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Ultimate Student Loan Repayment Guide for Dentists

student loan forgiveness for dentists

While few people enjoy having to visit the dentist, you knew working in the dental field was your calling. You love helping people keep those pearly whites healthy and clean. The only problem is that steep student loan balance left over from dental school.

According to the American Dental Education Association, graduating seniors in 2014 had a whopping $247,227 in debt. On the other hand, median pay for dentists was $158,310 as of last year — comparatively higher than other professions, but not nearly enough to make student loan repayment a breeze.

Repayment programs and student loan forgiveness for dentists

Luckily, there are many sources of repayment assistance and student loan forgiveness for dentists, as well as dental assistants, hygienists, and other medical professionals. In most cases, you do need to work in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), which may mean that you have a lower salary and you’re tied to a certain location. But it could be worth it in the long run.

In this guide, learn about student loan repayment assistance and student loan forgiveness for dentists.

Income-driven repayment programs

Although student loan borrowers are automatically placed on the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, this is not the only repayment option available. Dental professionals, as well as all other federal student loan borrowers, should look into income-driven repayment programs if their monthly payments are too high.

Presently, the following income-driven plans exist:

While all of these plans work differently and have varying eligibility requirements, they all cap monthly student loan payments at a certain percentage of income and culminate in forgiveness of the remaining balance.

Student Loan Refinancing

Another way to make student loan payments more manageable and save money in the process is by refinancing. This process involves paying off existing student loans with a single new loan at (hopefully) a lower interest rate. Not only does this make managing student loans easier by consolidating the debt, but also cuts down on total interest paid. It’s also possible to refinance to a longer loan term in order to reduce monthly payments even further, but doing so could cancel out any savings.

Also, it’s important to note that refinancing is performed by private lenders only. Refinancing federal student loans into a private loan means permanently forfeiting access to federal benefits such as income-driven repayment, deferment, forbearance, and more. It’s important to consider this consequence before making the decision to refinance.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

If you have federal student loans and work at an eligible nonprofit or public service agency, you may be eligible to get all of your loans forgiven after 10 years of payments through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. That means anyone working in the dental field, including dentists, dental assistants, and hygienists, can qualify as long as they work full-time — defined as 30 hours or more per week — at a qualifying organization

Borrowers must have Direct Loans and have made payments after 2007. After making 120 consecutive payments you will be eligible for loan forgiveness. The good news is that under this program, you will not be required to pay taxes on your forgiven student loans (unlike some other forgiveness programs).

Perkins Loan Cancellation Program

As of 2016, full-time licensed medical technicians — such as dental assistants and dental hygienists — are eligible to have their Perkins loans forgiven (including principal and interest). Forgiveness is awarded as a percentage of the balance according to the number of years of full-time employment in the field. Here’s a breakdown:

  • 15% after one year
  • 15% after two years
  • 20% after three years
  • 20% after four years
  • 30% after five years

Army Dental Corps Programs

Serving as a dentist in the Army can reap big rewards. You may be able to receive up to $120,000 in loan repayment assistance — the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program offers $40,000 per year for a maximum of three years. In addition, this assistance can be coupled with the Health Professions Bonus, which gives qualifying dental students a full scholarship and $20,000 sign-on bonus.

Also consider the Healthcare Professionals Loan Repayment Program, which offers up to $50,000 in order to repay dental student loans. Payments are made over a period of three years. In order to qualify, you must have an unrestricted state dental license.

There are numerous benefits to serving as a dentist in the Army, so check out all the possibilities here.

Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program

For those interested in joining the Navy, find out if you’re eligible for loan repayment assistance while on active duty. You may receive up to $40,000 per year (which will be lower due to federal taxes).

This program is available to dental students and practicing professionals, including dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants. Qualified candidates must commit to work for a certain period of time. For more details, learn about the program here.

U.S. Air Force

The Air Force may be a good option for aspiring dentists and those that want to make a difference while receiving great benefits. The Air Force Dental Health Profession Scholarship Program (HPSP) provides dental students scholarships for full tuition. In exchange, you must commit to serving the Air Force for a minimum of three years. For graduates looking to pay back their loans, check out Air Force careers and benefits.

Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program

Dentists who want to make a difference in American Indian communities may receive up to $40,000 ($20,000 per year) in loan repayment assistance under the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program. The program assists health professionals, including both dentists and dental assistants, working in specific disciplines who commit to two years of service in Alaska Native or American Indian communities.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program

Under the NHSC Program, a variety of healthcare professionals (including dentists) may receive up to $50,000 in student loan repayment assistance for committing to a two-year service agreement. Even better, these funds aren’t subject to federal income tax and are awarded at the beginning of the program.

To be eligible, you must work at a qualified site. In addition, you may be able to extend your service as well as your loan repayment assistance. Exactly how much you get is dependent on where you serve and for how long.

Veterans Affairs Student Loan Repayment Program

Employees at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs who work in certain professions may be able to receive up to $10,000 per year in student loan repayment assistance. The maximum award amount is $60,000.

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) By State

In addition to the national programs above, there are a number of programs offered by certain states that apply to a variety of dental professionals (dental assistants, dental hygienists, dentists):

Alaska

The SHARP-II program in Alaska aims to fill shortages in certain areas and provide access to a variety of healthcare professionals. In exchange, the program offers dentists loan repayment assistance of up to $35,000 per year. This number could increase to $47,000 for hard-to-fill positions.

Qualified dentists must work at an eligible site and commit to a three-year service agreement. Both full-time and half-time positions are eligible for contracts and after the initial contract period, employees may be eligible for another three-year contract and award.

Arizona

Under the Arizona State Loan Repayment Program, which includes the Primary Care Provider Loan Repayment Program and the Rural Private Primary Care Provider Loan Repayment Program, dentists may be able to get a good chunk of their loans paid off by working in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) or Medically Underserved Areas, as designated by the program.

Eligible candidates must work at a qualified site and commit to an initial two-year service agreement, with the possibility of getting loan assistance for up to six years.

The award amount depends on the rank of the HPSA, but qualified candidates can receive between $52,000 to $65,000 for the initial two-year service period. Awards decrease in amount after the initial service agreement, but within a few years, you could get a large chunk of your student loans paid off.

Arkansas

According to the American Dental Association, the Delta Dental Foundation of Arkansas provides loan assistance for dentists who work in underserved areas. For more information, you can contact Kelly Caldwell: 501-992-1698, kcaldwell@ddpar.com.

California

Under the California State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), qualified dentists and dental hygienists who practice in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas may be eligible for loan repayment assistance.

Eligible candidates who work full-time can receive up to $50,000 in repayment assistance for an initial two-year service agreement and can extend the contract after the initial commitment. The program pays for half of the award and requires the site to match the award, which must be on the SLRP Certified Eligible Site List.

In addition, the California Dental Association (CDA) also offers a student loan repayment grant, which provides loan assistance to dentists looking to work in public health.

The grant provides $35,000 per year in loan repayment assistance for a period of up to three years, for a total of $105,000. Eligible candidates must practice in California and work in an underserved community as designated by the CDA Foundation.

Colorado

The Colorado Health Service Corps offers loan repayment assistance to general and pediatric dentists who practice in Health Professional Shortage Areas. Qualified dentists who work full-time may receive up to $90,000, while dental hygienists may be awarded $20,000.

Part-time employment is also eligible and is half the amount of full-time workers, so dentists would receive up to $45,000 and dental hygienist would receive up to $10,000. Candidates must agree to serve at an approved site for three years.

In addition, dentists in Colorado may be eligible for the state loan repayment program. Candidates must agree to serve a two-year term at an approved site. Dentists can receive between $10,000 to $25,000 depending on how many patients they see, while dental hygienists can receive between $3,000 to $6,000 depending on the number of people they serve.

District of Columbia

Under the DC Health Professional Loan Repayment Program, dentists and dental hygienists may be eligible for loan repayment assistance. In order to qualify, candidates must already be employed at an approved Service Obligation Site (SOS). In exchange for serving full-time at an SOS, candidates can receive up to $143,137 over a four-year period.

