don’t have access to a 401(k) or 403(b), or simply prefer to have more control over your money. These include an individual retirement account (IRA), such as a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, both of which can offer tax advantages.

Contributions made to a traditional IRA are tax deductible, and no taxes are due until you withdraw the money. Contributions to a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars; your money grows tax-free and you don’t pay taxes when you withdraw the funds. However, there are limits on how much you can contribute each year and on your income.

Another option is a health savings account (HSA), which may be available if you have a high deductible health plan. HSAs provide a triple tax benefit: Contributions reduce taxable income, earnings are tax-free, and money used for qualified medical expenses is also tax-free.

Recommended: Budgeting as a New Doctor

Come Up With a Plan to Pay Student Loan Debt

As a resident, you have several priorities competing for a piece of your paycheck: lifestyle expenses, long-term savings goals, and medical student loan debt. Loan repayment typically starts six months after graduation, and options vary based on the type of loan you have.

If you have federal loans and need extra help making payments, for example, you can explore a loan forgiveness program or an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, which can lower monthly payments for eligible borrowers based on their income and household size. You also have the option to postpone payments during residency, but the interest will continue to accrue and add to your total balance.

Additionally, the Biden administration’s new federal student loan forgiveness plan extends the pause on federal loan payments through December 31, 2022. The program also cancels up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those who make less than $125,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples) and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients who qualify.

Your medical student loan debt may feel overwhelming, but there are a couple of ways to consider tackling it. With the avalanche approach, you prioritize debt repayment based on interest rate, from highest to lowest. With the snowball approach, you pay off the smallest balance first and then work your way up to the highest balance.

While the right approach is the one you’ll stick with, Walsh often sees greater success with the snowball approach. “Most people should start with paying off the smallest balance first because then they’ll see progress, and progress leads to persistence,” he says.

Find Out If Refinancing Is Right for You

You may want to consider refinancing your student loans as part of your repayment strategy. When you refinance, your existing loans are paid off and you get one new loan. You may be able to get a lower interest rate, which could potentially reduce your monthly payments. Some lenders, including SoFi, also provide benefits for residents and other medical professionals.

Though the refinancing process is fairly straightforward, “People overestimate the amount of work it takes to refinance and underestimate the benefits,” Wash says. A quarter of a percentage point difference in an interest rate might seem small, but if you have a big loan balance, it could save you quite a bit.

However, refinancing may not be right for everyone. By refinancing federal student loans, you could lose access to benefits and protections, such as the current pause on payment and interest or federal loan forgiveness plans. Your best bet is to weigh all of your options and decide what makes the most sense for your situation.

The Takeaway

After years of medical school, you’re finally starting to make some money. But you also likely have a lot of student loan debt that you need to start paying back during your residency. Having a solid plan for repaying your loans, and using a few key strategies to start saving money for your future, can help position you for long-term financial success.

If part of that plan includes refinancing your student loans, SoFi can help. With our medical professional refinancing, you may be able to qualify for special rates of 2.49 – 8.24% APR if you have a loan balance of more than $150,000.

You can also reduce your monthly payments to as low as $100 during residency and fellowship, for up to four years.

Find out more about medical loan refinancing with SoFi.


Photo credit: iStock/Andrei Orlov
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Budgeting as a New Dentist

Budgeting as a New Dentist

The member’s experience below is not a typical member representation. While their story is extraordinary and inspirational, not all members should expect the same results.

If you’re a new dentist, you have plenty of reasons to smile about your profession. You can start practicing soon after completing dental school, and you stand to earn a healthy salary right off the bat. The average entry-level dentist earns $122,232 a year, according to data from PayScale, and the median wage for all dentists in the U.S. is $163,220.

At the same time, you also need to figure out how to pay for dental school, and that includes paying off your student loans. According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), only 17% of 2021 dental school graduates reported having no student loan debt. Those who do have loans are likely to owe a lot. New dentists in 2021 have an average student loan debt of $301,583. By comparison, the median debt for new doctors in 2021 is $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. That’s where budgeting for dentists comes into the equation.

