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College Students and Recent Grads

The Ultimate Guide to Paying off Medical School Debt

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Part I: Is Medical School Worth It?

Getting accepted to medical school is a major accomplishment, but graduating from medical school can be life-changing for your finances. According to The College Payoff, a collaborative study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, individuals with a doctoral-level degree enjoyed median lifetime earnings of $3,252,000 in 2009 dollars. This figure compares favorably to degrees that require a smaller commitment of time and resources, showing that pursuing a medical degree can pay off.

Now on to the bad news. While earning more money over a lifetime is advantageous, there’s a notable downside to going to medical school. While doctoral-level degrees can pay off with a lifetime of higher wages, the costs of pursuing this degree can be astronomical.

As the Association of American Medical Colleges notes, the average indebted 2017 medical school graduate left college with a median medical school debt of $192,000. No matter how you cut it, that’s a lot of money to borrow and spend.

Are you currently suffering from high-interest rates on your medical school loans? Jump down to our top picks for refinancing med school debt in 2018.

Medical school debt in the U.S.

The Association of American Medical Colleges shares statistics on average medical school debt. As of 2017, indebted medical school graduates left school with a median debt loan of $192,000. At public schools, the median debt load worked out to $180,000. Private medical schools, on the other hand, reported a slightly higher level of debt with a median debt load of $202,000.

The high levels of debt many medical school graduates endure are caused by myriad factors, including the rising costs of tuition. While average medical school tuition hasn’t been tracked since 2009, the price tag of a medical education was $29,890 that year.

In addition to the price of tuition, medical students need to pay for countless other expenses, some of which only apply to those in the medical field:

  • Room and board
  • Rent and utilities
  • Food
  • Travel and transportation
  • Health care
  • Instruments and supplies
  • Textbooks
  • Lab fees
  • Test fees
  • Relocation for residency

Lifetime earnings for a doctor

While the costs of medical school are high, doctors’ higher salaries can take the sting out of the long-term costs. In 2016, for example, family and general practitioners earned an annual mean wage of $200,810, while physicians and surgeons earned $210,170, on average. Several medical specialties earned even more.

The following table highlights profitable medical careers alongside careers that require only a bachelor’s degree:

Careers & Degree Requirements

Annual Mean Wage in 2016 (National)

Medical Careers:

Family and general practitioners

$200,810

Physicians and surgeons

$210,170

Anesthesiologists

$269,600

Surgeons

$252,910

Bachelor’s Degree Careers:

Petroleum engineers

$147,030

Biomedical engineers

$89,970

Registered nurses

$72,180

Market research analysts

$70,620

Elementary school teachers

$59,020

Is medical school worth the cost?

If you’re trying to decide between degree programs with varying costs and educational outcomes, it’s important to consider the ROI, or return on investment, for your education. While there’s no hard and fast rule to help you decide, figuring out your post-education monthly payment for medical school debt and comparing it to your potential salary can help.

As an example, the average medical school graduate with $192,000 in debt with a 6% interest rate would need to pay $2,131.59 per month toward their loans if they chose standard, 10-year repayment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the median weekly earnings for someone with a doctoral degree worked out to $1,664 in 2016.

During a month with four weeks of paydays, a doctoral graduate would bring in $6,656 before taxes and $4,659.20 after taxes, considering a 30% tax rate. While a $2,131.59 payment represents nearly half of this person’s income, it’s only for 10 years. Further, the percentage of income will only decrease as their income grows. And if they choose a higher paying medical specialty, the difference could be even greater.

Also keep in mind that doctors don’t have to choose 10-year, standard repayment as there are plenty of other options available, including repayment plans that span up to 25 years. If the graduate with the same level of debt as above chose to repay their loan over 25 years at the same interest rate, for example, they would pay only $1,237.06 per month.

Part II: Paying for Medical School

Federal student loans are usually the first source of funding medical students turn to as they seek to finance their education. Several different types of federal student loans are available, and each has their own benefits, drawbacks and practical limitations. Federal student loans tend to be a good option for medical students since they offer relatively low, fixed interest rates and help students qualify for federal perks like income-driven repayment, student loan forgiveness programs, deferment and forbearance.

Pros of federal student loans:

  • Fixed interest rates that can be competitive
  • Access to federal loan repayment and student loan forgiveness programs
  • Qualifying for subsidized loans means the government may pay the interest on your loans during school
  • Access to student loan forbearance and deferment (if you qualify)
  • No credit check

Cons of federal student loans:

  • Caps on how much you can borrow
  • You may need to take out private loans once you exhaust federal loans
 

Interest Rates

Maximum Annual
Borrowing Amount

Perkins Loans

5%

Up to $5,500 per year for
undergraduate students, depending
on financial need and other aid
received; up to $8,000 per year
for graduate students

Direct Subsidized Loans

4.45% for undergraduate
loans first disbursed on or
after July 1, 2017,
and before July 1, 2018

$3,500 to $5,500 per year for
undergraduate only

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

4.45% for undergraduate
loans first disbursed on or
after July 1, 2017, and before
July 1, 2018; 6% for graduate
loans

$5,500 to $12,500 per year for
undergraduate students;
up to $20,500 per year for
graduate students

Direct PLUS Loans

For Direct PLUS Loans first
disbursed on or after July 1, 2017,
and before July 1, 2018,
the interest rate is 7%

Maximum loan amounts
are limited to the cost of
attendance in school minus
financial aid received

Direct Consolidation Loans

Weighted average of the
loans being consolidated

No minimum or maximum
loan limits

Private student loan debt for medical school

Private student loans are commonly used once medical students max out the amount of federal money they can borrow for school. These loans are offered through private lenders, which means their rates and repayment terms are not fixed by the government. As a result, they can vary greatly but may be lower than rates offered through government programs.

Pros of private student loans:

  • Interest rates may be lower than federal student loans
  • Loan limits can be high enough to cover the entire cost of medical school
  • Loan disbursement may be faster
  • You can shop around among lenders to find the best deal

Cons of private student loans:

  • You need good or excellent credit to qualify on your own
  • Without good credit, you may need a co-signer
  • Interest rates can be fixed or variable
  • Private loans do not offer federal student loan forgiveness, income-driven repayment, or federally sponsored deferment or forbearance
  • You may need to make payments or pay interest while still in school

When to consider private student loans:

  • You’ve maxed out on federal student loan amounts
  • Private loans offer a better interest rate
  • You don’t plan to take advantage of government programs when it comes to repaying your loans

Private student loan lenders to consider

 

Interest Rates*


Borrowing Limits


Credit Requirement


Discover
Student Loans

Variable rates from 4.62%
to 8.62% APR; fixed rates
from 6.49% to 9.99% APR

Limited to 100% of the
cost of attendance minus
other aid

You may need a co-signer
to qualify if you don’t
have excellent credit


Sallie Mae
Student Loans

Variable rates available
from 3.62% to 8.36% APR;
fixed rates from
5.74% to 8.36% APR

Borrow up to 100% of
the cost of attendance

You need good or
excellent credit to qualify
without a co-signer


Wells Fargo
Student Loans

Variable rates available
from 4.59% to 9.10% APR;
fixed rates available from
6.66% to 10.18% APR

The lifetime limit for this
loan and all other
education-related debt,
including federal loans,
is $250,000 for allopathic
(M.D.) or osteopathic
(D.O.) medicine; $120,000
for all other disciplines

You have a better
chance to qualify if you
have a co-signer;
excellent credit required


Citizens Bank
Student Loans

Variable rates available
from 3.53% to 9.69% APR;
fixed rates available from
5.26% to 10.24% APR

Lifetime limit is $225,000
for medical school loans

Good or excellent credit
required without a
co-signer


College Avenue
Student Loans

Variable rates available
from 4.07% to 9.60% APR;
fixed rates available from
6.22% to 10.66% APR

Borrow up to 100% of the
cost of attendance

Good or excellent credit
required without a
co-signer

Grants for medical students

Grants for medical school students are offered through the government, research facilities, corporations and institutions of higher education. Students can seek out information on available grants by asking their school’s financial aid office, searching the internet, or checking government resources that cover the medical field.

