Finishing veterinary school is an incredible achievement. After so much training and dedication, it’s finally time for new vets to turn their passion for improving animal health into a rewarding and meaningful career. But one thing might be standing in their way: student loan debt.
Veterinarians graduating in 2018 had an average student debt load of $183,014, including vets who didn’t take out any loans.
That’s a pretty steep hurdle for anyone starting out in a career. Based on these numbers, it’s no wonder that recent Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, or DVMs, might be struggling to find a healthy balance between loan repayment, saving for retirement, and helping their furred and feathered patients.
Luckily, there are more than a few repayment options out there that cater specifically to veterinarians. Some programs offer tuition repayment assistance in exchange for short-term work, while others offer student loan forgiveness for long-term service. In addition to these, there are a few often-overlooked refinancing options that might also help borrowers reduce their debt. Let’s take a look to see which financing options might fit different vets’ unique career needs.
Veterinary Loan Repayment Programs
If a vet specializes in large animal or veterinary agricultural medicine, there are a few loan repayment programs that might reduce their debt in exchange for a few years of work.
For a student still in the process of researching and applying to veterinary schools, it might be worthwhile to take note of which state universities offer student loan repayment assistance to their students in exchange for several years of post-graduate service in local agricultural veterinary medicine. Some schools offer a wide range of loan repayment assistance for veterinary students. Here are just a few:
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) is a federal program established in 2003 by the USDA. In exchange for three years of service in a location where there is a shortage of veterinarians, a borrower can receive up to $25,000 each year (up to three years) in loan repayment assistance.
State Veterinary Loan Repayment Program
Some individual states also offer loan repayment programs to attract large-animal vets to remote areas. While some of these programs are tied to specific state university veterinary programs, others are designed to attract recent graduates.
For example, North Dakota offers up to $80,000 in repayment assistance for four years of service working with food supply animals, and Maine provides up to $100,000 for up to four years of service. On the other hand, Pennsylvania only forgives a maximum of $10,000.
Veterinarians might want to contact their state before accepting a job solely because they believe their loans will be forgiven. Funding sometimes varies from year to year in certain states, so it can be helpful to double-check that the state is participating in loan forgiveness at the time they want to enroll.
The U.S. Army Medical Department
The U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD) also offers loan repayment as a benefit to qualifying veterinarians. For active-duty servicemembers, vets are eligible for up to $120,000 in student loan repayments over a three-year period, receiving $40,000 per year. For those who enter the reserves, up to $50,000 is offered over three years, receiving $20,000 the first two years and $10,000 the third year.
The Federal Faculty Loan Repayment Program
If someone comes from a disadvantaged background and plans to go into academia, the Federal Faculty Loan Repayment Program offers up to $40,000 in repayment for veterinarians who serve on the faculty of eligible universities for two years. The program also offers funds to offset the taxes associated with repayment assistance. In 2018, 164 veterinarians applied for the repayment program, and 23 received awards.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program
The NIH Loan Repayment Program is for veterinarians or other health professionals who focus on research, rather than practical medicine.
The NIH provides eight awards total—five are extramural, meaning they’re given to people who aren’t employed by the NIH, and three are intramural, or for researchers who are employed by the NIH. DVMs qualify for both extramural and intramural awards.
Most contracts last for two years. The repayment amount will total one-quarter of a researcher’s eligible student loans, up to $50,000. People can receive up to $100,000 if they owe more than $200,000 in student loans. Researchers do have the option to renew their awards if they meet certain qualifications.
Intramural General Research awards, which are open to researchers in any field, last for three years. Borrowers who receive the competitive General Research award will have one-quarter of their eligible student loans forgiven, or up to $50,000 per year. Those who receive the non-competitive General Research award will receive one-quarter of their eligible student loans, up to $20,000 annually.
Veterinary Loan Forgiveness Programs
For vets who specialize in areas outside of agriculture, there are fewer well-funded repayment options. However, loan forgiveness programs could be a potential benefit if a vet wants to pursue a career in public service, helping animals in need.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) is a program meant for qualifying federal student loan borrowers working full time in a qualifying position in government, social work, or education, or if they work for a qualifying tax-exempt nonprofit like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). After they have made 10 years’ worth of on-time monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan, they could have the balance on their federal Direct loans forgiven.
To anyone who thinks having their vet school loans be forgiven in just 10 years is too good to be true—well, they might be right. It can be difficult to qualify for this program. As of 2019, 110,729 borrowers had applied for PSLF and only 1,216 had been approved.
Reasons for denial range from applicants failing to make payments correctly to working for ineligible employers to attempting to qualify for
In President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal, he explains that he wants to eliminate PSLF altogether. If the budget passes, borrowers who take out student loans after July 1, 2020, cannot enroll in PSLF.
Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plans
The federal government offers four types of income-driven repayment plans for federal student loan borrowers with eligible student loans. These programs consider a borrower’s discretionary income, which is the amount someone earns after subtracting taxes and essential living expenses. People who enroll in one of these programs could have their vet school loans forgiven after 20-25 years.
• Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Those who are new borrowers on or after July 1, 2014, will pay 10% of their discretionary income for 20 years. People who were not new borrowers by July 1, 2014, will pay 15% for 25 years. After a borrower has paid for the designated amount of time, their remaining loan balance will be forgiven.
• Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): When a borrower enrolls in ICR, they may choose the lesser of two options. They can either pay 20% of their discretionary income each month or whatever they would pay if they spread their loan payment evenly across 12 years—whichever is cheapest. After 25 years, the remaining amount will be forgiven.
• Pay As You Earn (PAYE): People pay up to 10% of their discretionary income monthly. However, they’ll never pay more than they would had they enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. The remaining balance will be forgiven after 20 years.
• Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): Borrowers typically pay 10% of their discretionary income. People whose loans were solely for undergraduate studies would make payments for 20 years before the remainder is forgiven. However, people who took out loans for graduate or professional studies (like veterinarians) will make payments for 25 years.
Income-driven repayment plans can be amazing solutions for some borrowers, but they aren’t necessarily the best fit for everyone.
Veterinarians can use a repayment calculator to determine which type of plan is the best match for their needs. Some will discover that one of these income-driven programs will save them the most money, while others may choose to enroll in a standard or graduated repayment plan.
Refinancing Veterinary Student Loans
There’s one other option that might give vets the freedom to design the ideal payback schedule: refinancing their loans. If borrowers have a good credit score and financial profile, they might be able to refinance their loans with a bank or student loan refinancer to get a lower interest rate. Over time, a lower interest rate could potentially save a vet thousands over their repayment period.
Refinancing student loans involves taking out a brand new loan with a new interest rate, and using that loan to pay off existing loans. Lower rates and/or term could help vets pay less in the long run and/or pay off their debt more quickly.
Not only could borrowers improve their loan terms, but making only one payment per month (rather than a separate payment for each individual loan) has the potential to simplify their lives.
When a borrower refinances federal loans, it’s important to keep in mind that they will no longer have access to federal loan benefits, like the PSLF, income-driven repayment, or deferment and forbearance.
But if they don’t plan on taking advantage of these benefits, have a steady income (among other positive personal financial factors), and want better loan terms, refinancing could be the best fit for their needs.
By refinancing with SoFi, vets can refinance both federal and private student loans into one new loan. SoFi members even have access to bonus features, including live customer service and career coaching—at no extra cost!
Those ready to refinance can quickly apply online for free. SoFi offers competitive rates and doesn’t charge application fees, origination fees, or pre-payment penalties.
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.
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