DPrimary school is expensive, which is why many students rely on student loans to cover costs. According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), students who graduated in 2021 left their dental program with an average of $301,583 in student loan debt.
If a dental school graduate paid off their student debt out of pocket over a standard 10-year repayment period, they would receive a monthly payment of $2,513.19, not including interest. Despite the six-figure median income dentists enjoy, that monthly payment could still be overwhelming enough to set back other financial goals, such as buying a home or saving for retirement.
The good news is that there are several federal and state student loan forgiveness programs as well as repayment programs available for dental school loans. Here’s how they work and where to find them.
How does student loan forgiveness for dentists work?
Dentists of all types, including general dentists and hygienists as well as specialists like orthodontists and surgeons, could qualify for a variety of dental loan repayment and forgiveness programs.
Requirements vary by program, but generally participating dentists must make a number of one-time payments and meet employment eligibility criteria, such as working in the public sector. After fulfilling these conditions, you can submit a request requesting that all or part of your loans be repaid or cancelled.
While some programs are only available for federal student loans, others can also be used to repay private student loans.
Federal loan relief for dentists
The Department of Education offers two rebate options for dentists with federal student loans:
Cancellation of civil service loans
To be eligible for the Civil Service Loan Remission (PSLF), you must:
- Work full-time for an eligible employer. This includes government employers through federal, state, local, or tribal organizations; non-profit organizations; and the AmeriCorps or Peace Corps.
- Make 120 qualifying payments. You must make 120 qualifying payments under one of four Income Contingent Repayment (IDR) plans. This equals 10 years of payments.
After meeting these requirements, you can submit a request to have the remaining balance of your federal student loan tax-free.
Income Oriented Repayment
If you do not work for an employer who qualifies under the PSLF program, another option is to enroll in an IDR plan. In this type of plan, your payments are based on your income and the size of your household. Additionally, any remaining federal student loan balance could be canceled after 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan.
There are four main IDR plans available:
- Income Based Reimbursement (IBR): Under this plan, your payments are limited to 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, and your remaining balance will be canceled after 20 or 25 years, depending on when you took out your loans. To be eligible for the IBR, you must demonstrate partial financial hardship.
- Pay as you earn (PAYE): If you sign up for PAYE, your payments will be capped at 10% of your Discretionary Income, and any remaining balance can be canceled after 20 years. As with IBR, you must be in partial financial hardship to qualify for PAYE.
- Pay As You Earn Review: On this plan, your payments will be 10% of your discretionary income, although unlike other plans, these payments are not capped. You can have loans for your undergraduate studies canceled after 20 years, while loans for graduate and vocational programs like dental school can be canceled after 25 years.
- Income Contingent Reimbursement (ICR): Under ICR, your payments will be 20% of your Discretionary Income or what you would pay on a 12-year income-adjusted plan. Any remaining balance will be forgiven after 25 years.
Unlike the PSLF, loans canceled under an IDR plan are considered taxable income.
National Reimbursement Programs for Dentists
In addition to federal dental loan relief programs, you can explore service-based dental loan repayment programs (LRPs) offered by national organizations.
National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) offers a handful of LRPs, but its broadest program is the NHSC LRP. Licensed primary care medical providers, including dentists, physicians and mental health professionals, can receive up to $50,000 in repayment assistance for qualified federal and private student loans.
Participants must accept a full-time or part-time two-year service contract in an NHSC-approved Health Worker Shortage Area (HPSA). Part-time providers are eligible for up to $25,000 in repayment assistance, while full-time employees can repay up to $50,000 of their student loans.
After completing the required two years, you can apply for further reimbursement through one-year contracts, although there is no guarantee that you will be approved. Also note that a part-time service option is not available for those working in private practices.
National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers two LRPs, one for researchers employed by the NIH (intramural) and one for those working outside (extramural). In return for your participation in NIH-relevant research, you may receive up to $50,000 per year in student loan repayment assistance. Renewal rewards are also available.
Dentists with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD), or equivalent doctorate from an accredited school are eligible to participate in NIH Extramural and Intramural LRPs . You must also have student debt (federal or private) equal to or greater than 20% of your institutional base salary (not applicable to renewal applicants), complete approved research, and meet all other requirements to participate.
Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Scheme
The Indian Health Service (IHS) LRP is offering up to $40,000 in student loan repayment assistance to dental professionals who accept a two-year contract serving Native American and Alaska Native communities. Eligible dental professions include dentists (DDS and DMD), dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental therapists (associate degree).
This program allows you to renew your contract each year until all of your eligible student debt balance is paid off. This includes federal and private student loans used to pay for your dental program and undergraduate prerequisites.
Note that if you accept a scholarship through the IHS LRP, you cannot also receive support from another government-funded program, such as the NHSC LRP, at the same time.
Military Loan Repayment Programs
If you are a dentist who has served or is serving in the U.S. military, you may qualify for an LRP program, such as:
- Air Force Health Professions Loan Repayment Program: Dentists who are on active duty in the Air Force can receive up to $40,000 (less approximately 28% federal income tax) in student loan repayment over two years.
- Army Active Duty Healthcare Occupation Loan Repayment Program: Dentists on active duty in the military can receive up to $120,000 in reimbursement assistance over three years.
- Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program: This program offers dentists up to $40,000 (less approximately 25% federal income tax) to pay for their student loans. You must meet the requirements for commissioning service and serve on active duty for two years.
- Education Debt Reduction Program: Dentists who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may be eligible for this program, which offers up to $200,000 in loan repayment over five years.
- VA Student Loan Repayment Program: This is another option for VA dental employees, offering up to $60,000 in student loan repayment over six years.
As of 2022, an LRP is not available through the Marines.
State-Based Dental Loan Waiver
Most states have designed their own student loan repayment programs that are available to dental professionals. Requirements and eligibility vary by state.
To see if your state offers an LRP for dentists, visit the ADEA website.
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