Here are some popular grants available to medical students:

This Medical Scientist Training Program grant was created to assist students pursuing degrees in clinical and biomedical research. This program is offered at over 47 universities that help facilitate the grant.

  • Award amount: Amounts vary
  • Qualifications: Available to qualified M.D.-Ph.D. dual-degree students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: Depends on the participating institution

The Ford Foundation Fellowship Program seeks to increase diversity and offers grants to medical students pursuing a Ph.D. with the goal of participating in medical research or teaching. Other Ph.D. students are considered as well.

  • Award amount: $20,000 to $45,000, depending on the specific program
  • Qualifications: Medical students in pursuit of a Ph.D. can apply
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: Applications closed January 9, 2018 at 5 PM EST

This American Medical Women’s Association grant awards four AWMA student members every year. This two-year fellowship focuses on global health and includes a trip to Uganda.

  • Award amount: $1,000 to fund local project planning and subsidize experiential education in Uganda
  • Qualifications: Must be AWMA member pursuing a medical education
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: The next application cycle is Aug. 1, 2018, to Oct. 30, 2018

This grant, which is offered through the Radiological Society of North America, was created for medical students considering academic radiology.

  • Award amount: $3,000 to be matched by a sponsoring department for a total of $6,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a full-time medical student and RSNA member
  • Deadline to apply: Feb. 1, 2018

This program, which is offered through the American Medical Women’s Association, is available to medical students and residents working in clinics around the world.

  • Award amount: Up to $1,000 in transportation assistance costs
  • Qualifications: Students must work in an off-campus clinic where the medically neglected will benefit, be an AMWA member in at least their second year of school, and must spend four weeks to one year serving the medically underserved
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: The next application deadline available is July 5, 2018

Scholarships for medical students

Scholarships are available to medical students from all walks of life and all backgrounds, although requirements vary based on the program. Medical students can seek out merit-based scholarships, institution-based scholarships and various other scholarships offered through research facilities and corporations.

Here are a handful of popular scholarship options for medical students:

This grant, offered through the American Medical Association, doles out scholarships to medical students who meet certain criteria. The goal of this program is to reduce the debt burden on medical school students across the country.

  • Award amount: $10,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student who is nominated by their school dean and approaching their last year of medical school
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: Nomination applications are available every fall

The Herbert W. Nickens Award is available to third-year medical students who have shown proven leadership in the area of medical equality for all.

  • Award amount: $10,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student who is nominated for excellence in leadership; checklist is available here
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: Applications due in April each year

This scholarship is open to all students pursuing a service career in health care, including medical students considering any medical field.

  • Award amount: $5,000 to $10,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student with at least one year of medical school remaining
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: Application opens at the beginning of May each year and closes at the end of June

This scholarship is available to all medical students with financial need regardless of their gender, race or ethnicity. Applicants are judged on financial need, achievements, essays and community service records.

  • Award amount: $2,000 to $5,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student who can demonstrate financial need and complete the application process
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: Applications are due by April 1, 2018

The Harvey Fellows Program was created for Christian students pursuing higher education in important fields such as medicine.

  • Award amount: $16,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a student who identifies as Christian and attends service regularly
  • Deadline to apply in 2018: Application deadline is Nov. 1 of each year

Part III: Medical School Loan Repayment Programs

Income-driven repayment (for federal student loan debt)

Income-driven repayment programs allow medical students to pay only a percentage of their income toward their federal student loans for 20 to 25 years no matter how much they owe. These programs can be advantageous since they let medical students with large debt loads pay a smaller percentage of their income every month than they would with standard, 10-year repayment. Several different income-driven repayment programs are available, each with their own rules and benefits. The following table highlights each program and how it works:

 

Payment Amount

Repayment Period

Eligibility

Pay As You Earn
Repayment Plan
(PAYE Plan)

10% of your
discretionary income,
but never more than your
payment on 10-year
Standard Repayment

20 years

Your payment must be
less than what you would
pay under standard,
10-year repayment

Revised Pay As You
Earn Repayment
Plan (REPAYE Plan)

10% of your
discretionary income

20 years for
undergraduate loans
and 25 years “if any
loans you’re repaying
under the plan were
received for graduate
or professional study”

Any borrower with
eligible federal student loans
can qualify

Income-Based
Repayment Plan
(IBR Plan)

10% of your
discretionary income
if your loan originated
after July 1, 2014,
but never more than
the 10-year Standard
Repayment Plan;
generally 15% of your
discretionary income
if you’re not a new
borrower on or after
July 1, 2014; either way,
you’ll never pay more
than the payment on a
standard, 10-year
repayment plan

20 years if you’re a
borrower on or after
July 1, 2014; 25 years
otherwise

To qualify, your
payment under this plan
must be less than what you
would pay under standard,
10-year repayment

Income-Contingent
Repayment Plan
(ICR Plan)

20% of your
discretionary income or
what you would pay over
the course of a fixed
12-year repayment plan

25 years

Any borrower with
eligible federal student loans
can qualify for the ICR Plan

Pros of income-driven repayment:

  • Pay a smaller amount of your income for up to 25 years
  • Have your student loan balance forgiven once you complete the program
  • Pay off your debts slowly and at your own pace

Cons of income-driven repayment:

  • You may have to pay income taxes on forgiven loan amounts
  • You may not qualify if you earn too much

Who is eligible?

These programs are available to graduates who have federal student loans and meet income requirements.

How to apply

You can apply for income-driven repayment programs using the U.S. Department of Education website.

Medical school loan forgiveness for doctors

There are numerous loan forgiveness programs available to doctors, each with their own criteria for applicants. Commonly, these programs offer loan forgiveness in exchange for service in a specific field or for a certain type of employer.

Some examples include:

Who is eligible?

Since loan forgiveness programs vary in their details and requirements, you’ll need to read terms and conditions of applicable programs to determine if you qualify.

Is this option right for you?

If you are willing to relocate or know that a loan forgiveness program is already available in your area, then loan forgiveness programs offer a great way to earn a living while having part of your debt forgiven. For this option to be right for you, however, you have to be willing to meet special program requirements such as working in an urban, rural or underserved community.

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

This program offers loan repayment assistance for individuals entering qualified healthcare careers in medical or dental fields. Licensed health care providers may earn up to $50,000 of tax-free loan forgiveness for a two-year commitment to NHSC-approved employment in a high-need area.

Who is eligible?

Medical graduates who agree to work in an NHSC-approved career for at least two years may qualify for this assistance.

How to apply

Contact the National Health Service Corps or visit the NHSC website for tips on the application process.

Is this option right for you?

If you’re willing to work in an area of high need after you graduate, this program may work well at the beginning of your medical career.

U.S. military loan repayment programs

United States Army

Army Student Loan Assistance offers up to $45,000 per year in loan assistance, along with a monthly stipend of up to $2,000. This assistance is available to U.S. residents working to complete an accredited residency.

The U.S. Army also offers up to $120,000 to pay down medical school debt in exchange for three years of service.