Rather than awarding a set amount, the repayment terms are based on percentages of your debt:

  • 18 percent for year one
  • 26 percent for year two
  • 28 percent for year three and four

Eligible candidates, as well as the sites they serve, must submit an application.

Delaware

Through the Delaware State Loan Repayment Program, general and pediatric dentists who work at a qualified Health Professional Shortage Area may be eligible for loan repayment assistance. Practitioners must work full-time, which is classified as 40 hours per week.

Awards are based on available funding and only a few contracts are given out each year. For two years of service, mid-level practitioners are eligible for up to $70,000, while advanced level practitioners are eligible for up to $100,000.

While those are the maximum awards available, in most cases, awards for mid-level practitioners are $35,000 for a two-year contract and awards for advanced level practitioners are $70,000 for a two-year contract.

Georgia

The Georgia Oral Health Workforce Advancement Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment assistance to new graduates and young practitioners that serve in Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (DHPSA) within Georgia.

The program offers $25,000 in assistance for the first year. In exchange, qualified candidates must serve a DHPSA for at least 12 months. Eligible candidates may receive a maximum of $75,000 over a three-year period.

Illinois

Under the Illinois National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program, dentists who work full-time or half-time in a Health Professional Shortage Area may be eligible for repayment assistance.

Eligible candidates must work in an HPSA for at least two years and can receive up to $25,000 each year, for a maximum award of $50,000. An additional third and fourth year may be added on after the initial service period is over.

Iowa

The Primary Care Recruitment and Retention Endeavor (PRIMECARRE), in conjunction with The Iowa Loan Repayment Program, offers repayment assistance to dental professionals who work at a qualified HPSA.

The program offers up to $50,000 for full-time workers and $25,000 for part-time workers. In order to qualify, candidates must commit to working for two years in a shortage area.

There’s also financial help available from the Delta Dental of Iowa Loan Repayment Program. This program offers an annual award of $50,000 over three years for repayment assistance.

Aside from this program, there is funding available through the Fulfilling Iowa’s Need for Dentists (FIND) program. The FIND program is an extension of the Delta Dental of Iowa Loan Repayment Program which aims to recruit dentists to set up private practices in rural and underserved areas. In exchange, dentists receive up to $100,000 over a period of five years.

Kansas

Under the Kansas State Loan Repayment Program, dentists who work in an HPSA can receive loan repayment assistance of up to $25,000 per year. Eligible candidates must commit to working for two years at an eligible site. After the initial period, it is possible to extend the contract for one-year at a time, for a maximum of three years.

In addition, there’s the Kansas Initiative for New Dentists (KIND) Program, which helps recruit dentists in an effort to establish private practices that are in underserved or rural areas of Kansas. Qualified candidates can receive up to $50,000 over a three-year period. There are also scholarships for dentists currently in school as well.

Kentucky

The Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program offers dentists and dental hygienists who work in underserved areas loan repayment assistance for a two-year service period.

Dentists can receive up to $80,000, while dental hygienists can receive up to $20,000. This is a match program, meaning for every federal dollar contributed, there must be a dollar match from an employer, state, family, etc.

Louisiana

The Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment assistance to dentists as well as dental hygienists who work full-time at a designated HPSA or non-profit.

Dentists can receive up to $30,000 per year in exchange for a three-year service commitment. Once the initial commitment is served, eligible candidates with remaining loans can extend the contract for an additional two years for an award of $24,000.

Maine

The Maine Dental Education Loan Repayment Program offers dentists working in underserved areas loan repayment assistance.

In exchange for serving a two-year commitment, candidates can receive up to $20,000 each year.  Participants can extend the contract for an additional two years after the initial commitment is served. The maximum award amount for qualified candidates is $80,000.

Maryland

The state of Maryland offers loan repayment assistance to dentists serving the state’s most vulnerable populations through the Maryland Dent-Care Loan Assistance Repayment Program.