How Budgeting Helps

Starting a career with a six-figure loan debt may feel overwhelming, but budgeting for dentists can help. In fact, now is an ideal time to establish your saving and investing strategies, says Brian Walsh, CFP, senior manager, financial planning for SoFi. “When you’re right out of school and your lifestyle is already lean, you can more easily build a pay-yourself-first mentality without making any drastic adjustments,” he explains. “It’s significantly easier to do it at this point instead of when you have a house, a car, and a family and then need to start making cuts.”

Here are some strategies to help you create your budget and plan for the future.

Protect Your Income

With its repetitive motions and constrained work area, dentistry can be physically taxing work, especially on the back and joints. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dentists have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled. To mitigate your risk, you may want to consider disability insurance, which covers a percentage of your income if you become unable to work due to an illness or injury.

If you purchased a policy during dental school, you have the option to increase your coverage now that you’re making more. If you don’t have a policy, you can buy one as part of a group plan or as an individual. Find out if your employer offers it as part of your benefits package; some do. Monthly premium amounts vary, but in general, the younger and healthier you are, the cheaper the policy.

Recommended: Budgeting as a New Doctor

Don’t Overspend

Dropping a bundle on meals out? Clicking “add to cart” more frequently? Enjoy your hard-earned income, but don’t go overboard on splurges.

To help focus on where you put your money, consider prioritizing your financial goals—saving for a home, for example, or paying off your debt. This is an important strategy in budgeting for dentists. Walsh also recommends that early-career professionals use cash or debit cards for purchases to build up good spending habits, and automate their finances whenever possible. For example, pre-schedule your bill payments and set up automatic contributions to your retirement account.

Kick-Start a Savings Plan

Tackling student loans is likely a top priority for you right now, but just as important is creating a savings plan.

Walsh recommends early-career dentists set aside 30% of their income for savings. Of that, 25% should be for retirement and 5% for other savings, like building an emergency fund that can tide you over for three to six months. The remaining 70% of your income should go toward expenses, including monthly dental school loan payments.

The sooner you start saving and investing, the sooner you can enjoy compound growth, which is when your money grows faster over time. That’s because the interest you earn on what you save or invest increases your principal, which earns you even more interest.

You may even want to consider buying a dental practice at some point, so that’s another reason budgeting for dentists makes sense.

Explore Different Ways to Invest

As a high earner, you may need to do more with your money than max out your 401(k) or 403(b), though you should do that, too. Walsh suggests new dentists leverage a combination of different investments. This strategy, called diversification, can help shield you from risk. Here are some types of investments to consider:

•  A health savings account (HSA), which provides a triple tax benefit. Contributions reduce taxable income, earnings are tax-free, and money used for medical expenses is also tax-free.

•  An individual retirement account (IRA), like a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, can offer tax advantages. Contributions made to a traditional IRA are tax deductible, and no taxes are due until you withdraw the money. Contributions to a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars; your money grows tax-free and you don’t pay taxes when you withdraw the funds. However, there are limits on how much you can contribute each year and on your income.

•  A Simplified Employee Pension IRA (SEP IRA) can be a good option if you’re a solo practitioner. “Total contributions can be just like those with an employer-sponsored plan, but you control how much to contribute, up to a limit,” Walsh says. Contributions are tax-deductible, and you don’t pay taxes on growth until you withdraw the money when you retire.

•  After-tax brokerage accounts offer no tax benefits but give you the flexibility to withdraw money at any time without being taxed or penalized.

Two investments to consider bypassing are variable annuities and whole life insurance. Neither is a suitable way to build wealth, Walsh says.

Whatever your strategy, keep in mind that there may be fees associated with investing in certain funds. Those can add up over time, Walsh points out.

Determine a Student Loan Repayment Strategy

New dentists have a reputation for repaying their debt in a timely manner, according to the ADEA. And because they tend to start earning money more quickly than other health care professionals, they’re often better positioned to tackle loan repayments more aggressively.

But your repayment strategy will depend on a number of factors. To start, consider the types of student loans you have. Federal loans have safety nets you can explore, like loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, which can lower monthly payments for eligible borrowers based on their income and household size.

In addition, the Biden administration’s new federal student loan forgiveness plan cancels up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals who make less than $125,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples) and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients who qualify. The plan also extended the pause on federal student loan repayments through December 31, 2022.