Lastly, the U.S. Army offers a Health Care Professionals Loan Repayment Program that provides up to $250,000 for repayment of “education loans for physicians in certain specialties who are serving in an Army Reserve Troop Program Units, AMEDD Professional Management Command, or the Individual Mobilization Program.”

How to apply

For additional information, contact your local Army recruiter, call 1-800-USA-Army, or visit Healthcare.GoArmy.com.

United States Navy

The Navy Student Loan Repayment Program offers up to $65,000 in repayment assistance, depending on your loan amount and year in school. Eligible applicants serve in the U.S. Navy and have federal student loans.

You may also qualify for the U.S. Navy’s loan forgiveness and repayment program, which offers up to $40,000 per year in loan assistance before taxes. You must be a final year medical student ready to join the U.S. Navy.

Lastly, the Navy Financial Assistance Program offers up to $275,000 in loan repayment assistance plus a monthly stipend to medical residents who agree to serve in the U.S. Navy. Physician sign-up bonuses may also be available.

How to apply

Contact your local Navy recruiter or visit the Navy Recruiting Command website.

United States Air Force

The Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program offers up to $45,000 per year plus a monthly stipend up to $2,000 for medical students who join the U.S. Air Force and serve their country as a medical professional. Once you complete your residency, you’ll have a one-year obligation for each year you participate in the program plus one extra year.

How to apply

Contact a U.S. Air Force recruiter for more information, or visit the U.S. Air Force application page to apply.

State-level loan repayment programs for doctors

 

Program

Eligibility

Alaska


The SHARP Program offers new doctors
up to $35,000 in loan repayment
assistance per year.

Doctors must agree to work at least two
years in a high-need shortage area.

Arizona


The Arizona State Loan Repayment
Program
offers up to $65,000 per year in
repayment assistance for doctors for two
years, with lower repayment amounts
offered in subsequent years. You must
work in outpatient care to qualify.

The doctor must be a U.S. citizen who
agrees to work in a state-approved high
need position.

Arkansas


The Arkansas Department of Health
offers up to $50,000 in loan forgiveness
in exchange for a two-year contract.

You must agree to work in an
underserved area approved by the state.

California


The California State Loan Repayment
Program
offers doctors up to $50,000 in
loan forgiveness.

Applicants must be medical school
graduates and agree to at least a
two-year commitment in an eligible,
state-approved position.

Colorado


The Colorado Health Service Corps
offers up to $90,000 for doctors who
qualify.

Doctors must practice in a
state-approved shortage area that
accepts public insurance and offers
discounted services to the poor for three
years.

Delaware


The Delaware State Loan Repayment
Program
offers between $70,000 and
$100,000 in loan forgiveness for doctors
who qualify.

Doctors must agree to work in an area
with a substantial yet underserved
medical need for two years.

Georgia


The Georgia Physician Loan Repayment
Program
offers up to $25,000 per year
for two years.

Physicians must practice in a shortage
area and in one of the following medical
fields: family medicine, internal medicine,
pediatrics, OB/GYN, geriatrics or
psychiatry.

Hawaii


The Hawaii State Loan Repayment
Program
is a federal grant you can use
to pay off educational loans. Amounts
vary.

Applicants must agree to a two-year
commitment in a state-designated
shortage area.

Idaho


The Idaho State Loan Repayment
Program
offers doctors $2,000 to $25,000
per year in loan repayment assistance.

Doctors must agree to work in a health
care shortage area designed by the
state of Idaho.

Illinois


The Illinois National Health Service Corps
State Loan Repayment Program
offers up
to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance
for doctors who qualify.

Doctors must agree to a two-year
commitment in a health care shortage
area.

Iowa


Iowa’s Primary Care Recruitment and
Retention Endeavor
offers up to $50,000
for full-time doctors and up to $25,000 in
assistance for those who agree to work
part time.

Doctors must agree to work in a shortage
area approved by the state.

Kansas


The Kansas State Loan Repayment
Program
offers doctors up to $25,000 in
assistance per year.

Applicants must agree to a two-year
commitment in an eligible position.

Kentucky


The Kentucky State Loan Repayment
Program
awards up to $300,000 in loan
repayment assistance to up to 13
applicants who work in primary care.

You must agree to work in a designated
health care shortage area.

Louisiana


The Louisiana State Loan Repayment
Program
offers up to $30,000 annually for
up to a three-year commitment.

Applicants need to work in a traditionally
underserved health care shortage area.

Maryland


The Maryland Loan Repayment Assistance
Program
for Physicians offers up to
$50,000 per year for a two-year
commitment.

Applicants must be medical graduates
who are current on their student loans
and willing to work in a health care
shortage area.

Massachusetts


The Massachusetts Loan Repayment
Program
for Health Professionals offers
up to $50,000 for a two-year contract.

You must work in an area experiencing
exceptional medical need.

Michigan


Through the Michigan State Loan
Repayment Program
, doctors can receive
up to $200,000 in loan repayment
assistance.

Doctors must agree to a two-year,
full-time commitment in a health care
shortage area.

Minnesota


The Minnesota State Loan Repayment
Program
offers up to $20,000 in loan
assistance per year. Programs for rural
doctors
and urban physicians in
Minnesota also offer up to $25,000 per
year in assistance.

Dentists must agree to work in a
shortage area for at least two years to
qualify.

Missouri


The Missouri Health Professional State
Loan Repayment Program
offers up to
$50,000 in loan repayment assistance.

Doctors must agree to a two-year
commitment in a health care shortage
area.

Montana


The Montana Rural Physician Incentive
Program
offers up to $20,000 per year in
assistance for up to five years.

You must agree to work in a designated
rural or underserved community.

Nebraska


The Nebraska Loan Repayment Program
offers up to $60,000 per year in loan
repayment assistance.

Physicians must agree to work in
designated shortage areas for at least
three years.

Nevada


The Nevada Health Service Corps offers
varying amounts of loan repayment
assistance based on the term of service.

Doctors must agree to work in assigned
areas of need.

New Hampshire


This state program offers doctors up to
$75,000 in loan repayment for a full-time
commitment.

Applicants must agree to work in a
health care shortage area for at least
three years.

New Jersey


The Primary Care Practitioner Loan
Redemption Program
of New Jersey
helps doctors earn up to $120,000 in loan
repayment assistance.

Doctors must agree to a two- to
four-year commitment.

New Mexico


The Health Professional Loan Repayment
Program
of New Mexico offers up to
$25,000 in assistance per year.

Applicants must agree to a two-year
service agreement in a state-approved
position.

New York


Through Doctors Across New York, you
may qualify for up to $150,000 in
assistance over five years.

You need to work in a health care
shortage area for at least two years.

North Carolina


The state of North Carolina doles out
$100,000 in loan repayment assistance
for doctors who qualify.

Physicians must agree to work at least
four years in a health care shortage area.

North Dakota


North Dakota’s Federal State Loan
Repayment Program
offers up to $50,000
per year for up to two years.

Doctors must agree to work in a health
care shortage area for the duration of
the program.

Ohio


The Ohio Physician Loan Repayment
Program
offers $25,000 per year in
assistance for two years of service
followed by up to $35,000 per year for
third and fourth years.

You must agree to work in a health care
shortage area to qualify.

Oklahoma


The Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment
Program
offers up to $160,000 for a
four-year commitment.

To qualify, physicians must work in a
rural or underserved area.

Oregon


The Oregon Partnership State Loan
Repayment program
offers tiered levels
of assistance based on a variety of
factors.

Applicants must agree to work in a
shortage area for at least two years.

