WORK/LIFE BALANCE FROM A MOM AND NURSE PRACTITIONER

Managing student loan debt

8/13/16
I had enough stress going through grad school to think about without giving much thought to the thousands upon thousands of dollars of student loan debt accruing interest. When I took time to think about the loans it made me want to vomit. As an undergrad I fortunately had no student debt, thanks to help from my family and going to an affordable state school with reduced tuition through the WUE (western undergraduate exchange) program. Like most Americans who are not independently wealthy, for grad school I had to take out loans for living expenses, tuition, and books for the first two years, as I was unable to work with the rigorous schedule. I had a part-time job for the second year of grad school, which helped with my living costs to some extent, and also received a modest tuition reimbursement through my then employer, but still had to take out loans to cover tuition, books, and living expenses. I kept my living costs as minimal as possible, using savings to buy a used car with almost 200k miles and lived with roommates. In the last years of my graduate program, I worked full time, which was possible due to 12 hour shift work of a nurse, and was able to pay my part-time tuition and living expenses out of pocket. Although my loans were in deferment during this time, the two years of graduate school loans were accruing interest at 6%. When I graduated I was faced with the burden of figuring out how to pay off the over 100k of debt that had accumulated. I'd like to share some programs and tips I've found helpful in managing my student loan debt. First of all you can apply for income-based repayment plans, which take into consideration family size, your spouse's student debt,  and earnings into your monthly payment. You may also call your lender and request a temporary deferment or forbearance due to financial hardship, because missing a payment can seriously hurt your credit. You also cannot claim bankruptcy due to student loan debt unlike other forms of debt, so it's crucial that you get control of the situation fast if you cannot pay. Keep in mind however, that even in forbearance your loans will accrue interest, so it's best to put your loans in forbearance for the shortest time possible. If you are approved for a deferment due to unemployment or underemployment, no interest will accrue during this time period. Interest paid on student loans is also tax deductible, so make sure your accountant knows to write off this amount. There are many federal loan forgiveness options for public service and service in low-income and undeserved areas. These programs include health service corps, public service loan repayment and HRSA. Public service loan repayment is not profession-specific, and anyone who works for a government agency, such as a county, state or federal government is eligible. After 10 years of payments, all the remainder of debt is forgiven in this program. Healthcare and mental health professionals may be eligible for the federal program HRSA or health service corps loan forgiveness programs with commitment to serve in a medically under-served region for two or more years. Some of these programs require that the facility be a "federally qualified healthcare clinic" (FQHC), however this is not the case with all programs. Working at a FQHC will increase your chances of receiving funding for loan forgiveness, however. There are also programs through state funding for healthcare professionals (SLRP) working in under-served areas with a two year service commitment. Most of these programs are competitive, and require a lengthy application, so it's important to apply quickly and gather all the necessary information well in advance of the application deadlines. To be eligible for these programs you must be in good standing with your license, and you cannot already have a service obligation with your current employer. I encourage anyone in the medical field with student loans to consider these options.
Finally, as it's an election year, student loan debt has become a big issue. Student loan interest rates remain higher than auto and mortgage rates. Let your elected officials know your opinion on student loan debt. It's unfair that young people must start off their careers of service in areas of education and healthcare with thousands of dollars of student loans. If you have any insight on managing student loan debt, please comment below, or send me a message.
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