Once you’ve assessed the programs and plans you’re eligible for, figure out your goals for your loans. Do you need to keep monthly payments low, even if that means paying more in interest over time? Or are you able to make higher monthly payments now so that you pay less in the long run?

There are two approaches to paying down debt. With the avalanche approach, you prioritize debt repayment based on interest rate, from highest to lowest. With the snowball methos approach, you pay off the smallest balance first and work your way up to the highest balance.

While both have their benefits, Walsh often sees greater success with the snowball approach. “Most people should start with paying off the smallest balance first because then they’ll see progress, and progress leads to persistence,” he says. But, as he points out, the right approach is the one you’ll stick with.

Consider Your Refinancing Options

Paying down debt has long-term benefits, like lowering your debt-to-income ratio and boosting your credit score. In order to help do this, you may want to include refinancing your student loans in your student loan repayment strategy.

When you refinance, a private lender pays off your existing loans and issues you a new loan. This gives you a chance to lock in a lower interest rate than you’re currently paying and combine all of your loans into a single monthly bill, which can be easier to manage. Some lenders, including SoFi, also provide benefits for new dentists.

The refinancing process is straightforward, yet some common misconceptions persist, Walsh says. “People overestimate the amount of work it takes to refinance and underestimate the benefits,” he says. A quarter of a percentage point difference in an interest rate may seem inconsequential, for instance, but if you have a big loan balance, it could save you thousands of dollars.

That said, refinancing may not be right for everyone. If you refinance federal student loans, for instance, you may lose access to benefits and protections, like the current pause on payment and federal repayment and forgiveness plans. Consider all your options and decide what makes sense for you and your financial goals.

The Takeaway

Dentistry can be a rewarding career with the potential to earn a healthy salary right from the start. However, you’re likely to have a significant loan debt when you graduate from dental school. Fortunately, balancing your goals with some smart saving, investing, and loan repayment strategies can help you get your finances on firm footing.

If refinancing your student loans is one of the financial strategies you’re considering, SoFi can help. With our medical professional refinancing, you may qualify for special rates of 2.49 – 8.24% APR if you have a loan balance of more than $150,000.

Learn more about SoFi’s dental school loan refinancing and lock in your rate.


Photo credit: iStock/5second
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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What Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness Means for Your Taxes

What Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Means for Your Taxes

President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $10K or $20K of a borrower’s federal student loan debt may have tax implications at the state level. Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, virtually all student loans forgiven in the years 2021 through 2025 are excluded from federal income taxation.

State tax forgiveness is another matter, however. States are not prohibited from imposing and collecting taxes on federally forgiven loans. Read on to learn the tax implications that residents of Arkansas, California, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin may face.

Tax Implications by State

Most states have no plans to tax Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit policy group. But at least eight states may consider federal student loan forgiveness to be taxable: Arkansas, California, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Taxpayers in these states may have to pay hundreds of dollars more in state income tax if they receive thousands of dollars in federal student debt relief.

The Biden administration’s forgiveness plan would provide up to $10K in debt relief to federal student loan borrowers with annual incomes below $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples). Some borrowers may qualify for $20K in debt forgiveness if they’re Pell Grant recipients who fall below the income cap.

Here’s more information about the states that may tax debt forgiveness:

Arkansas

Arkansas does not automatically follow federal tax code changes. This means Arkansas may collect taxes on federally forgiven student loans.

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration in a local news report suggested the state is reviewing whether Biden’s debt relief plan carries statewide income tax implications.

California

California does not conform to the student loan forgiveness provisions under the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, according to the Tax Foundation. That means Californians who receive $10K or $20K of debt relief from the Biden plan may have to pay state taxes on the amount forgiven.

Indiana

The Indiana Department of Revenue plans to tax federal student loan forgiveness, according to the Associated Press. Unless state lawmakers change the law, Pell Grant recipients in Indiana could owe about $646, the AP reported.

Minnesota

After President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris championed their broad student loan forgiveness plan, the state of Minnesota acknowledged state tax implications.

In a note posted on the Minnesota Department of Revenue website as of early September 2022, the state said student loan forgiveness under the Biden-Harris Administration “is included as taxable income on a Minnesota individual income tax return and does not qualify for a subtraction under current Minnesota law.”

Minnesota lawmakers in local news reports have suggested they may change the law to remove the state’s income tax implications.

