The student loan dilemma

April 19, 2016
Next month, we will celebrate the class of 2016 and welcome thousands of new dentists into our industry.

Rick Workman, DMD

Next month, we will celebrate the class of 2016 and welcome thousands of new dentists into our industry. If you are among this year's crop of dentists, it is the start of a whole new chapter in your life. This is a time of great change, new experiences, and new opportunities.

You will also face many new challenges, including one of the largest obstacles for young dentists today-student loan debt. Dental school grads often come out of school with upwards of $300,000 in debt. According to a 2014 ADEA survey, only around 8% of the 2014 graduates surveyed reported debt less than $100,000.1 Because of this, it's tougher to start off on your own these days.

According to a 2014 ADEA survey, only 45% of dental school graduates surveyed said they planned to enter private practice when graduating.2 Steven Holm, DDS, president of the Indiana Dental Association, said, "If you are a new graduate, you will be entering the profession with alarming levels of educational debt. In 2013, the average educational debt per graduating dental school senior was $215,145. If you went to a private dental school, your average debt was $283,978." Some dental school graduates are simply unable to take out a loan to finance a new practice on top of already significant student loan obligations.

Over the years, helping young dentists find early stability and success has been a major focus for Heartland Dental, offering loan repayment assistance and now the Doctor Mastery Program. But even without the support of a dental support organization, there are actions you can take to manage and eventually conquer student loan debt. Here are some general tips:

• Create a plan and stay organized: Keeping track of your loans can be just as hard as paying them off. Keep copies of all your loan documents. Paying loans on time accounts for 35% of your FICO credit score and carries the highest weight. If possible, set up an automatic payment. Not only will you never miss a payment, but also some lenders offer discounts for auto-pay. Part of staying organized is reading the fine print. Be sure to know the ins and outs of your loan. If you think you won't be able to pay your loans, confront the situation and consult someone who can offer guidance.

• Develop a budget: While you're paying off your student loans, create a personal budget. Live below your means. Spend less on expensive or unnecessary items. It's probably not the best time to invest in a new sports car.

• Pay early and pay often: If possible, start paying on your loans as soon as possible. Begin paying off the highest interest rate loans first. Pay more than the minimum payment every chance you get.

• Make goals: At Heartland Dental, we firmly believe in achieving success by writing down goals. For example, determine a payoff date. After looking over your finances and loan agreements, when can you realistically pay off your loans? Visualizing goals, short-term and long-term, can help you feel accomplished when you reach them.

If the strain of dental student loans seems intimidating, here's something to consider: In the most recent U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking of the 100 best jobs, dentists earned the top spot. The industry received the number one ranking for outstanding rates on job creation, salary, employment, job prospects, work-life balance, job satisfaction, and low stress level. Impressive is an understatement. Despite the challenges you will face, it's a great time to be a part of the industry.


1. American Dental Education Association. ADEA Survey of Dental School Seniors, 2014 Graduating Class Tables Report. Washington, DC: American Dental Education Association, 2015: 10.

2. American Dental Education Association. ADEA Survey of Dental School Seniors, 2011 Graduating Class. Washington, DC: American Dental Education Association, 2012: 20.

Rick Workman, DMD, is the founder of Heartland Dental. After practicing full-time, Dr. Workman created Heartland Dental, a world-class dental support organization, offering nonclinical, administrative services to supported dentists. Heartland Dental has more than 700 supported dental offices in 32 states. Dr. Workman may be reached at [email protected].

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