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4 Tips to Pay Off Dental School Debt

Dentist jobs continually rank at the top of the U.S. News Best Jobs list, and 2023 is no exception. Dentists ranked fourth among all healthcare jobs and came in tenth among all occupations. The rewards of the profession are many—yet earning a dental degree to practice is extremely costly.

That’s why most young dentists graduate with substantial dental school debt. How they manage it and how it affects their careers differs, however.

Those with high student debts are more likely to accept high-paying jobs, work longer hours, and enter private practice.

Can you have student debt and own a dental practice?

Yes, says Sabrina Morrow, MBA, vice president and business development manager for Healthcare at Wells Fargo Practice Finance in Seattle. New dentists can borrow for private practice, even if they have student loans. She indicated other debts could be a challenge, however.

4 Tips for Paying Off Dental School Debts

1. Refinance the Debt

“If you owe less than 1.5 times your income, you should pay it off,” advised Travis Hornsby, CFA, founder, and CEO of Student Loan Planner in St. Louis.

That payoff may involve refinancing the original debt. Interest rates currently remain low, making it a good time to refinance.

Or, if possible, the dentist also can aggressively repay the loan, to pay as little interest as possible.

Many new dentists can refinance their debt at a lower interest rate, according to ADEA.

The American Dental Association (ADA) has a relationship with Laurel Road, which will offer members a discount on refinancing and does not charge members application or origination fees. Additionally, the ADA charges recent graduates reduced dues.

2. Consider Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs

The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) program offers a way to forgive some dental school debt. These plans require payment of 10 percent of the dentist’s discretionary income for 20 years. It’s available to borrowers who took out loans after 2011 but not before October 2007.

“If you owe more than 1.5 times your income though, you could get a lot of your debt forgiven,” Hornsby said. “Just pay 10 percent of your income over 20 years, and the remaining balance gets wiped away at the end.”

However, he warned, the dentist “would pay income taxes on the forgiven balance, but even if the sum is large, you can just save a few hundred dollars a month in a mutual fund account…and likely have enough to cover it.”

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) for people with direct loans also requires paying 10 percent of discretionary income and offers dental school debt forgiveness after 25 years.

3. Participate in the PSLF Program

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program offers loan forgiveness of remaining federal debt after the dentist works in the public service or a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization for at least 10 years. Before applying, the dentist must work full-time and make 120 timely payments to the lender. Also, the loan has to be direct or consolidated into a direct loan.

4. Earn extra income working locum tenens

Locum tenens dentist assignments offer part-time or full-time positions. The pay is good. Working part-time assignments on top of a full-time job can help young dentists pay down their student loans faster. Full-time travelers can earn money while they travel to different areas and decide where they might want to set up or join a dental practice.

Locum agencies also cover housing and travel expenses for travel assignments, which can help locum dentists avoid some major expenses.

These four tips are some of the most practical, effective ways for you to manage your student loan debt as a dentist. Whichever avenue you decide to pursue, financial planning and seeking professional advice can provide a critical complement to managing your student loans. 

Are you interested in earning more by working a locum tenens dentist assignment? Learn more about the benefits of working with AMN Healthcare by completing the form on this page.

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