Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Medical students may look forward to a high income and bright financial future. But the path to becoming a doctor often requires students to take on a lot of student loan debt — 75 percent of graduating medical students in 2017 had education debt, and the median debt balance was $192,000 (including undergraduate loans).
Graduating medical students generally don’t jump right into a high-income job, either. After graduating, the next step to becoming a doctor is a residency and/or fellowship program, and for the 2016-17 academic year, the starting median income for residents was $53,580. On top of that, a residency or fellowship can take three to seven years to complete, depending on your focus and specialization.
However, your student loan payments may begin after your loan’s grace period ends, generally six to nine months after graduation.
Managing student loans during your residency
Medical residents may have several options for handling their student loans during their residency and fellowship programs:
- Start making full payments. If you can afford to make full principal and interest monthly student loan payments, paying down your loans now could help reduce the total amount of interest you pay. However, a medical school graduate’s monthly payments could be thousands of dollars, which might not be manageable on a resident’s income.
- Switch repayment plans. Residents with federal student loans may be able to switch to a different federal student loan repayment plan and significantly lower their monthly payments compared with the standard federal repayment plan. Lower payments can lead to paying more overall but can help you manage your budget.
- Defer payments. You may be able to put federal and private student loans into deferment and temporarily stop making payments while you’re a resident. However, interest will continue to accumulate, and this option could significantly increase your total cost of borrowing.
- Refinance and repay your loans. Refinancing your student loans could lower your interest rate, which may decrease how much interest accumulates while you’re a resident and lower your monthly payments. Some medical residency refinancing programs also let you make preset, low monthly payments while you’re a resident or fellow.
- Understand how interest accrues and capitalizes. When you defer payments, interest will continue to accumulate on your loan balance. The same may be true if your refinance your loans with a residency loan and the monthly payment doesn’t cover the interest that accrues each month.
Generally, the interest won’t compound, meaning you won’t get charged interest on your interest. However, the interest gets capitalized — added to your loan’s principal — once you start making full payments. As a result, your principal debt load could increase during your residency unless you make additional monthly payments to offset the interest accumulation.
4 companies that offer medical residency refinancing
Many companies offer student loan refinancing. However, there are only a few that have specialized refinancing programs for medical residents and fellows.
|Lender||Variable APR*||Fixed APR*||Terms||Minimum loan amount||Maximum loan amount|
Total eligible loan balance
Total eligible loan balance
Up to 10 years
**SoFi variable-rate loans have an interest rate cap of 8.85% for five-, seven- and 10-year terms and 9.95% for 15- and 20-year terms.
***Laurel Road variable-rate loans have an interest rate cap of 9% for seven- and 10-year terms and 10% for 15- and 20-year terms.
Details on medical residency refinancing programs
SoFi medical and dental resident student loan refinancing
SoFi is an online-only lender that offers several types of loans and loan refinancing products. After taking out a loan from SoFi, you can take advantage of several SoFi membership benefits, including discounts on other types of loans and free career coaching services.
Why we like SoFi
SoFi offers the lowest potential APR of the four lenders we compared. It also doesn’t have a maximum loan limit and offers variable- and fixed-rate loans.
You can choose from five loan terms at SoFi, with a short five-year option that some other lenders don’t offer. While a shorter term will increase your monthly payment, it can decrease the total interest you pay.
You only have to make $100 monthly payments during your residency and for up to six months following the end of a four-year residency program.
If you think SoFi may be a good fit, you can pre-qualify online. SoFi pre-qualification involves a soft inquiry on your credit report, which won’t hurt your credit.
To refinance medical school loans with SoFi, you must graduate with an MD, DO, DMD or DDS from an eligible school, currently be a resident or fellow and have up to four years left in an approved program.
You also must generally refinance at least $10,001 in eligible student loan debt (residency loans do not qualify). However, people who live in Connecticut and Kentucky must refinance a minimum of $15,001, and those who live in Pennsylvania must refinance a minimum of $25,001.
Residents of Mississippi, Montana and Washington, D.C., aren’t eligible for medical and dental resident student loan refinancing from SoFi.
There are also other general eligibility and underwriting requirements.
Where SoFi may fall short
Although SoFi offers the potential lowest APR and a variety of interest-rate types and loan terms, it may not be the best fit for everyone.
One potential drawback is that you can only make $100 monthly payments for up to 54 months, after which you’ll have to make full interest and principal payments. However, some residency and fellowship programs last longer than 54 months.
You can apply for refinancing with SoFi as soon as you match with your residency or fellowship program. But you’ll lose any grace periods your loans have and must start making $100 monthly payments once you get your new SoFi loan.
