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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Cooke, CFP®, CPFA®

Tips for Reducing Dental School Debt

Dental school is one of the most expensive professional-degree programs in the United States. Let’s just pause there with that weighted statement.

Upon graduating from dental school, the majority of dentists have student loan debt to confront, often as much as $200,000. In fact, 80% of 2016 dental school graduates left college with over $100,000 in debt and 30% with over $300,000. According to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), 2017 dental students graduated with an average dental school debt of $287,331 – a substantial increase from years prior. About twice as much as 20 years ago.

There might be a slight variation depending on private or public dental school costs and whether you are in-state versus an elite program potentially out-of-state. During the 2015-2016 school year, private non-profit dental schools charged on average more than $71,000, while public in-state dental schools charged about $38,000, according to the Urban Institute.

The Debt Swamp

Dental school is not the only profession that is being swallowed into the debt swamp, although their debt-to-income ratio is higher than most. Medical school students can accrue just as much debt as dental school graduates in the long run - with the baggage of adding more years while seeking a specialty and receiving limited income during a residency.

If you explore the reasons why dental school is so much more cost prohibitive than medical school, it is mainly because of the increased laboratory and equipment cost associated with dentistry. There is also overhead with running and funding dental student clinics that medical students are not burdened with since they learn through post-graduate residency programs. These costs all add up.

Sources: Association of American Medical Colleges, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, The Institute for College Access and Success.

Finding Relief

Luckily, the dental profession is lucrative, as well as personally rewarding. One of the reasons you might have chosen to enter into this premier field is for financial freedom. There are a few strategies to be aware of to limit dental school debt in order to help you achieve your financial independence.

Primarily, it is critical to create a plan on how to reduce your debt and save for retirement (which could have invaluable tax benefits). Establishing a student loan repayment solution can help you navigate through the convoluted maze of how to reduce your loan balance so you are able to focus on your other important personal, professional, and financial goals.

Whether you initially chose a federal or a private student loan for dental school, there are options that dentists have to reducing student loan debts, including income-driven repayment plans (IDRs), loan forgiveness plans and refinancing. Keep in mind there are restrictions and leniencies on each type of plans. With so many variables to consider, only you can know what will work for your situation. Working with an expert will help guide you as to which program will work best for you in order to meet your financial goals within a specified timeline.

List of the major types of programs available:

  • Repayment Plans

    • Income-Driven Repayment Plans (IDRs)

    • Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

    • Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

  • Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs)

    • National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC)

    • State Loan Repayment Programs

    • National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program

    • Armed Forces

  • Loan Forgiveness

    • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

  • Private Loan Consolidation (refinancing)

Quick Hits

There are expert tips to help you reach your student loan payoff goals:

  • Begin paying your loans immediately - any amount you can pay towards the loan is an advantage

  • Sign up for automatic payments – you won’t receive any late payment fees or penalties

  • Pay more than the minimum payment – paying towards the principal balance will reduce your loan quicker

  • Determine if you are eligible for a loan repayment program OR if you are able to refinance your current loan payment to a lower rate and better loan terms

You made a huge investment in yourself by going to dental school; creating a student loan repayment plan is another investment that will pay off now and for the rest of your life. The weight of the most expensive professional-degree program can soon be lifted.

This article was originally published in the North Carolina Dental Society’s Gazette.


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