Pennsylvania


The Pennsylvania Primary Health Care
Loan Repayment Program
offers up to
$100,000 in loan repayment assistance in
exchange for a full-time commitment.

Doctors need to agree to work in a
qualified position for at least two years.

Rhode Island


The Rhode Island Health Professionals
Loan Repayment Program
offers financial
assistance for doctors who qualify.

Doctors must agree to work in a shortage
area for at least two years.

South Carolina


South Carolina’s Rural Physician
Incentive Grant Program
offers $60,000
to $100,000 for a four-year contract.

Physicians must work in a rural or
underserved area of the state.

South Dakota


The South Dakota Recruitment Assistance
Program
offers up to $208,754 in
repayment assistance for doctors. The
benefit of the program changes annually.

Doctors must practice full time in a
health care shortage area for at least
three years.

Tennessee


The Tennessee State Loan Repayment
Program
offers up to $50,000 in
assistance for a two-year commitment.

Doctors must work in a designated
shortage area.

Texas


The state’s Physician Education Loan
Repayment Program
offers up to
$160,000 for a four-year commitment.

You must work in a designated
shortage area to qualify.

Utah


Utah’s Rural Physician Loan Repayment
Program
offers up to $15,000 per year in
assistance for doctors who qualify.

Doctors must work in a qualified rural
hospital.

Vermont


The Educational Loan Repayment for
Health Care Professionals program
of
Vermont gives out up to $20,000 in loan
repayment assistance per year.

Doctors in Vermont must work in
medically underserved communities for
at least 12 to 24 months.

Virginia


The Virginia Department of Health offers
loan repayment for doctors of up to
$140,000 for a four-year commitment or
up to $100,000 for a two-year
commitment.

Doctors must work in a state-approved
shortage area.

Washington


Washington’s Health Professional Loan
Repayment Program
offers a maximum
award of $75,000.

A commitment in a health care shortage
area is required.

Wisconsin


Wisconsin’s Health Professions Loan
Assistance Program
offers a maximum
award of $50,000 for doctors who qualify.

This program requires a three-year
commitment in a health care shortage
area.

Part IV: Paying Down Your Medical School Debt

While the very idea of medical school debt could have you feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to understand the many options available when it comes to paying off your loans sooner rather than later. In addition to paying off your loans faster, some strategies can help you save money on interest or secure a more manageable monthly payment.

Here are some tips that can help as you pay down medical school debt:

#1: Refinance your student loans to a lower rate.

Refinancing your student loans to a new loan product with a lower interest rate and better terms can help you save money and possibly even lower your monthly payment. With a lower interest rate, you’ll save money on interest each month, which could help you save money and pay off your loans faster, provided you keep making the same monthly payment.

Keep in mind, however, that there are notable disadvantages that come with refinancing federal loans with a private lender. When you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you lose out on special protections afforded to federal loan borrowers like deferment and forbearance. You also disqualify yourself from federally sponsored income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness programs.

Recommended lenders for refinancing your medical school loans

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.90% - 8.02%


Fixed Rate*

2.56% - 7.30%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

EarnestA+

20


Years

3.89% - 7.89%


Fixed Rate

2.47% - 6.97%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

CommonBondA+

20


Years

3.67% - 7.25%


Fixed Rate

2.70% - 7.44%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

LendKeyA+

20


Years

5.10% - 8.93%


Fixed Rate

2.68% - 8.96%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Laurel Road BankA+

20


Years

3.50% - 7.02%


Fixed Rate

3.23% - 6.65%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Citizens BankA+

20


Years

3.90% - 9.99%


Fixed Rate

3.00% - 9.74%


Variable Rate

$90k / $350k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student LoansA+

20


Years

5.74% - 8.49%


Fixed Rate

4.99% - 7.99%


Variable Rate

$150k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

#2: Find ways to save on monthly expenses.

While graduating from medical school can be a momentous occasion, you can put yourself in a better financial position by living a modest “student” lifestyle as long as you can. Ways to save money include, but aren’t limited to, finding a roommate to share living expenses, skipping pricey dinners out, living without cable television, driving your older car as long as you can, and preventing lifestyle inflation as you start earning more.

#3: Pay all of your monthly payments on time.

Federal Direct Loans and some private lenders offer interest rate discounts after you complete a specific number of on-time monthly payments. Check with your lender to see if they offer this option. If not, you should still make on-time monthly payments to avoid late fees and keep your loans in good standing.

#4: Pay extra toward the principal of your loans.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of refinancing, you can still pay off your loans faster by paying more than the minimum payment on your student loans each month. Throwing extra money at the principal of your loans reduces the amount of interest you owe with each passing month, helping you save money while paying off your loans faster.

#5: Pay interest while in school.

Some medical student loans let interest accrue while you’re still in school. If you have the financial means to make interest-only payments while you’re still in school, doing so can help you prevent your student loan balance from ballooning before you graduate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tuition at medical schools is not fixed, meaning it can pay to shop around before you choose an institution. Private schools tend to be more expensive than public schools as well, meaning you can usually save money if you decide on a public education for your medical degree.

The amount you can save depends on your current interest rate and your new loan rate and its terms. To find out how much you could potentially save by refinancing, enter your old loan and new loan information in a student loan calculator.

You can lower the payment on your student loans in a few different ways. First, you can refinance your student loans into a new loan product with a lower interest rate or longer repayment timeline. Second, you can choose an extended repayment plan or even income-driven repayment.

Federal student loans come with important federal benefits and protections such as deferment and forbearance. They also leave you eligible for income-driven repayment plans and federal loan forgiveness.

As you shop for student loans for medical school, remember that the terms of your loan can make a big difference in how much you’ll pay over time. Compare loans based on the interest rate, any applicable fees, and the monthly payment amount you’ll need to make. You can also check student loan providers’ profiles with the Better Business Bureau and read student loan reviews for even more insight.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, some of most popular pre-med majors include biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and humanities.

According to Swarthmore College, medical schools are interested in students with excellent academic ability, strong interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and demonstrated compassion and care for others.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Holly Johnson
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Holly Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Holly here

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College Students and Recent Grads

The 2019 Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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The numbers are mind-boggling. In mid-2018, American collectively carried $1.53 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Even worse, one million Americans default on their student loans every year, and 40% of borrowers are expected to default by 2023.

If you’re paying off student loans, you know full well what the reality behind these statistics feels like. Repaying student debt is more than just a drag — it can put you in long-term financial jeopardy if things don’t turn out like you’d hoped after graduation.

But, there is a beacon of hope in the darkness. It might be possible for you to have your student loan balance partially or even completely forgiven. These programs aren’t necessarily easy to find or qualify for, and they generally come with strings attached. But if you can complete a student loan forgiveness program, you just might be able to move on with your life and leave the student loans behind.

Whether you have private or federal student loan debt, there are various programs in place to help struggling borrowers ease their debt burden.

Part I: Student loan forgiveness options

When your student loan debt is forgiven, cancelled or discharged, you are off the hook for that amount. Some loan forgiveness programs actually do wipe away your debt like a fairy debt godmother with a magic wand (though you might need to pay taxes on the forgiven amount).

Other programs, such as Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) or Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs), will make additional payments toward your student loan for you, thereby reducing your balance over time.

There is no one-size-fits-all rulebook that dictates how student loan forgiveness programs work. In some cases, you may need to follow strict reporting protocols throughout the program until you become eligible, while other programs may require you to work in a certain industry or live in a certain state.

Because the different student loan forgiveness options vary so much, you need to do extensive research so you know exactly what the requirements are. Some programs may have a big impact on your life, and you need to be prepared for the consequences and opportunity costs. In this guide, we’ll discuss which student loan forgiveness plans are available and the main details of each program.