Laurel Road student loan refinancing for medical residents
Laurel Road is a Connecticut-based bank and online lender. Originally named Darien Rowayton Bank, the bank rebranded as Laurel Road in April 2018. Laurel Road offers student loan refinancing to students and parents, and it has a special product for doctors and dentists who are in a residency or fellowship program.
Why we like Laurel Road
With Laurel Road, you can apply to refinance your student loans as soon as you’re matched with a residency program. Laurel Road may honor your student loans’ grace periods, so you could lock in a lower interest rate as soon as you match and still delay making payments until after graduation.
You can choose from four loan terms — seven, 10, 15 or 20 years — and can pick between a variable-rate or a fixed-rate loan. Laurel Road also lets you prequalify with a soft credit pull, which allows you see estimated loan terms without hurting your credit.
Laurel Road may let you make monthly payments as low as $100 while you’re a resident or fellow, including up to six months after finishing your residency or fellowship.
You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid I-551 card and have eligible student loans that are in their grace period or repayment. You’ll also need to pass Laurel Road’s credit check and underwriting requirements.
Laurel Road can refinance medical school loans in all 50 states, as well as Washington and Puerto Rico. You’ll need to refinance at least $5,000 worth of debt, and you can refinance up to your total outstanding federal and private student loan balance.
Where Laurel Road may fall short
Based on the rate ranges listed above, you may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate at other lenders. Laurel Road also doesn’t offer the $100 minimum monthly payment to all borrowers.
Beyond that, there aren’t any clear downsides to Laurel Road’s student loan refinancing for medical residents offering. However, it’s still generally a good idea to shop around and compare your loan offers before deciding which lender to use.
LinkCapital medical resident refinance loan program
LinkCapital is an online lender that focuses on health care professionals. It offers student loan refinancing to medical professionals and has two student loan refinancing products for medical residents.
The standard resident refinancing loan is for graduates who have only completed one year their residency program. The contracted resident loan is for residents and fellows who are in their last year of training and have a signed contract to start working within the next 12 months.
Why we like LinkCapital
LinkCapital’s standard residency refinance program lets residents make $75 minimum monthly payments for up to up to 72 months while they’re in an eligible residency or fellowship program. The contracted resident refinance programs lets you make $75 monthly payments for up to 12 months. You also may be able to continue making $75 monthly payments during a three-month post-training grace period with either program.
If you refinance your student loans with LinkCapital’s standard resident refinance product, you could receive an automatic interest rate reduction after finishing your residency program.
You must graduate with a medical professional master’s or doctorate degree and complete at least one year of your residency program before you can refinance your student loans with LinkCapital. You’ll also have to pass a credit check and be a U.S. citizen.
Although you don’t have to refinance all your student loans, you must refinance at least $40,000 in eligible student loans with LinkCapital.
Where LinkCapital may fall short
LinkCapital only offers fixed-rate loans. While fixed-rate loans are less risky than variable-rate loans because their interest rate can’t change in the future, they also generally have a higher starting interest rate than variable-rate loans.
The minimum loan requirement may be too high for some applicants, particularly if they’re only looking to refinance their private student loans.
You also have to wait until the end of your first year of residency before you can refinance your student loans. You may be able to save money by refinancing your loans with a different lender before that point.
Unlike some of the other lenders on this list, LinkCapital doesn’t offer an option to check your eligibility or estimated loan offer with a soft credit pull.
Splash Financial medical resident and fellow refinancing
Another online lender, Splash Financial offers student loan refinancing and medical resident student loan refinancing.
Why we like Splash Financial
Splash Financial lets borrowers make $1 monthly payments during an eligible residency or fellowship program. You can continue making the $1 monthly payments for up to 84 months, the longest advertised partial-payment period offered by the resident refinance loans we compared.
The high end of the advertised APR is relatively low compared with competitors’ fixed-rate medical residency refinance loans.
You must start your residency program before you can apply for student loan refinancing with Splash Financial. Approval for refinancing, and your terms, will depend on your creditworthiness.
To refinance your student loans with Splash Financial, you must refinance at least $25,001 and no more than $346,000 in eligible federal and private student loans.
Where Splash Financial may fall short
Splash Financial only offers fixed-rate loans for medical residents.
Splash Financial only offers loans with a 10-year term, which begins after you finish your residency and fellowship programs. Other lenders let you choose from a variety of loan terms, which can influence your interest rate and monthly payments.
Unlike other lenders, Splash Financial doesn’t offer pre-approval with a soft credit check.
