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How to pay off dental school debt

Compare 3 loan repayment assistance programs to help with nearly $300K debt load.

Dentists might be known for their high-paying salaries, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their fair share of student debt to deal with. While there are three loan repayment assistance programs available to help dental school graduates ease the burden of student loans, you’ll need to join the US military or work in an underserved community to qualify.

Average dental school debt

The average dental student graduated with $285,000 in student loan debt in 2018, according to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). This breaks down to $252,000 for public school students and $326,000 for private school students. And while around 20% of students reported owing less than $100,000, another 40% of students reported debt greater than $300,000.

What’s the average cost of dental school?

The average cost of dental school for first-year students at a public university was $51,000 for in-state residents and $68,000 for out-of-state residents in 2017, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Private dental programs had an average tuition of about $68,000 that same year.

3 repayment assistance programs for dental school

If you’re interested in joining the US military or working in an underserved community, you may qualify for one of these repayment assistance programs.

1. National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program


Award amounts vary based on the facility’s health professional shortage area (HPSA) score and whether you work full time or not:

  • HPSA score of 14 to 26: Up to $50,000 for two years of full-time service or up to $25,000 for two years of half-time service
  • HPSA score of 0 to 13: Up to $30,000 for two years of full-time service or up to $15,000 for two years of half-time service

HPSA scores are based on geographic area, population groups and available facilities. You can visit the National Health Resources and Services Administration to find your office’s HPSA score.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify for the NHSC Loan Repayment Program, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Accepted position at an NHSC-approved facility
  • Fully trained and licensed to practice
  • Provider — or eligible to participate as a provider — for Medicare, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • Hold qualified student debt
  • US citizen or national

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) offers dentists, dental hygienists and other health professionals assistance with paying off student loan debt in return for working in underserved communities.

The exact amount you qualify for depends on the type of office or facility you work in, and you’ll need to commit to at least a two-year service agreement to qualify.

2. Active-Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (ADHPLRP)

AmountUp to $40,000 a year — for three years
Eligibility requirements

To qualify, you must join the US Army Dental Corps as an officer and be licensed to practice dentistry.

Interested in joining the US Army Dental Corps? You could get as much as $120,000 of your dental school loan repayments covered if you agree to at least a three-year service commitment.

And if you’re still enrolled in a dental program, you may be eligible to receive a full tuition scholarship, monthly stipend and $20,000 sign-on bonus under the Health Professions Scholarship Program.

3. Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP)

AmountUp to $40,000 — minus around 25% for federal income taxes
Eligibility requirements

To qualify, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Hold an appointment as a commissioned officer
  • Sign an agreement to serve on active duty
  • Enrolled in final year of approved residency program
  • Not a Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) or Financial Assistance Program (FAP) participant

The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP) was designed to encourage dentists and other health professionals to pursue the Navy. It offers a large yearly loan repayment to ease your student debt load, which is sent directly to your lender on your behalf.

9 student loan forgiveness programs for dentists

4 tips to pay back dental school debt

Dental school may leave you hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but there are a few ways to make repayments more manageable.

  • Sign up for income-based repayment programs. If you owe more than twice your adjusted gross income in federal student debt, you may want to look into federal repayment programs like PAYE and REPAYE, which allow you to lower your monthly payments to just 10% of your monthly income.
  • Continue living with a student’s mindset. Budgeting like a student even when you’re out of school can save you hundreds of dollars every month. Cutting back on subscription services, cooking at home and being conscious of your overall spending can help build your savings, which can then be applied to your debt.
  • Refinance your debt for a lower rate. You could score a lower rate or better terms by refinancing your current loans with a private lender — especially if your credit score or income has increased since you first took on the debt. Though you’ll lose any federal benefits when you refinance.
  • Start or purchase a dental practice. It may not be the most practical advice for new graduates, but if you’ve been working for a while, it may be worth investing in your own dental practice. Many tax programs favor business owners, so you could find yourself in a much more lucrative position as a business owner, rather than an associate at another person’s practice.

Compare student loan refinancing offers

Explore your options by APR, minimum credit score, loan amount and loan term. Select the Get started button to start an application with a specific lender.

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
1.80% to 7.74%
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)
1.74% to 6.59%
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
1.74% to 6.52%
Starting at $7,500
5 to 25 years
Save on your student loans with this market-leading newcomer.
Education Loan Finance Student Loan Refinancing
1.86% 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
1.74% to 5.74% APR with autopay
$5,000 - $500,000
5 to 20 years
Get a tailored interest rate and repayment plan with no hidden fees.
Supermoney student loan refinancing
Starting at 1.9%
No minimum credit score
$5,000 - $300,000
5 to 20 years
Compare options to combine both private and federal debts into one monthly payment.

Compare up to 4 providers

How long does it take to pay back dental school debt?

It depends on your repayment strategy. If you opt for an aggressive plan — paying back as much as you can and overpaying when possible — you’ll likely reduce your loan term and the total amount you pay in interest. However, depending on your income and other expenses, this might not be possible.

In this case, you should expect to pay back your debt on time, so look to your loan agreement to see the original term set by your lender. For most people, this will be between 10 and 20 years, although there are some terms as short as 5 years or as long as 25.

Is dental school worth the debt?

It depends on how much you need to borrow for dental school and your employment prospects after graduation, not to mention your personal, financial and career goals.

But in general, being a dentist is one of the more lucrative jobs out there — even if it means going deep into debt. Dentists often make the list of top-paying careers, and because dental school is so much shorter than other medical professions, you could begin paying down your debt sooner.

Top 5 states for highest dental salaries

These are the five states where dentists take home the highest pay, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

StateAnnual mean salary in 2017
North Dakota$238,170
North Carolina$225,890
New Hampshire$219,920

Bottom line

As a dentist, you may be able to take advantage of three loan repayment programs available to health professionals. But you’ll need to be willing to join the US military or work in an underserved community to qualify.

Thinking about pursuing dental school, but haven’t found the financing you need just yet? Read our guide to student loans to learn where to start.

Frequently asked questions

Can I qualify for a repayment program if I’m a dental hygienist?

Yes, all three of the loan repayment assistance programs we mention above are available to dental hygienists as well as dentists.

Should I refinance my dental school student loans?

It depends on the amount of debt you have and whether it’s federal or private. You may be able to refinance your private loans at a lower rate, whereas federal loans tend to have good repayment programs — including PAYE and REPAYE — that can keep monthly costs low.

However, if you don’t intend on taking advantage of those programs and have built up excellent credit since you originally borrowed, you may want to consider refinancing both federal and private student loans to score a lower APR.

Where are most dentist jobs located?

The states with the highest employment levels for dentists are California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois — according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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