In dental school you’re taught the skills you need to become a successful dentist. What they don’t tell you is how to effectively handle your dental school debt. A typical dental school graduate enters the profession with a student loan burden topping $293,900, according to the Education Data Initiative.
That’s $90,000 more than the average medical school debt. Right when dentists are ready to hit the accelerator on their careers, the reality of repayment presents a sizable speed bump.
The good news is, you’ve picked the right profession when it comes to ROEd, or the “return on education” you should reap down the road. The average base salary for general dentists is $217,620, and more than $355,570 for specialists who provide implant services, per a 2021 survey by DentalPost and Endeavor Media.
Ways to Pay Off Dental School
At this stage of the game, it’s important to have a plan for paying down your debt as efficiently as possible. Getting your finances in order early is especially critical if you anticipate borrowing more money down the road to open your own practice or buy a home.
Below, we explain the various student loan payment options available and how to know which one makes the most sense for you.
Choose a Repayment Plan
Federal student loan borrowers have four repayment plans to consider. They all set your monthly loan payment at an amount deemed affordable based on your income and family size. You can change your plan anytime without incurring fees.
• Standard Repayment Plan. Spreads payments evenly over 10 years. Under this plan, if you have a loan balance of $250,000 at 7.54%, your monthly payment will be about $2,900. This is the default plan if no other plan is chosen.
• Graduated Repayment Plan. With this plan, payments start lower and then gradually increase over time, usually every two years. Repayment takes place over 10 years.
• Extended Repayment Plan. Choose either fixed or graduated payments. Repayment takes place over 25 years.
• Income-Driven Repayment Plans. There are four types of income-driven repayment plans that tie a borrower’s income to their loan payments. Repayment takes place over 20 or 25 years. At the end of the repayment period, the remaining balance is forgiven (though this amount may be taxable).
Thanks to their higher income, dental professionals often pay off their loans before the end of the repayment period, making the forgiveness benefit irrelevant. Also, you may not be eligible for forgiveness programs if your income is over a certain threshold. (Still, we’ll get into forgiveness programs a bit more in the next section.)
Keep in mind that the longer your repayment term, the more interest you pay over the life of that loan. The shorter your term, the less you’ll pay in interest, but the higher your monthly payment will be.
A student loan payoff calculator will give you an idea of your monthly payment for different repayment terms.
Recommended: How To Get Out of Student Loan Debt
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is an option if you start your career at an eligible nonprofit or public service agency. Work for a local, state, tribal, or federal government organization or for a nonprofit organization, and you may be eligible for federal Direct Loan forgiveness after 10 years in an income-based plan. Serving as a full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteer also counts.
Examples of qualifying government employers are the U.S. military, public colleges, and public child and family service agencies, but not government contractors.
There are also a number of federal and state loan-repayment assistance programs that reward dentists for providing service to certain segments of the population. The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program, for example, offers dentists who serve American Indian communities up to $20,000 per year toward the repayment of school loans.
Student loans from private lenders do not qualify for PSLF.
Student Loan Consolidation
Federal student loan consolidation lets you combine multiple federal student loans into a single new loan with a fixed rate. Your new rate is the weighted average of the old student loans’ interest rates rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percentage point. That means the rate might actually be slightly higher than the prior rate on some of the loans.
If your monthly payment decreases, it’s likely the result of lengthening the term (up to 30 years), which can mean paying more interest over time.
By the way, you can’t include private student loans in this type of a consolidation loan.
Student Loan Refinancing
For many dental school grads, consolidating multiple student loans into a single loan with a private lender, and then refinancing the balance at a lower interest rate, makes sense. Student loan refinancing makes it easier to manage your finances: You’ll get one bill each month from a single lender, instead of several bills for varying amounts that are based on different rates.
Depending on how you structure your loan, a lower interest rate might allow you to pay back your debt faster. That can save you a substantial amount of money over the life of the loan.
You can also choose a term that lowers your monthly payments, leaving more money in your pocket to be used for other things: building an emergency fund, starting a family, and investing for retirement.
Tips for Thriving as a New Dentist
Here are some ways you can set yourself up for success from the very start of your career.
• Create a budget you can stick to. Leave room for annual and quarterly expenses as well as incidentals.
• Start a savings plan. The sooner you start saving and investing, the sooner you can enjoy compound growth, which is when your money grows faster over time.
• Set up automatic payments for student loans. This helps you make payments on time, plus many loan service providers offer a discount if you arrange to autopay.
• Look into different ways to invest. In addition to maxing out your 401(k) or 403(b), you may also want to consider vehicles such as a health savings account or individual retirement account.
• Get familiar with your employee benefits package. Find out what perks your employer offers, such as help with student loan repayment.
Recommended: Budgeting as a New Dentist
Though a typical dental school student owes nearly $294,000 by the time they graduate, there are several student loan payment options that can help borrowers pay down debt more efficiently. All four federal student repayment options, for example, set your monthly payments based on your income and family size. And depending on your employer, you may also qualify for a forgiveness program.
Have multiple loans? Federal student loan consolidation lets you combine them into one new loan with new terms and a new interest rate. Student loan refinancing, which lets you consolidate multiple student loans into a single loan with a private lender, is another option to consider.
It might be beneficial to look for a refinancing lender that offers extras. SoFi members, for example, can qualify for rate discounts and have access to career services, financial advisors, networking events, and more—at no extra cost.
†Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
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 DEC. 31, 2022. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE THE AMOUNT OR PORTION OF YOUR FEDERAL STUDENT DEBT THAT YOU REFINANCE WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
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