If you’re a physician assistant, you know that getting to this place in your career was an expensive journey. Between the graduate degree requirements and time-intensive studying and certifications processes, it was probably difficult to get ahead financially.
So if you went into this field to help others, shouldn’t you get some help, too?
Of course! That’s why there are physician assistant loan repayment programs available to you. Below is a comprehensive list of these programs and how you can use them to get a break on your student loan debt repayment.
National loan repayment and forgiveness options for physician assistants
There are many federal and national programs that can help you get out of student loan debt faster. Check out these student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance options you might qualify for.
AmeriCorps is a government organization that offers a variety of ways for you to receive work in your field, give back, and earn repayment assistance for your loans.
As defined on its website, “AmeriCorps is a network of local, state, and national service programs that connects over 70,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet community needs in education, the environment, public safety, health, and homeland security.”
As for opportunities, they run abound with, “more than 2,000 non-profits, public agencies, and community organizations” served by its members.
If you join AmeriCorps, you would typically serve for one year and then receive up to $4,725 to pay back qualified student loans. Work done during your time with AmeriCorps can also be considered qualifying employment for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (more on that below).
Commissioned Corp of the U.S. Health Service
If you’re an allied clinical care provider in the Commissioned Corp, you may be eligible for student loan repayment. For example, under this program and depending on where you work, you could qualify for The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program. And if you haven’t completed your education yet, you may even have access to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Health Professions Loan Repayment and other military repayment opportunities
Many of those serving in the military can take advantage of loan repayment through The Health Professions Loan Repayment program and other military loan repayment opportunities. Student loan repayment for physicians assistants is available to members of the Army, National Guard, and Navy.
The Army awards active duty physician assistants up to $40,000 per year for three years (maximum of $120,000) on qualifying student loans through the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program.
In the National Guard, physicians assistants are eligible for up to $25,000 in student loan repayments per year with a $75,000-lifetime cap. The National Guard also offers bonuses of anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on how long of a contract you sign.
Active duty members of the Navy must be willing to serve for three years to receive student loan repayment. There’s a maximum annual repayment of $40,000.
IHS Loan Repayment Program
The Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program is available to health professionals who agree to, “an initial two-year service commitment to practice in health facilities serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities.”
You can receive up to $40,000 in eligible loan repayment for those two years, and you can extend your contract until your debt is paid off.
Income-Driven Repayment Plans
If you have federal student loans and struggle to afford your payments, you can take advantage of income-driven repayment plans to catch a break in your monthly budget. There are several different income-driven repayment plans to choose from:
- Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
- Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
- Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
These repayment plans won’t help you get out of student loan debt faster. What they will do is enable you to have your monthly payments lowered to a percentage of your income. That means a little bit more breathing room for you financially.
After making consecutive payments over 20-25 years, depending on the specific program, you can also apply to have the remainder of your debt forgiven (if you have any left). Keep in mind that the discharged amount will be taxed as income; the laws on taxing forgiven student loan could change in the future, however, so that’s something to keep an eye on regularly.
It’s important to note that you’ll have to reapply for your chosen income-driven repayment plan each year – it doesn’t automatically renew.
National Health Service Corps (NHSC)
The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) awards up to $50,000 – tax-free – in student loan repayment for a two-year commitment at an approved site. Like the IHS Loan Repayment Program, you can serve additional terms beyond you first two years to earn more for your student loan repayment.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
This program is available to more professions than only physician assistants. Based on where you work, you can potentially qualify for this national program.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program offers student loan forgiveness for those who work full-time in governmental organizations, 501(c)(3) not-for-profits, and other types of public service organizations. To qualify, you must first consolidate your federal loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan if they are not already part of the Direct Loan program. Then you have to make 120 qualifying payments (beginning October 2017 or later), after which you can apply for forgiveness.
Now is a good time to mention that many of these programs are subject to change at any time. PSLF, for example, has recently come under fire as workers are finding that their approvals can be reversed even years after making qualifying payments. The verdict is still out on what will come of this recent development, but as of now, the program remains intact.
Refinancing and consolidation
Two more ways to modify your student loans are private student loan refinancing or federal consolidation.
