According to the American Dental Education Association, in 2014 the average new dentist graduated with $247,277 in debt. And while the annual mean wage for dentists was remarkably high in 2015 -- $172,350 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- that's not always enough to ease this burden.
As a result, many dental graduates start their careers with huge monthly payments and boatloads of stress. And most of the time, it's because they never bothered to look into loan forgiveness options that might benefit them.
Best forgiveness programs
The good news is there are several student loan forgiveness options available to dentists despite their high incomes. Here are some programs available to these highly trained individuals:
1. Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
If you're able and willing to serve in American Indian communities, the benefits can pay off for decades. Through the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program, dentists can receive up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness for two consecutive years.
This program is available to dentists and dental assistants working in qualified shortage areas within American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
2. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
To qualify for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) program, you must agree to work at a qualified site as defined by the NHSC. Depending on the role given, healthcare professionals -- including dentists -- can earn up to $50,000 in loan forgiveness with a commitment of at least two years. As an added bonus, these funds aren't subject to federal income taxes.
3. Army Dental Corps
If you're a dentist with an eye on military service, you can receive up to $120,000 in loan forgiveness with a qualified stint in the U.S. Army. With the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, you can rack up $40,000 in assistance each year for three years. Couple that with the Health Professions Bonus, which gives certain dental students a full ride and a $20,000 bonus, and you can see how military service pays off.
Meanwhile, the Healthcare Professionals Loan Repayment Program offers up to $50,000 for dental school loan repayment for those who qualify.
4. Navy Health Care
If you're more interested in joining the U.S. Navy during or after dental school, you could be eligible for up to $40,000 per year in forgiveness. Some work requirements apply, of course, and this program also includes dental hygienists and dental assistants.
5. Air Force Dental Health
By signing up for the Air Force Dental Health Profession Scholarship Program (HPSP) before you start dental school, you can secure a full ride and scholarship in exchange for active duty for a minimum of three years. While this won't help you repay existing loans, the Air Force offers additional benefits for dentists who have already finished school.
6. State-based loan repayment assistance programs
While some loan forgiveness programs are open to dentists on a national level, certain states offer their own programs, too.
Under the California State Loan Repayment Program, for example, dentists and dental hygienists can earn up to $50,000 in loan forgiveness with a two-year commitment in a qualifying shortage area. With the Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program, on the other hand, dentists can receive up to $80,000 in student loan forgiveness with a two-year commitment in an underserved area.
Other states offer their own versions of student loan forgiveness, so it's wise to check your state's offerings along with national programs.
Keep in mind that forgiven student loan debt is often subject to income taxes under these programs, which means you could face a pretty hefty tax bill. Still, if you have a lot of debt, student loan forgiveness could knock off tens of thousands of dollars.
The second part of this series will offer three ideas for student loan forgiveness.
Disclaimer: The comments in this article are not meant to be taken as financial advice. DrBicuspid.com recommends that you always consult with your financial planner before making any significant changes in your financial situation.
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