At a glance: Student loan forgiveness programs

Forgiveness TypeWho is eligible?Amount that can be forgivenWhich loans are eligible?‘Time served’ RequirementTax implications
Public Service Loan Forgiveness*People who make a commitment to a public service career.No capFederal Direct loans and Federal Direct Consolidation loans. Only payments made after October 1, 2007 count toward the 120 payments needed for forgiveness.Make 120 payments (i.e. 10 years) while working full time for any level of government or in a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.Forgiven amount is not taxable
Teacher Loan ForgivenessFull-time teachers working in low-income schools.Up to $17,500 on your Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and your Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford LoansFederal Direct loans, Federal Direct Consolidation and Federal Stafford loans.Must work full time for five years.Forgiven amount is not taxable
Perkins Loan CancellationTeachers and some other professionals, AmeriCorps VISTA or Peace Corps volunteers.Up to 100% of the loan balanceFederal Perkins loans.Must work full time for four to seven years if applying based on your occupation.Cancelled amount is not taxable.
Forgiveness for Income-Driven PlansGraduates who are enrolled in one of the four income-driven plans: PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, and ICR.No cap.Federal Direct loans, Federal Direct Consolidation loans, and Federal Direct PLUS loans made to students.Remaining loan balance is forgiven after 20-25 years.Forgiven amount is taxable.
Loan Forgiveness for NursesNurses who work in certain high-need areas.Up to 85% of your student loan balance.Federal Direct loans, Federal Direct Consolidation loans, Federal Stafford loans, and Federal Direct PLUS loans made to students.Must work full time for three years in a Critical Shortage Facility to receive forgiveness on up to 85% of your loans.Forgiven amount is taxable. However, the NURSE Corps will pay your federal taxes for you.
Loan Forgiveness for DoctorsDoctors who make a commitment to serving in a high-need area or in the military.Varies by program.Varies by program.Varies by program.Varies by program.
Loan Forgiveness for LawyersLawyers who have made a commitment to certain positions (e.g., public defenders, DOJ employees, etc.).Varies by program.Varies by program.Varies by program.Varies by program.
Military student loan forgivenessMembers of the military who have taken out student loan debt before enlisting.Up to 100% for Army service, up to $65,000 for Navy service, or up to $65,000 for Air Force JAG service.Federal student loans.Varies depending on which branch you enlist in.Forgiven amount may be taxable — check with a tax professional.
Segal AmeriCorps Education AwardAmeriCorps volunteersUp to $6,095Federal loans and loans issued by state agencies.Complete at least one term of service (this ranges from 10 months to one year).Forgiven amount is taxable.

Federal student loan repayment programs

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

This is one of the most popular programs. Before you get too excited though, there are a lot of hoops to jump through to apply for PSLF. Additionally, the future for this program is murky: In 2017, Republicans introduced the PROSPER Act that would eliminate PSLF. Although this proposal was never passed, the outlook for PSLF remains uncertain.

Only loans issued under the Federal Direct Loan program qualify.

You have to be up to date with your Federal Direct student loan payments and make at least 120 consecutive on-time payments.

Must have been paying on loans while working full time for the government or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or another qualified employer. If you take a hiatus with a private-sector employer and switch back, the payments you’ve already made while previously employed still count. You also need to be enrolled in some sort of repayment plan. Luckily, income-driven repayment plans such as Pay As You Earn count.

If you meet all those criteria and submit an annual employment certification form, you could be eligible to have your remaining student loan balance forgiven after 120 payments (i.e., 10 years). To get that, you’ll have to fill out yet another PSLF forgiveness application form.

This means that if you’re on the default 10-year repayment plan and are able to keep up with it, you won’t really be able to take advantage of this program because you’ll already have paid off your loans after 10 years anyway.

Federal income-driven repayment plans

Income-driven repayment programs offer more than just student loan forgiveness. They’ll make your student loans more affordable in the short term as well by capping your monthly payments at 10% to 20% of your discretionary income.

The details of how the monthly income-driven payments work vary. Here, we’ll give a brief overview of how these programs work before focusing specifically on how you can get your student loan balance forgiven with each of the four plans.

Warning: With each of these federal income-driven repayment plans, any forgiven balance is considered taxable income in the year it’s forgiven. You’ll need to plan ahead accordingly.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

The PAYE and REPAYE programs each limit your monthly payment amount to 10% of your discretionary income and require you to certify your income and family size every year. The nitty-gritty details of who is eligible and how the PAYE and REPAYE programs work from there vary.

Here’s how you can get your student loans forgiven if you’re enrolled in these programs:
If you’re in the PAYE program, your Federal Direct or Consolidation loans will be forgiven after 20 years.

If you’re in the REPAYE program, it works a bit differently: Your student loans will be forgiven after 20 years, but only if all of your loans are from undergraduate study. If you went to grad school and took out any student loans, your remaining balance would instead be forgiven after 25 years.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

If you’re enrolled in the IBR plan, your monthly payment amount will be limited to 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, depending on if you’re a new borrower or not on or after July 1, 2014. You’ll also have to recertify your income and family size each year.

If you do those things and still have a remaining balance at the end of 20 or 25 years (again, depending on whether you were a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014), regardless of what type of federal student loans you have, you will be forgiven. The lone exception are Federal PLUS loans made to parents, which need to be on the ICR plan listed below.

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan

If you’re enrolled in ICR, you’ll potentially have the highest monthly payments of all: either 20% of your discretionary income or whatever the payment would be on a 12-year repayment plan (whichever is less). You’ll also need to recertify your income and family size with this plan as well.

ICR also has one of the longest repayment periods. If you have anything left on your student loan balance after 25 years, it’ll be forgiven.

Federal Perkins Loan cancellation

The Perkins Loan program expired in 2017, but many graduates still carry this type of debt. It works a bit differently than most other federal loans — rather than being doled out through the William D. Ford Direct Loan program as with most federal student loans, each loan is made directly to you from the school itself. That means that when it comes time to apply for forgiveness, you’ll need to contact the school itself for an application.

How you qualify for Federal Perkins loan cancellation and how much you’re eligible to have cancelled depends on your profession and time served in your position.

Teachers, nurses, medical technicians, firefighters, tribal college faculty, law enforcement officers and attorneys working in public positions may be eligible to have up to 100% of their remaining Perkins loans waived after five years of service.

Certain early childhood education professionals may be eligible for Perkins loan cancellation after seven years. If you were in the military and served in a dangerous location, you may be eligible to have your remaining Perkins loan balance waived after five to 10 years, depending on when your service ended.

Finally, if you are an AmeriCorps VISTA or Peace Corps volunteer, you might be able to have 70% of the remaining balance on your Perkins loans cancelled after four years.

At a glance: Student loan cancellation or discharge programs

Forgiveness TypeWho is eligible?Which loans are eligible?Tax implications
Closed school dischargePeople whose school closed while enrolled, or within 120 days of withdrawing from class.Federal Direct loans, FFEL loans and Federal Perkins loans.Forgiven amount may be taxable — check with a tax professional.
Total and permanent disability dischargePeople who become “totally and permanently disabled.”Federal Direct loans, FFEL loans and Federal Perkins loans.Forgiven amount is usually taxable.
Discharge due to deathPeople who die, and students whose deceased parents have taken out Federal Parent PLUS loans.Federal Direct loans, FFEL loans, Federal Perkins loans and Federal PLUS loan (including those taken out by parents).Forgiven amount is not taxable, unless a parent with a Federal Parent PLUS loan is claiming discharge for a deceased child.
False Certification of Student Eligibility or Unauthorized Payment DischargePeople whose school falsely certified their eligibility for loans (this also includes victims of identity theft).Federal Direct loans or FFEL loans.Forgiven amount may be taxable — check with a tax professional.
Unpaid Refund DischargeStudents who withdrew from school and whose schools did not issue a refund back to the lender.Federal Direct loans or FFEL loans.Forgiven amount may be taxable — check with a tax professional.
Borrower Defense to Repayment DischargeStudents whose schools “misled them or engaged in other misconduct.”All Federal student loans.Forgiven amount may be taxable — check with a tax professional.