Mississippi

Mississippi plans to tax the $10K or $20K of federal student loan forgiveness that qualified borrowers may receive in the near future, according to published news reports.

State lawmakers could amend Mississippi’s law to eliminate the income tax liability, but at the moment, Mississippi’s elected leaders have not indicated whether they would do that.

North Carolina

The North Carolina Department of Revenue said federal student loan forgiveness is considered taxable income under state law until further notice. “The Department of Revenue is monitoring any further enactments by the General Assembly that could change the taxability of student loan forgiveness in North Carolina,” the state’s Department of Revenue said in an online post dated Aug. 31, 2022.

West Virginia

West Virginia may tax Biden’s debt forgiveness, according to the Washington Post. West Virginia is reportedly seeking guidance from the IRS on whether it should treat federal student debt relief as income. It’s not clear where West Virginia might end up on the issue.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin may tax federal student loan forgiveness, according to the Tax Foundation’s independent analysis. Local news reports suggest Wisconsin’s Democratic governor supports a legislative change to remove the tax liability issue, but at least one Republican state legislator went on record to oppose such a change.

Other Biden Administration Plans

The federal government offers income-based repayment plans that may lead to loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years. The Biden administration, however, is proposing a rule that may allow some borrowers on a federal income-driven repayment plan to have their loans forgiven after 10 years.

The Income-Contingent Repayment or ICR plan may cap a borrower’s monthly payment at 20% of their discretionary income in many cases. The Biden administration’s proposed rule would allow some federal student loan borrowers to have monthly payments as low as 5% of their discretionary income.

Impact of Student Loan Refinancing

For those wondering how refinancing affects forgiveness, you won’t be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness if you refinance your student loans with a private lender. What you can do, however, is consider student loan refinancing after taking advantage of your federal options.

Biden’s loan forgiveness plan stops far short of the $50,000 student loan cancellation that some progressive Democrats advocated. This means borrowers with $50,000 of federal student loan debt could refinance their remaining balance after receiving partial forgiveness from the Biden plan.

Refinancing federal student loans may provide borrowers with a lower interest rate, but these borrowers would also be forfeiting other federal benefits they might be eligible for. Public employees with federal student loans, for example, may benefit from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The PSLF program is not available to borrowers who refinance student loans.

Recommended: Will Refinanced Student Loans Be Forgiven?

Federal Tax Break For Paying Student Loans

Eligible taxpayers who have paid interest on a qualified education loan may claim a deduction on federal income taxes, including a tax deduction on refinanced student loans. The student loan interest deduction can reduce your taxable income by up to $2,500 during an annual tax period.

Recommended: Are student loans tax deductible?

Is Private Student Loan Forgiveness Possible?

The difference between private student loans vs. federal student loans is that federal student loans come from the U.S. Department of Education, whereas private student loans come from banks, credit unions, and other private lenders not affiliated with the federal government.

Lenders of private student loans generally have no obligation to offer private student loan forgiveness. Private lenders, however, may reach debt settlement agreements with delinquent borrowers.

Private student loan debt settlement may include partial debt forgiveness, which may qualify as taxable income at the state level. Forgiveness of private education loans are temporarily excluded from federal income tax for the years 2021 through 2025.

The Takeaway

Student loans forgiven before January 2026 are excluded from federal income taxation, but they may be taxable at the state level for some borrowers. At least eight states may consider taxing federal student loan forgiveness. Be sure to check out the requirements of your state.

If you’re carrying more than $20,000 of student loan debt or earn too much money to qualify for Biden’s loan forgiveness plan, student loan refinancing may be right for you. Refinancing what’s left after receiving $10K of forgiveness may allow you to save money before rates rise even higher. You can check if you prequalify and view your rate without impacting your credit score.

Explore student loan refinancing with SoFi.


Photo credit: iStock/Pekic
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
In our efforts to bring you the latest updates on things that might impact your financial life, we may occasionally enter the political fray, covering candidates, bills, laws and more. Please note: SoFi does not endorse or take official positions on any candidates and the bills they may be sponsoring or proposing. We may occasionally support legislation that we believe would be beneficial to our members, and will make sure to call it out when we do. Our reporting otherwise is for informational purposes only, and shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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