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Best dental school loan forgiveness options

Pay off anywhere from $20K to your full balance, depending on the program.

Forgiveness and loan repayment assistance for dentists can pay off anywhere from $20,000 to your full student loan balance, depending on the program. Like other health professionals, most options available to dentists require you to work for at least a year at a low-paying job or in an underserved area. The longer you work in this type of job or area, the more forgiveness you’re eligible to receive — though you’re not always guaranteed to qualify. This is why you might not want to change up your entire career plans just for a forgiveness program.

9 forgiveness and repayment assistance options for dentists

1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

  • Eligible loans: Federal Direct Loans
  • Forgiveness amount: Entire remaining balance
  • Requirements for dentists: Make 120 income-driven repayments while working for a qualifying nonprofit or government agency.

This popular federal loan forgiveness program can wipe out your total balance after making 10 years of repayments on an income-driven repayment plan — but you have to work an eligible, low-paying job during that time. Funds forgiven through this program are tax exempt.

It could be a good choice for dentists with a lot of federal debt who plan on working in public service anyway, since the majority of the first few rounds of applicants were rejected.

2. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

  • Eligible loans: Federal and private student loans
  • Forgiveness amount: Up to $50,000 for full-time service or $25,000 for half-time service
  • Requirements for dentists: Licensed dental hygienist, DDS or DMD specializing in general or pediatric dentistry; participate in Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; US citizen or national

Like PSLF, the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP) is an incentive program to bring dentists to underserved areas. You can qualify for up to $50,000 in forgiveness if you commit to two years of full-time work in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) — which you can find on the Health Resources and Services Administration website.

After your initial two-year contract is up, you can apply for additional repayment assistance in one-year contracts — though you aren’t guaranteed approval. You don’t have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount you receive through this program.

3. National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program

  • Eligible loans: Federal and private student loans
  • Forgiveness amount: Up to $120,000 in four annual installments — or up to $30,000 per year
  • Requirements for dentists: Pursuing a DDS or DMD degree at an ADA-accredited dental school, enrolled as a full-time student in the last year of your program, eligible for federal employment, US citizen or national

If you’re in the last year of dental school, you might want to consider the National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program (NHSC S2S LRP). It works a lot like the NHSC LRP, except you can receive almost three times as much forgiveness for a three-year commitment instead of the NHSC LRP two-year requirement.

Like with the NHSC LRP, you can receive additional forgiveness in one-year increments if you qualify. And the forgiven amount is not taxable.

4. Health Resources and Services Administration Faculty Loan Repayment Program

  • Eligible loans: Federal and private student loans
  • Forgiveness amount: Up to $40,000
  • Requirements for dentists: Work as a faculty member at a dental school, come from an environmentally or economically disadvantaged background, have a degree in dentistry or dental hygiene

If you come from a disadvantaged background and are thinking of going into teaching, the Health Resources and Services Administration Faculty Loan Repayment Program (HRSA FLRP) might be your best bet. You can get up to $40,000 in debt forgiven in exchange for two years working as a faculty member at a dental school. While forgiven amounts count as taxable income, the HRSA offers funding to make up for the cost.

5. National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program

  • Eligible loans: Federal and private student loans
  • Forgiveness amounts: Up to $50,000 a year
  • Requirements for dentists: Biomedical researcher; hold DDS or DMD; debt worth at least 20% of your institutional base salary; US citizen, national or permanent resident

The National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs (NIH LRPs) offer forgiveness to dentists who take research positions. There are eight programs, three for researchers who work for the NIH and five for those outside of the NIH. This could be a particularly good option if you have a large amount of debt, since it offers the highest per-year repayment amount. You can continue to receive forgiveness as long as you meet the program requirements.

6. Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program

  • Eligible loans: Federal and private student loans
  • Amount: Up to $20,000 a year
  • Requirements for dentists: Licensed dentist or in your final year of dental school with plans on getting your license before you start work, commit to work at an Indian health facility starting on or before September 30th for at least two years, US citizen, registered for Selective Service if you’re a man and over 18 years old

The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program (IHS LRP) offers loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year service commitment to work at a dental facility that serves American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

This could be another good option for high debt loads, since borrowers with over $40,000 in student loans can apply to work additional years until your student debt load is fully paid off. While your loan repayment is taxed, you can qualify for a $4,000 offset to help cover the cost.

7. Forgiveness through income-driven repayment plans

  • Eligible loans: Federal student loans
  • Amount: Remaining balance after 20 or 25 years of income-driven repayments

If you sign up for a federal income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, your remaining debt will be forgiven after the term is up — 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. This could be a good option if you signed up for an IDR plan for PSLF and didn’t get approved and the other programs don’t fit your career path.

But since repayments are a percentage of your income, you might not have any debt left over by the time the term is up if you have a high salary.

8. Military loan repayment programs

If you’re working as a dentist in the military, chances are your branch has a loan repayment program you can qualify for. For example, dentists in most branches can qualify for a Healthcare Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP), which offers up to $50,000 in repayment assistance over three years. Check with your branch for more details about the options available to you and how to apply.

9. State programs

Many states also have loan forgiveness programs that dentists and other health professionals can qualify for. Typically, these also require a short service commitment to work in areas with a shortage of dentists. Check with your state’s health and education departments to learn which programs are available to you.

How else can I save on dental school debt?

Don’t want to change your career? You might want to consider these other options instead:

  • Make immediate repayments. Don’t wait until your student loan’s grace period is up — start your repayments as soon as possible to avoid letting interest add up while you’re in school.
  • Refinance your loans. Trade in your current loans for a lower interest rate or shorter term. If you’re in a high-earning job, you might have the easiest time qualifying for the most competitive rates.
  • Shorten your term. Some lenders will let you shorten your term without going through the process of refinancing. The less time you spend paying off your loan, the less time there is for interest to add up. Use financial planning apps like Mint to help make room in your budget for the higher monthly cost.

Compare student loan refinancing options

Name Product APR Min. Credit Score Loan amount Loan Term
Purefy Student Loan Refinancing (Variable Rate)
1.88% to 5.54%
$5,000 - $300,000
5 to 20 years
Refinance all types of student loans — including federal and parent PLUS loans.
Credible Student Loan Refinancing
1.90% to 8.90%
Good to excellent credit
Starting at $5,000
5 to 20 years
Get prequalified offers from top student loan refinancing providers in one place.
SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Variable Rate (with Autopay)
2.25% to 6.43%
Starting at $5,000
5 to 20 years
A leader in student loan refinancing, SoFi can help you refinance your loans and pay them off sooner.
Splash Financial Student Loan Refinancing
1.89% to 6.66%
Starting at $7,500
5 to 25 years
Save on your student loans with this market-leading newcomer.
Education Loan Finance Student Loan Refinancing
2.39% to 6.01%
Starting at $15,000
5 to 20 years
Lower your student debt costs with manageable payments, affordable rates and flexible terms.
Earnest Student Loan Refinancing
1.88% to 5.64% APR with autopay
$5,000 - $500,000
5 to 20 years
Get a tailored interest rate and repayment plan with no hidden fees.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Dentists have several forgiveness and repayment assistance options, but most require a commitment to work a low-paying job or in an underserved area for at least two years. If you’d rather not make the career change, you might want to look into other options. You can learn more about paying off student debt by reading our guide to student loan refinancing.

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