Part II: Loan forgiveness programs by profession

Teacher loan forgiveness

Teachers have a lot of options for student loan forgiveness. Aside from the Perkins Loan cancellation discussed above, you may be eligible for teacher loan forgiveness for your Federal Direct/Federal Stafford loans.

Unfortunately, this loan program won’t cancel the full remainder of your balance. After spending five years teaching full-time in a low-income school, most teachers will only have $5,000 of their remaining loan balance forgiven.

If you’re a math, science or special education teacher, the deal is sweetened: You’ll have up to $17,500 of your student loan balance forgiven.

Teacher loan forgiveness might not fully cancel out your loans, but you may have another option: public service loan forgiveness. As a teacher, you’re also eligible for this program.

Sadly, you can’t use the same period of service to qualify for both programs simultaneously. That means you’ll need to teach for five years in a low-income school to qualify for the teacher loan forgiveness program, and then restart the clock for another 10 years to qualify for PSLF (though for the latter, it doesn’t have to be at a low-income school).

You may also be eligible for other student loan forgiveness or assistance programs depending on where you live. To find out more, check out the American Federation of Teachers online loan forgiveness database.

Loan forgiveness for nurses

One of the most well-established student loan forgiveness programs for nurses is the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program. If you agree to work in a facility with a critical nurse shortage, you can have up to 85% of your student loan balance paid off for you after three years.

Even better, the program will pay your federal taxes automatically for you so you don’t have to worry about the dreaded student loan forgiveness tax bombs (although you may be on the hook for state taxes). To earn these student loan payments, you first need to apply and be accepted into the program.

There are also many state loan repayment programs for nurses. To see if your state has one, simply do a Google search for “your state + nurse student loan forgiveness.” Or check out the full guide to nurse loan forgiveness programs here.

Loan forgiveness for doctors

There are numerous state-specific student loan repayment plans for doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges maintains an excellent database of federal and state-run programs. Here are some others to consider:

IHS: If you agree to work in an IHS (Indian Health Service) facility for at least two years, this agency will agree to pay $40,000 toward your student loans. You can also agree to extend your employment beyond the two-year mark to earn even more student loan repayments, with no maximum cap. In other words, you could have your entire student loan balance paid off with this program if you stick around long enough. Another nice benefit of this program is that the IHS will pay 20% of the income taxes that result from their payments (but you’re still on the hook for the other 80%, and any other income tax).

Military doctors: There are several military-specific programs for doctors and dentists in particular. The Navy’s Health Professions Loan Repayment Program will pay up to $40,000 per year (minus about 25% for taxes) toward your student loans if you agree to enlist in a certain skill shortage area. The Army offers a smattering of student loan repayment programs offering up to $250,000 for a wide range of doctor specialties and higher-level medical personnel.

National Health Service Corps: Doctors and dentists who haven’t yet completed their final year of school may be eligible for the National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program. In exchange for agreeing to provide health care in an NHSC-approved facility in need for at least three years, the NHSC will pay off up to $120,000 of your federal and private student loans. Even better, the award is not considered taxable income.

Repayment assistance for other health professionals

In addition to doctors and nurses, many other licensed professionals such as social workers, counselors and midwives may be eligible for up to $50,000 in student loan forgiveness under the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program.

To qualify, you need to submit an application to be accepted into the program and agree to work at least two years in an NHSC-approved medically underserved location. This program is also tax-free.

The NHSC also grants money to certain states to run their own health care student loan repayment program. To see if your state participates and how the program works, visit their website.

If you are involved in medical or veterinary research, you may also qualify for up to $35,000 per year in student loan forgiveness through the National Institute of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program. There are currently eight different repayment programs available (the details of which vary), and you will have to enroll in an LRAP in advance.

Loan forgiveness for lawyers

Student loan forgiveness programs for lawyers are equally piecemeal. One of the most popular programs is run by the Department of Justice for its employees.

If you’re able to commit to a three-year term and have at least $10,000 in federal student loan debt, you can apply to this program. Applications are only accepted once per year by a certain due date. Once accepted into the program, the DOJ will match your student loan payments of up $6,000 per year toward your student loans, for a maximum of $60,000. This is also considered taxable income, although the DOJ will withhold a part of the money to pay your extra income taxes for you.

If you’re a public defender or a state prosecutor, you may also be eligible for the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program. If you agree to remain in your position for at least three years, this program will help you pay back $10,000 in federal student loans per year, up to a maximum of $60,000. This program is run through state agencies. To learn more, you can find your state’s agency here.

There are also numerous student loan assistance programs for lawyers run by state agencies. To find these programs, simply Google “your state + lawyer student loan assistance program.” Your school may also offer a loan repayment program, so check with your financial aid office to find out.

Military student loan forgiveness

In addition to the student loan forgiveness programs available to military members and veterans under other umbrellas (such as the Perkins Loan cancellation or PSLF), several branches of the military offer their own loan repayment programs (LRPs) as enlistment incentives.

Army: The Army offers LRPs for regular Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard soldiers. The details of these programs vary depending on your current job status, but in general, these programs all require a few common things to earn payment toward your federal loans. First, you need to get your LRP guaranteed in writing in your enlistment contract (very important!), decline G.I. Bill benefits, be a high school graduate with a minimum 50 score on your ASVAB test and agree to enlist in a critical military occupational specialty for a certain period of time. If you meet these qualifications, you could have up to 100% of your federal student loan balance forgiven.

Navy: If you’re drawn to a life at sea, the Navy offers a single LRP for incoming sailors. If eligible for this program, the Navy will pay up to $65,000 toward your student loans and your income tax liability. This program is currently only offered to sailors with certain eligibility ratings as they are going through the enrollment process.

Air Force: The Air Force also offers an LRP, but it’s much less comprehensive than the Army and the Navy’s LRP and only applies to those with a legal bent. You can apply for up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance by joining the Air Force’s JAG Corps. You become eligible for this award after serving for at least one year as a JAG officer.

Student loan forgiveness for volunteers

AmeriCorps volunteers are eligible for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award after they’ve completed at least one term of service. The amount of the award is pegged to the value of the Federal Pell Grant each year (currently $6,095 for 2019), and volunteers can’t earn more than two full-time awards (even if they serve more than two full-time terms).

The forgiven amount is also considered taxable income, so plan accordingly.

Part III: Learn more

It can be tough to sort out the requirements for a student loan forgiveness program, assuming that you qualify for one. You may even have to commit to making a life-changing decision by accepting a job in a location you otherwise wouldn’t have chosen, or by taking a lower salary while in public service, for example.

Which student loan forgiveness program is right for you?

Making a decision based on these factors isn’t easy. You will have to do a lot of research and reading of the fine print to understand whether a particular student loan forgiveness program will work for you or not.

If you need help, look for a fee-only Certified Financial Planner who specializes in student loan forgiveness. Believe it or not, CFPs do not receive student loan training as part of the requirements to pass the CFP exam, so you should really interview several planners beforehand to test their knowledge.

