Knowledge Center
 

Medical Professionals and the Student Loan Dilemma

$390,562…$363,674…$242,100.

While those numbers might look like the mortgages, they are actually the amount of school debt from a few of my physician and dentist clients.

Medical professionals spend 7 to 10 additional years (or more) in school and training after college before earning their “doctor salary.” That means they not only graduate with overwhelming debt, but, they have lost nearly a decade of earning and saving power. Graduating at a time when their peers are getting married and buying homes, it’s not always clear how a newly minted medical professional should prioritize their new-found income.

This survey takes a look at medical professionals and the student loan process, here are our three take-aways:

  1. The student loan process causes anxiety. It takes serious debt to finance a medical education and that needs to get paid back. Some doctors feel the need to choose a sub-specialty that is more lucrative or to work towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)s at a location or employer they may not have originally chosen. “We have to try balance a $230,000 loan while making $50,000 at age 30.”
  2. Students are focused on their studies, not taking loans. Medical school is nothing if not demanding. Time to research and understand loan options is scarce, leading to some poor choices, students not really understanding their loans, how much they owe, to whom and what their payments will be. “I didn’t understand that I had private and federal loans and that they were different.”
  3. Medical professionals are focused on their career, not paying loans efficiently. Once earning a full salary, physicians and dentists still find it difficult to impossible to make the full payment on their student loans. The standard payment on a $360,000 student loan at 6.5% would be $4,088 per month. Federal loan payment programs offer many options to tie repayments to salary, but, are confusing at best. Finding the time to pay these loans off in the most efficient manner is complicated and professionals are not clear on where to get the best answers. “Talking to my student loan servicer is like talking to a wall!” 

Our conclusion is that there’s an opportunity here for student loan education and intervention at both ends of the medical school endeavor – when students are starting schools and taking out the loans and when finishing studies and confronting the mountain of debt. (We actually think there is a third window and that is when medical students become residents and have an early opportunity to prepare their debt portfolio to be forgiven through PSLF.)

The question this raises is delivery methods: how to get this information to students and professionals at the right time in a way that is impactful. Should personal finance or debt management be a required course? Part of a one-on-one consultation with the financial aid office before leaving school? Required one-on-one consultation with the financial aid office before starting medical school? Share your thoughts below and read the findings here at Launching Late.