Refinancing your student loans is the act of paying off your federal and/or private loans with a new private loan, ideally at a lower interest rate. You can choose which of your loans you want to consolidate and refinance.
Consolidation is something available to federal loans and enables you to combine all your loans into one loan with one monthly payment and a weighted interest rate.
There are two major benefits of refinancing: 1) A lower interest rate can help you pay the debt off faster and save money on interest if you choose a shorter repayment term, and 2) Selecting a longer repayment term can help you decrease your monthly payment and open up monthly cash flow. This option probably won’t save any money in the long run. It’s up to you to decide which benefit you need the most.
It’s important to note the potential downside to refinancing. If you refinance federal student loans with a private lender, they become private loans and you lose out on access to federal protections such as federal deferment, forbearance, and forgiveness options. You also lose access to income-driven repayment plans.
As for consolidation, it’s available through something called a Direct Consolidation Loan. The main benefit of this loan is the ability to simplify your monthly student loan repayment to one servicer and one payment. This type of loan also enables you to use other federal repayment plans and forgiveness programs, such as PSLF and most of the income-driven repayment plans. However, it does not result in a lower interest rate or savings on your debt.
State-based physician assistant loan repayment programs
Believe it or not, various state-specific programs can help you pay off your loans.
There are a few different ways you can see what kind of loan repayment physician assistant programs might be available in your state. The State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) is a great place to start. And you can find more information on what’s available in your state with the SLRP contacts list and this database run by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
And some of these programs are even more location-specific, with programs that offer support for those working in rural areas.
The Rural Health Information Hub has a comprehensive list of rural repayment programs. One example of these programs is the Massachusetts Community Health Center Primary Care Provider Loan Repayment Program.
With this program, you can be eligible for up to $30,000 in repayment assistance. You have to work in a Massachusetts health center within six months of applying or be employed at one with a tenure of three years or less.
If you don’t see a state loan repayment program that applies to you, consider contacting your alma mater. They might have more resources to help you find repayment assistance.
Scholarships and grants if you’re still in school
Are you not yet a practicing physician assistant, but interested in keeping your educational costs down? Great! You should always be on the lookout for new scholarships and grants as they apply to your field of study.
Look for scholarships specific to your state, your city or county, and even your school. You might be surprised by just how many scholarships there are for your field of study.
To give you a good head start, here’s a list of scholarships and grants that are available now.
- AAPA Past Presidents Scholarship
- AAPA Rural Health Caucus Scholarship and Ron Nelson Memorial Scholarship
- Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology Scholarship
- Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship Program
- NHSC Scholarship Program
- PA Foundation Student Scholarships
- Tuition assistance from various branches of the military
- Various scholarships from the PA Foundation
The cost of becoming a physician assistant
By now you’ve probably realized that the costsof becoming a physician assistant is a bit of a double-edged sword. It’ll take a lot out of your pocket now, but the pay could be worth it later.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median yearly pay for a physician assistant in 2016 was $101,480. That’s $48.79 per hour. Even better, the BLS expects the job outlook from 2014-2024 to grow “much faster than average” at 30 percent.
But how much does it cost to make that happen? Total cost varies depending on your school, but with the master’s degree requirement, it’s not easy to come out unscathed by student loan debt.
In 2016, The Physician Assistant Education Association released a 2015 matriculating student survey. One of the questions in the survey was, “What do you anticipate your total debt (excluding personal debt) will be from attending PA school?”
Of those surveyed, 21.9 percent expect a debt of $100,000 to $124,999; 20.8 percent said $75,000 to $99,999; and 14.5 percent said $50,000 to $74,999.
In total, that means the majority of respondents expected to owe anywhere from $75,000 to more than $124,000 in student debt. And even with a median $101,480 salary, that’s quite a burden to bear.
So if you’re just starting out in your career and battling giant student loan payments, it’s worth your time to investigate all of these repayment and forgiveness programs. Don’t leave money sitting on the table.
It’s not easy caring for people all day only to go home and worry about your student loans. But if you qualify for a physician assistant loan repayment program, you can put in a hard day’s work, doing what you love, and get rest easy at home.
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