The average dentist graduates with $287,331 in student debt, according to the American Student Dental Association? While that amount is enough to make anyone sweat, you might be surprised to find that many dentists graduate with far more than that in loans.
Danny Masters, 32, took on around $600,000 in student debt before he graduated with his dentistry degree. Add that to the $50,000 in student debt his wife, Amber Masters, accrued from law school, and that translated into the couple struggling with how to build a life together in the face of their mountain of debt.
“Just having such a big balance of student loans can limit your options in terms of buying a house, a car, or a dental practice in our case,” said Danny.
For that reason, their goal is to be debt-free by 2021 and, so far, they’ve made good progress. They’ve paid off all of Amber’s debt and around $200,000 in Danny’s dental school debt since they graduated in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
How have they paid off nearly $250,000 in student debt in just a few years? Here are some of the things that helped.
One of the things that struck Danny and Amber was how confusing student loans were.
“It's so confusing to know what to do with your student loans. There are many different repayment options, including student loan forgiveness,” said Amber, who runs the blog DeeplyInDebt. “There is a ton of conflicting information out there.”
They suggest taking the time to figure out how you want to deal with your loans—whether that means paying them off as soon as possible, applying for student loan forgiveness, or following the standard 10-year repayment plan.
“Educate yourself on how to deal with your student loans as early as possible. Make a decision about how you wish to handle your loans and then stick with that decision,” said Danny.
Motivate Each Other
If you’re paying off student debt as a couple, one of the best ways you can stay motivated is to cheer each other on. That’s been especially important for Danny and Amber given how much debt they have hanging over their heads.
“To be honest, sometimes it is really discouraging,” said Amber. “When you are accruing thousands of dollars in interest each year, it can feel like you are never going to pay those loans off.”
But when one of them starts feeling discouraged, the other steps in. “We just focus on the progress we've made, review our long-term goals, and give each other pep talks as needed,” said Danny. That helps them stay motivated and working as a team to pay off their debt.
Consider Refinancing Your Loans
Refinancing your loans can save you a lot of money, especially if you have a lot of private student loans like Danny and Amber do. Since you don’t get benefits like potential student loan forgiveness, income-driven repayment programs, and forbearance and deferment, not refinancing your loans to a lower rate means you’re needlessly paying more in interest.
Danny and Amber refinanced their student loan debt and they’re glad they did. In fact, they wished they had done it sooner.
“I wish we had decided that we wanted to pay off our student loans earlier and then refinanced our student loans for a lower interest rate faster,” said Danny. “We wasted a lot of time and racked up a lot of unnecessary interest while trying to make up our minds about what to do with our loans.”
Pay Off Your Loans Faster for Your Future
Not everyone knows exactly how much they would benefit by having less debt. The Masters, however, have a pretty good idea of their long-term dreams. They want to open a dental practice, but they struggled to get financing given their current debt load, and ultimately decided that it was too much additional debt to take on at the moment.
“We both felt that was a little much to take on since we'd also be spending about $500K for a practice,” said Amber. “Now that Danny’s debt is more manageable, he has plans to open one in the next year or two.”
While they could have decided to sign up for a program that provided student loan forgiveness to dentists and started a practice anyway, they decided against it. The stress of having that much debt would be too much, and they wanted to get started paying it off right away. It’s a complex equation and something that dental and medical school grads should take time to fully consider.
It Will Feel Better Once You Pay off Some of Your Debt
While you might think you’ll only be able to sleep well at night when all your debt is paid off, paying off a big chunk of your debt is also extremely liberating.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights in the beginning,” said Danny. “But we're at a place now where we feel like we have it under control, and it's just a matter of time before the loans are officially paid off.”