Then there’s the uncertainty of whether these programs will even be around in the future, given the current political environment. Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally-recognized student loan expert, believes it’s very likely that the popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness program will eventually be phased out, for example.

But if you’re currently deciding whether or not to take a job based on being eligible for a federal student loan forgiveness program, take heart — applying now could get you in the door permanently.

“In general, when there is a change in federal law, existing borrowers tend to be grandfathered in,” said Kantrowitz. There are no promises, of course, but you may be a bit safer if you start a student loan forgiveness program now rather than waiting.

Pitfalls of student loan forgiveness

One of the biggest disadvantages of student loan forgiveness programs is that in many cases, the forgiven amount is considered taxable income. This means you could owe taxes on the forgiven amount just as if you’d been cut a check.

For example, if you have $25,000 worth of student loan debt forgiven and you’re in the 22% tax bracket (earning between $39,475 and $84,200 for a single person in 2019), that means you’ll get a whopping tax bill at the end of the year for $5,500.

“You’re substituting a tax debt for education debt,” said Kantrowitz, even if the tax debt is lower.
If you absolutely cannot pay the tax bill, however, Kantrowitz says all hope is not lost. “The IRS, in many cases, is actually quite reasonable. They realize that you can’t squeeze blood from a stone.”

You may be able to negotiate a lower lump-sum payment, or may even have the debt discharged if you’re financially insolvent (which the IRS defines as having a net worth of $0 or less).

Becoming financially insolvent as a way to escape your tax bill is never a good idea, so you need to plan ahead for the outrageous tax bill. Again, this is another good time to consult with a fee-only Certified Financial Planner.

Alternatives to student loan forgiveness

If you don’t qualify for one of these student loan forgiveness programs, there may be two last cards you can play.

1. Your employer

“About four percent of employers now offer student loan repayment assistance, or LRAP programs, for their employees,” said Kantrowitz. PricewaterhouseCoopers and Fidelity Investments have established programs, for example.

Finding a private-sector employer who offers an LRAP may be your best bet if you don’t qualify for forgiveness under another program.

2. Speed up your repayment

How? Simply make extra payments toward your student loans on your own.

This is especially important to consider when evaluating job offers. Let’s say one company pays less but offers an LRAP. The other company pays way more, but maybe doesn’t offer an LRAP. Tally up the value of the program: You very might well be able to get out of debt faster with the higher-earning job by making extra payments yourself, rather than relying on a potential employer’s LRAP.

Student loan forgiveness and repayment programs can help unshackle you from a mountain of debt. But you don’t have to wait for the ability or permission from someone else to start paying your loans off early yourself.

Looking to refinance your student loans to a lower rate? Check out our top picks for student loan refinancing.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

Rebecca Safier
Rebecca Safier |

Rebecca Safier is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rebecca here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Student Loan ReFi

Best Private Student Loan Companies in 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

private student loans
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Taking out private student loans can be a relatively expensive ways to borrow for school, yet many college students make the mistake of turning to private loans too quickly. From 2015 to 2016, more than half (53%) of undergraduates borrowed from private lenders before maximizing their federal loan allotment, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

On the other hand, federal loans can only go so far, especially if you are pursuing a postgraduate degree that requires more schooling. Once you’ve tapped out your federal aid, a private student loan could help you fill the gap.

While federal loans offer a relatively uniform application process and loan terms, private lenders’ terms can vary widely. If you’re thinking about paying for school with a private student loan, it’s vital to compare lenders’ offerings to find the one that’s best for you.

How we ranked the best private student loans

There’s a lot to review when you’re shopping around with private lenders. Your annual percentage rate (APR), fees and loan repayment term could impact how much you pay in interest over the lifetime of the loan. Other features — such as a straightforward application process and the option to request that a cosigner be removed from the loan — could also affect your repayment.

We started the search for the best private student loan companies by identifying the 10 largest national private lenders. Each lender’s undergraduate student loan was graded on eight critical factors:

  • Private lenders offer loans with varying interest rates depending on the applicant’s creditworthiness — or that of the applicant’s cosigner. Lenders advertise an interest-rate range that you can use to compare one with another.
  • In this case, each lender was assigned grades based on its lowest and highest APRs compared with the average lowest and highest APRs for all 10 lenders. Each lender received four scores (as they all offer variable-rate and fixed-rate loans), and the lenders with below-average APRs received top marks.
  • Lenders could charge application, origination and prepayment fees based on your loan balance.
  • Although fees are becoming a thing of the past, one of these 10 lenders (CommonBond) still charges a federal-like origination fee when the loan is disbursed.
  • All of the top 10 lenders offer an online application, but the clarity and ease of use can vary. The lenders with intuitive processes, plus pre-qualification offers, got the best grades.
  • Many private student lenders, including all 10 of the lenders we compared, offer a 0.25% interest rate discount if you enroll in autopay. A few lenders earned extra points for also extending a 0.25% interest rate discount to borrowers with a related bank account.
  • Most of the private student loans we compared offered several repayment terms with a maximum of 15 or 20 years. Lenders that feature fewer loan-term options didn’t score as well because they offer less flexibility to borrowers.
  • Most undergraduate students qualify for private loans thanks to a creditworthy cosigner, who can also help reduce the interest rate. Some private student loan lenders let you apply to release your cosigner after you make a given number of consecutive, on-time full principal and interest payments and pass a credit check. Setting the bar for a top score of only 12 payments was the shortest option available among the lenders we compared.
  • You may be able to choose from different repayment plans, such as making interest-only payments while you’re in school or fully deferring payments until your post-school grace period ends. Lenders that offer full interest and principal deferment received top marks.
  • A few lenders earned extra credit because they offer unique perks, such as a principal rate reduction or cash back when you graduate.

After assigning each lender a grade, we ranked them and selected the top five for our “Best Private Student Loan Companies” list.

Our top picks for private student loan companies

 

Sallie Mae

CommonBond

College Ave

Citizens Bank

Wells Fargo

Ranking12345
Variable APR4.62% to 11.47%3.95% to 9.81%4.20% to 11.44%4.47% to 12.34%5.25% to 10.24%
Fixed APR5.74% to 11.85%5.29% to 9.83%5.29% to 12.78%5.74% to 12.19%5.24% to 9.99%
Rate discount0.25% for autopay0.25% for autopay0.25% for autopay0.25% for autopay, 0.25% for having a Citizens Bank account 0.25% for autopay, 0.25 to 0.50% for having a Wells Fargo banking or investment account
Origination feeNo Origination FeesYesNo Origination FeesNo Origination FeesNo Origination Fees
Repayment terms5 to 15 years5, 10 or 15 years5, 8, 10 or 15 years5, 10 or 15 years15 years
Cosigner releaseAfter 12 months of timely paymentsAfter 24 months of timely paymentsAfter half your term has elapsed and after 24 months of timely paymentsAfter 36 months of timely paymentsAfter 24 months of timely payments
PerkReceive study support, plus credit score trackingPause your repayment for up to 12 months after leaving school via economic hardship forbearanceReceive $150 bonus upon graduationReceive approval for multiple years of loans at onceN/A

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on Sallie Mae Bank’s secure website

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on CommonBond’s secure website

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on College AVE’s secure website

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on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

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on Wells Fargo Bank’s secure website

*Rates are current as of Jan. 24, 2019, and may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

#1 Sallie MaeSmart Option Student Loan

Sallie Mae offers a wide range of student loans to undergraduate, graduate and professional students, as well as their parents. That may not come as a surprise though, since Sallie Mae is one of the most widely known private student loan companies. It opened its doors in 1972 as a government-sponsored company before privatizing in 2004.

