3 simple steps for tackling your medical student loan debt.
If the size and complexity of your loans have you feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Fifty-six percent of graduates think they’re “not very” or “not at all” knowledgeable about their repayment options, according to a report about physicians’ financial preparedness by AMA Insurance.
The good news is you don’t have to figure everything out at once. If you do nothing else, take these three steps to make sure you’re staying on top of your debt, preventing issues with your credit score and avoiding defaulting on your loans.
Figure out what you owe.Again, this is probably not what you want to be doing in your free time. But take 30 minutes to gather your student loan information from your different lenders. Write down the balance, monthly payment and due date for each loan. Determine whether you have private or federal loans.
Make note of when your grace period ends and you’ll need to start making payment. Graduates are typically granted a grace period of six months, and you can use that time to figure out your financial plan.
Tip: Your loans still accrue interest during the grace period. On unsubsidized loans, that interest will be added to the principal amount you owe. You could save significantly if you pay that interest during your grace period.
Consider your repayment options.Whether you have more loans than you can keep track of or you don’t see how your salary can support your monthly payments, there’s likely a repayment plan that can help you. We’ve gathered the main options available according to what you may be trying to achieve. For private loans, check with your lender to learn what repayment plans they may offer.
- If you’re feeling a budget crunch and wish you could bring your monthly payment down, consider repayment plans available through the federal government. From income-based to graduated, there are several options that offer more flexibility. Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), for instance, is a program that sets your monthly payment at 10 percent of your income initially and then adjusts accordingly as your income changes. More information and the full list of repayment plans are available on the Federal Student Aid website.
- If you intend to work for a non-profit or government organization, and for at least 10 years, you might look into loan forgiveness. Through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, your loans could be forgiven if you work for a qualifying employer for ten years and follow an approved repayment plan during that time. If you think you may qualify, consider the program as early as possible to make sure you’re following the correct repayment plan. You should also look up what programs your state may offer.
Though Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a very attractive option, getting approved has proven to be extremely rare. The Education Department reports that it has forgiven fewer than 100 of 30,000 applications so far. It’s important to be absolutely sure your loan and circumstances fulfill all requirements.
- Refinancing. When you refinance, you can combine federal and private loans into one new loan, with one convenient monthly payment. Many doctors save thousands over the life of their loan with this option, if they can refinance at a lower rate.
There are many factors to consider with refinancing – for example, your loan will become private, and you won’t have the perks some federal loans offer. But, you may be able to secure a lower interest rate, or lengthen your repayment plan to alleviate financial stress. Shop around, and see if refinancing is the right option for your unique circumstances.
Meet with a financial advisor.For many years, your sole focus has been learning how to diagnose and heal the human body. There’s no reason you should be expected to also be a financial expert. While you help people lead healthier, happier lives, let someone who’s spent years studying finance provide a financial check-up. They can help you navigate your options and decide the best course of action for you.
Look for someone who is transparent, appreciates your unique situation and can explain how their recommendations support your goals. Make sure they can help you think about your finances holistically, strategically and for the long term.
Between sorting out your loans, understanding your options and figuring out what you want to do, tackling your debt can feel like a massive undertaking. But the pressure to decide can get in the way of taking action on what should be an immediate priority: keeping up with payments. If you do nothing else, know what you owe and figure out a plan for paying what you can.