After hearing my podcast about student loans with Howard Farran, a student emailed me and asked if I had tips for predental students. The following outlines my advice for those ready to pursue dentistry as their career.
1. Make sure you really want to be a dentist. It’s entirely possible you could graduate dental school with debt upwards of $550,000 (this varies by institution). You probably don’t want to change your mind about dentistry after racking up that kind of debt. Try to find out how much debt the average student is graduating with from the dental school you want to attend. Make sure you are clear on what kind of income you will need to make to pay it back, and then be clear on the kind of lifestyle you will get to live after your student loan payment.
2. I do think that even if you pay back every penny plus interest (i.e., you don’t use government repayment plan or scholarships), dentistry is still financially viable. The median dentist salary in 2018 was $149,000, although this varies a lot. Let’s say someone has $450,000 in debt. The annual payment to pay that debt off in 20 years at 7 percent is $41,866. That means at a 30 percent effective tax rate, you would need to earn about $60,000 just to pay your loans. That leaves you with $90,000 a year equivalent salary. This is about double the national average income.
3. Buying a practice will not solve your financial woes. Owning a practice can be a good investment. In addition to producing an income, you are also building up a sellable asset for another day. But owning a practice is complex. In addition to patient care, the owner must also deal with the marketing and management of the business. Not every owner gets this right. While it’s uncommon for practices to go under, that doesn’t mean a dentist won’t make less as an owner than he/she would have as an associate.
4. Stay up-to-date on student loan law. Seriously. There are probably a lot of changes coming in the next year. I’m not that concerned for people already in repayment, but if the laws change right before you start dental school, you need to make a decision based on the new laws. For example, the PROSPER ACT that is currently floating Congress contains language that would get rid of loan forgiveness, public service loan forgiveness and reduce all the income based repayment plans into one. If you are thinking about dental school, you need to keep on eye on this legislation and others that may affect your debt.
5. Live frugally in dental school. Just because you can borrow unlimited sums of money doesn’t mean that you should.
6. Remember that under current law, many graduates have payments that are based on their income, not their outstanding debt. I have had clients that have come to dental school out of a second career with some savings in hand and applied it to tuition. On more than one occasion, I have seen those people enter a government repayment plan after graduation and find themselves in a situation where they are using an income driven repayment plan to minimize their payment and experience the maximum amount of forgiveness. In other words, applying their savings to their tuition was a waste of money because their student loan payment wasn’t reduced (although their future tax bill, if any, may be). If you are coming to dental school with some savings or a small amount of family help, you may want to establish a repayment plan prior to spending your cash on tuition. You can always apply the cash to your debt right after graduation once you have an idea. You might accrue some extra interest, but you maintain some additional flexibility.
Dentistry is a great career and many of my clients, even those with student loans, lead very fulfilled lives. Be aware of what you are getting into and you will help yourself greatly.
~Ryan Schulte, Financial Adviser