  • Why it’s our top pick:
    • The undergraduate Smart Option Student Loan has a few standout benefits, such as the option to release a cosigner after making 12 consecutive monthly payments.
    • You can also choose from three in-school repayment plans: full deferment, $25 monthly payments or interest-only payments. And if you’re having trouble making payments after graduation, you can also request to make 12 interest-only payments.
    • Borrowers also get non-loan-related perks, such as quarterly access to one of their FICO credit scores, plus four months of academic support from Chegg.
  • Room for improvement:
    • Overall, Sallie Mae serves borrowers a variety of choices and benefits. However, it doesn’t offer as many potential discounts as some of the other top lenders. Still, if you find you qualify for a lower pre-discount rate with Sallie Mae than another lender, Sallie Mae could indeed be a smart option.
  • Fine print to watch out for:
    • Sallie Mae says it offers repayment terms between 5 and 15 years, but your repayment term depends on a variety of factors, including your loan amount. Unlike with other lenders, you can’t independently choose your repayment term.

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on Sallie Mae Bank’s secure website

#2 CommonBond

Founded in 2012, the student loan refinancing and lending firm CommonBond is perhaps the most giving among competitors. For every loan it funds, it pays for the education of a child abroad. That could among a number of factors that push CommonBond over the top when you’re considering where to borrow for college.

  • Why we like it:
    • Aside from its do-good ways, CommonBond also saves money for its borrowers. It offers for the most part, the lowest rates of any lender under consideration, plus the benefits found at most online-only lenders: a straightforward loan application, flexible repayment terms and responsive customer service.
    • Although it’s not the only lender to offer you the ability to pause your payments once you leave school, it’s also worth noting that CommonBond gives its members up to 12 months of forbearance. That could come in handy if you lose your job or fall on hard times once you’re out in the real world.
  • Room for improvement:
    • CommonBond offers low rates, but it also charges a 2% origination fee. Aside from matching Sallie Mae’s 12-month path to cosigner release, eliminating the fee is CommonBond’s biggest bugaboo. If you decide the lender is right for you, ensure you calculate the added cost of this 2% fee, which is a one-time charge based on your loan amount.
  • Fine print to watch out for:
    • Unlike federal student loan options for deferment and forbearance, CommonBond (like other private lenders) isn’t mandated to grant you a pause on your repayment. You would need to prove that your circumstances are dire enough to be considered.

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on CommonBond’s secure website

#3 College Ave

Founded by former Sallie Mae executives, College Ave is another online-only lender looking to disrupt the student loan industry. It lends to undergraduates, graduate students and parents, plus students attending career schools.

  • Why we like it:
    • College Ave is the only lender among the 10 we surveyed that offers four repayment term options (5, 8, 10 and 15 years). Interestingly, the company says 79% of its borrowers choose plans of 10 years or less, keeping additional interest from accruing during the life of repayment.
  • Room for improvement:
    • We penalized College Ave in our rankings for its slow path to cosigner release. If you agree to borrow on a 10-year term with the lender, you won’t be eligible to apply to remove your cosigner until after the five-year mark. All the other lenders we reviewed offer release within 12 to 48 months.
  • Fine print to watch out for:
    • College Ave contends it takes just three minutes to apply for a loan, but that merely determines whether or not you (and/or your cosigner) are eligible. After prequalifying, you could proceed to the more detailed application process.

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on College AVE’s secure website

#4 Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank is a large traditional bank with over 1,100 branches across 11 states. It offers student loans to undergraduates, graduate students and parents, as well as student loan refinancing.

  • Why we like it:
    • You might need to apply for a student loan at the start of each term. With Citizen Bank’s multi-year approval, however, you could choose to borrow additional money for another term without having to fill out a new application.
    • Also, if you or your cosigner have a qualifying bank account or loan from Citizens Bank, you could be eligible for a permanent 0.25% interest rate reduction on your student loan.
  • Room for improvement:
    • The primary drawback is the 36-payment requirement to apply to release a cosigner. Aside from that, Citizens Bank offers competitive rates, a variety of loan terms and interest-rate discounts that are in line or possibly better than many of the other private student loan companies.
  • Fine print to watch out for:
    • To qualify for cosigner release, you must also submit income statements to prove you can handle repayment on your own.

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on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

#5 Wells Fargo

You’ll likely recognize Wells Fargo, as it’s one of the largest banks in the U.S., but you may not have realized that it offers student loans. It has several different programs, with offerings for community college students, undergraduates, graduates and professional school students.

  • Why we like it:
    • Like many other lenders, Wells Fargo offers a 0.25% interest rate discount if you enroll in autopay. Also, you can get a permanent 0.25% to 0.50% interest rate reduction if you or your cosigner have an eligible Wells Fargo student loan, consumer checking account or Portfolio by Wells Fargo relationship.
  • Room for improvement:
    • Put simply: You’re put in a box. You have to choose a 15-year term for your student loan. If you stick to making your required payment amount, you could wind up paying more in interest than if you took out a shorter loan elsewhere.
  • Fine print to watch out for:
    • Be sure that you make your first full payment on time. If it’s late, you’ll need to make 48 consecutive full payments (rather than 24) before you can apply to release a cosigner.

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on Wells Fargo Bank’s secure website

Determine if a private student loan is right for you

Using our rankings, you might be able to identify the private lender that offers you the best overall loan. However, it’s worth taking a step back to consider all your options before committing.

To do this objectively, come up with the list of criteria that matter most to you. They could vary from the eight criteria that we employed above — your list might emphasize a lender’s customer service, for instance.

When you’re comparing lenders with your criteria in mind, be prepared to weigh them as you see fit. You might not have a cosigner and therefore don’t care if a lender offers a fast path to cosigner release. In that case, you might look past top-ranked Sallie Mae — and its industry-best 12-month policy — to prioritize a lender that offers the lowest rates to independent borrowers.

Finally, confirm that you’re eligible to borrow from most private student loans banks, credit unions and online companies. You might find yourself disqualified, for example, if you’re an international student without a U.S. permanent resident cosigner. Lenders also generally require undergraduates to be 18, to attend school at least half-time and to have solid to strong credit — or to apply a cosigner who does.

Alternatives to private student loans

Almost always, federal student loans should be a borrower’s first choice if he or she has to borrow money. In part, this is because federal loans give you access to forgiveness programs, special repayment plans and guaranteed options to defer payments or put your loans in forbearance.

Also, if you haven’t built credit of your own and don’t have a creditworthy cosigner, federal student loans could be your only option. Most don’t have a credit requirement, and the federal loans for graduate or professional students and parents that do have a credit check don’t vary their interest rate based on your credit.

By contrast, even with a creditworthy cosigner, you may wind up with a higher interest rate if you take out a private student loan. Advertised interest rates can climb into the double digits, while 2018-2019 undergrads could access federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans at 5.05%.

However, there may be times when a private student loan makes sense or could be a necessity. For example, undergraduate federal student loans have annual ($5,500 to $12,500) and aggregate (up to $57,500) borrowing limits that may not be enough to cover all your educational expenses.

Even if your unsure about whether you’re going to take out federal or private loans, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) annually. In addition to being a requirement for federal loans and work-study aid, you may need to submit the FAFSA to qualify for some grants and scholarships.

Secure as much gift aid as you can before resorting to loans of any kind. After all, grants and scholarships don’t need to be repaid.

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Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

Louis DeNicola is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Louis at louis@magnifymoney.com

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