Student loan debt can have a major impact on a doctor’s career decisions and quality of life. With the average medical school graduate owing more than $250,000 in student loan debt, many future doctors head into the long and hectic days of residency with the added stress of six-figure debt and high monthly student loan payments looming large.
The good news is that doctors have many potential paths to student loan forgiveness as well as programs that will make their monthly payments more manageable during their early career years. Let’s explore how doctors can qualify for student loan forgiveness through different types of federal programs, such as Income-driven Repayment (IDR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF),1 as well as other forgiveness options.
Whether you work in public health or the private sector, and regardless of your specialty, you could be eligible for student loan forgiveness as a physician or dentist. Visit our linked resources and read on to learn more about how your student loans could be forgiven in a variety of ways.
For doctors who took out federal student loans for their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees, a number of student loan forgiveness programs are available. First, let’s look at one of the most popular forgiveness programs for physicians and dentists – PSLF.
There are currently proposed changes to the PSLF and IDR programs that could change eligibility, requirements, and potentially the amount of money you could save. For more information, visit studentaid.gov or schedule a consultation with a GradFin student loan specialist.2
PSLF is often the go-to program for doctors throughout the US who work in public health. Through this program, doctors working at eligible nonprofit or government organizations can have the remaining federal student loan debt forgiven after 120 qualifying payments (or 10 years of repayment). For many doctors with a passion for helping underserved communities and higher-risk populations, the PSLF program makes a career in public health financially possible.
Typically, doctors working for several different types of employers qualify for PSLF, including:
In addition to working for a qualifying employer, the PSLF program requires enrollment in an IDR program.
IDR – a prerequisite of PSLF – is a federal repayment program that can stabilize your monthly student loan payments and provide forgiveness on your remaining student loan balance after 10, 20, or 25 years of repayment, depending on which plan you choose and how much student loan debt you have.
It’s important to note that while IDR is a requirement for the 10-year PSLF program, you do not have to work for a government or nonprofit organization to be eligible for forgiveness through IDR. In other words, if you work in private practice, you could enroll in IDR, even if you’re not eligible for PSLF.
The IDR program offers different plans that use varying formulas to calculate your monthly student loan payment amounts based on your discretionary income and family size.
|Plan||Monthly Payments||Repayment Period||Status|
|Income-Based Repayment (IBR)||
||20-25 years, depending on when you become a new borrower||Remains available but borrowers cannot select plan after 60 payments on REPAYE that occur on/after July 1, 2024|
|Pay as You Earn (PAYE)||
||20 years||Not accepting new enrollments as of July 2023|
|SAVE (formerly REPAYE)||
||This plan replaces REPAYE|
|Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)||
The lesser of the following:
|25 years||Not accepting enrollments for current students; only available to future borrowers with consolidated Parent PLUS loans|
To learn more about each IDR plan and determine which one is right for you, visit our resources below or schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation with one of our student loan specialists
For eligible federal borrowers, past periods of repayment, deferment, and forbearance could now count toward IDR forgiveness with this one-time payment count adjustment. Some borrowers will need to apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan by the end of 2023 to get the full benefits of this program. Schedule a consultation to learn if you may qualify.
For doctors that don’t qualify for or prefer not to pursue PSLF or IDR, there may be other forgiveness or partial forgiveness programs available to you based on your specialty and where you live and work. To start, explore forgiveness programs through public health organizations.
The federal Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) supports more than 20,000 health professionals with loan repayment and scholarship programs through its National Health Service Corps (NHSC). NHSC offers three forgiveness programs for doctors who are federal student loan borrowers:
Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program (IHIS LRP) – a federal program that awards up to $50,000 in loan repayment to doctors who commit two years of service in healthcare facilities that serve American Indian and Alaska Native communities. As an HIS LRP participant, you’re eligible to extend your contract annually until your qualified student debt is paid. Learn more here.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service Program – a two-year fellowship opportunity for physicians that offers up to $50,000 per year in student loan repayment, depending on funding availability. Learn more here.
National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs (NIH LRPs) – if your student loan debt equals or exceeds 20% of your salary, NIH LRPs could be an option for you. Physicians and dentists could receive up to $50,000 per year in student loan repayment for clinical research focused on biomedical or biobehavioral topics at an NIH lab or an employer doing research deemed critical for the NIH. Learn more here.
In addition to US health organizations, the branches of the US military offer student loan forgiveness programs for doctors including:
You’re also likely to find student loan forgiveness options for doctors at the state level. Most states have student loan repayment assistance or forgiveness programs for doctors, though they’re often subject to funding availability by state. These programs typically award varying amounts of student loan forgiveness to doctors for their work in rural communities and designated HPSAs. A few examples of state programs include:
To find state opportunities for student loan forgiveness that are specific to your specialty, check with your school or explore lists maintained by industry organizations like the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Dental Education Association.
With many different forgiveness programs available, it can be challenging to determine which program you should spend the time applying for. However, contacting your loan servicer to see what types of federal student loans you have is a smart first step, and if you’re applying for PSLF or IDR, start organizing the information you’ll need for the application process:
Learn more about how to get student loan forgiveness here and read on to understand how to apply for different forgiveness programs.
In addition to our student loan forgiveness resources on our website, our dedicated team of student loan specialists is standing by to help you understand how to qualify for student loan forgiveness as a doctor.
Our team can offer guidance and expertise as you start your application process, and help you understand what steps you need to take to stay in compliance with your forgiveness program for the duration of your enrollment. For more information on what paths to student loan forgiveness are available to you and how to apply to different federal programs, schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation and get your questions answered by our team.
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To qualify for PSLF, you must be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization (federal service includes U.S. military service); work full-time for that agency or organization; have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan); repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan; and make 120 qualifying payments. For full program requirements, visit: Federal Student Aid.
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