Additional options for refinancing med school loans
In addition to the medical residency student loan refinancing programs, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans with a non-resident-specific program from one of the lenders below. Non-resident programs won’t let you make lower monthly payments during your residency, but they could still lower your interest rate and monthly payment.
|Lender||Transparency Score||Max Term||Fixed APR||Variable APR||Max Loan Amount|
2.99%% - 6.28%%
2.25%% - 6.28%%
2.98%% - 5.79%%
1.99%% - 5.64%%
2.98%% - 5.79%%
1.99%% - 5.61%%
2.99%% - 8.77%%
1.99%% - 8.57%%
$125k / $175k
2.80%% - 6.00%%
1.89%% - 5.90%%
2.99%% - 8.49%%
1.99%% - 8.24%%
$90k / $350k
4.24%% - 7.74%%
2.37%% - 6.12%%
4 student loan mistakes residents make
As a medical student or resident, you have a lot on your plate already, and dealing with student loans could be down low on your priority list. Or, you may find yourself going along with whatever a friend or colleague does instead of considering all your options and choosing the path that’s best for your situation.
We’ve compiled a few of the common mistakes that residents and fellows might make when it comes to their student loans. Ryan Inman, a fee-only financial planner for physicians, also shared some insights into the best ways to deal with your loans, based on his experience working with residents and doctors.
1. Misunderstanding Public Service Loan Forgiveness requirements
The federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program may forgive your remaining federal student loan balance after you make 120 qualified payments while working full time at an eligible employer, which may include government and nonprofit clinics and hospitals.
Inman said doctors could get confused about all the requirements for PSLF, or think they’re eligible simply because of where they work. If you took out private student loans, or if you refinanced your student loans with a private lender, those loans won’t be eligible. The program only applies to certain types of federal student loans.
In addition to reviewing the types of loans you have, you may want to apply for PSLF and resubmit an employment certification form every year to help ensure that your employer qualifies.
If you’re certain you want to use the PSLF program and you’re planning on working at an eligible employer for at least 10 years, you should also compare your federal loan repayment plan options.
“Make sure you choose the repayment plan that will allow you to qualify while paying the least amount on your loans every month,” said Inman. You can compare estimated monthly payments with this online tool.
2. Choosing the wrong federal repayment plan
Your federal student loans may be eligible for several different federal student loan repayment plans, including four income-driven repayment plans that base your monthly payments on your income, family size and where you live.
Choosing the plan that leads to the lowest monthly payment may be ideal if you have a tight budget, or you plan to go for PSLF. But if you don’t plan to get PSLF, perhaps because you want to work in a private practice, then the best repayment plan may not be so clear.
“Knowing that you aren’t going for PSLF, you should generally go with the plan that gives the largest interest subsidy, which is REPAYE,” said Inman, referring to the Revised Pay As You Earn plan.
With REPAYE, if your monthly payment doesn’t cover all the interest that accrues on your loan, the government will pay at least half of the difference between your monthly payment and the interest accrual.
“That could add up to tens of thousands of dollars if the loan balances are high enough,” said Inman, “and interest subsidies are not available through some other income-driven plans.”
3. Rushing into refinancing
Carefully consider the pros and cons of refinancing federal student loans. Once you refinance your federal loans, you’ll lose access to federal repayment plans and forgiveness, cancellation and discharge programs. Private student loans already aren’t eligible for these plans or programs, so there’s potentially less to lose by refinancing those loans.
If you do decide to refinance, remember that you don’t need to refinance all your loans. You can pick and choose, and refinance the ones that have the highest interest rates.
Also, before rushing and choosing a variable-rate loan because it offers a lower initial interest rate, consider how rising interest rates could affect your payments and budget. Inman said, “In this low-interest-rate environment, fixed rates are relatively cheap and may be the best option for a new physician.” He thinks variable-rate loans generally only make sense if you plan to pay off the loan within five years.
4. Not shopping before refinancing
Inman said many physicians either don’t have the time to shop around when they’re refinancing their student loans or they aren’t interested in the fine print. But this can be a big mistake. “Shopping a few companies for the best rates is critical if you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal,” said Inman.
You could compare many details, such as the fees that the lenders charge. The four resident-specific programs above don’t have origination or disbursement fees, but some other refinancing companies might charge these.
You can also compare lenders’ other benefits or drawbacks, such as the interest-rate types they offer, the length of their loan terms, repayment-plan options while you’re a resident and how they handle cosigners.
Once you’ve compared all the terms, you can submit applications with several lenders to see which one offers you the lowest interest rate. While a loan application can hurt your credit score, some credit scoring models count multiple student loan applications within a short period of time as a single hard inquiry, allowing you to apply with several companies to see which will save you the most money.