The program requires a three-year commitment; in exchange for serving, eligible dentists can receive up to $23,740 per year. Five dentists in Maryland may be selected for the program each year, though it is dependent on funding.

Massachusetts

The state of Massachusetts is currently revising its application and guidelines for the Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program for Health Professionals and is not accepting applications at the moment.

Check back in the future, as their program offers up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year commitment to serve in a designated HPSA.

Michigan

Under the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program, qualified dentists can receive significant loan repayment assistance.  Dentists who work in designated HPSAs can receive a maximum of $200,000 for a service commitment of up to eight years. Eligible candidates must work full-time in an HPSA with a minimum two-year commitment.

Minnesota

Through the Minnesota State Loan Repayment Program, dentists and dental hygienists who work in designated HPSAs may be eligible for loan repayment assistance.

In exchange for a two-year commitment, candidates can receive up to $20,000 per year in loan repayment assistance for full-time work; half-time workers may receive up to $10,000 per year.

Missouri

The Missouri Health Professional State Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment assistance to qualified dentists who work in designated HPSAs. Candidates must serve a two-year commitment and in exchange can receive up to $50,000.

Montana

Through the Montana State Loan Repayment Program, qualified dentists and dental hygienists who work in designated HPSAs may be eligible for loan repayment assistance.

In exchange for two years of service, candidates who work full-time may receive up to $15,000, while part-time workers may receive up to $7,500 per year.

Nebraska

The Nebraska Loan Repayment Program offers dentists working in designated shortage areas loan repayment assistance.

This program is a matching program, so the site or a local entity must match the state dollars provided. Eligible candidates must serve a three-year commitment and may receive up to $40,000 per year — $20,000 of which comes from state funds and the other $20,000 from local funds.

Nevada

The Nevada Health Service Corps aims to recruit healthcare professionals to serve rural areas in exchange for loan repayment assistance.

Qualified dentists and dental hygienists are eligible to receive funds. Candidates typically need to work full-time and commit to two years of service. Awards are based on funding available.

New Hampshire

The New Hampshire State Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment assistance to dentists and dental hygienists working in designated shortage areas and medically underserved areas.

In order to qualify, candidates must commit to three years of full-time work, or two years of part-time work. In exchange, dentists may receive up to $75,000 for a full-time commitment. Candidates that work part-time may be eligible for $27,500.

New Jersey

Through the Primary Care Practitioner Loan Redemption Program of New Jersey (NJLRP), dentists may be able to receive loan repayment assistance for working in a designated HPSA. Eligible candidates must commit to a two-year service agreement, with a maximum of four years of service.

A percentage of your student loan debt will be paid after each year of service. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 18 percent of outstanding debt, up to $21,600, after one year of service
  • 26 percent of outstanding debt, up to $31,200, after two years of service
  • 28 percent of outstanding debt, up to $33,600, after three years of service
  • 28 percent of outstanding debt, up to $33,600, after four years of service

Overall, candidates can receive a maximum of $120,000 over a period of four years.

New Mexico

The New Mexico Health Professional Loan Repayment Program offers dentists working at a qualified site up to $25,000 per year in loan repayment assistance.

Candidates must commit to a two-year service agreement, with the option to renew another contract after the initial two-year obligation. Candidates must be licensed in New Mexico and work full-time to qualify for this program.

North Carolina

The state of North Carolina offers incentives to healthcare professionals who work in rural or underserved areas. General practice dentists may receive up to $100,000 in exchange for a four-year commitment.

North Dakota

The North Dakota Dental Loan Repayment Program aims to attract dentists in North Dakota to serve in areas of need. Qualified candidates that are selected may receive up to $80,000 in loan repayment assistance.

Ohio

The state of Ohio offers loan repayment assistance to dentists and dental hygienists through the Ohio Dentist Loan Repayment Program (ODLRP) and Ohio Dental Hygienist Loan Repayment Program (ODHLRP).

These programs offer up to $50,000 in exchange for a two-year commitment if you work full-time at a qualified site. Part-time employees are eligible for repayment assistance of up to $25,000 for a two-year service agreement. Candidates can renew their contract after their initial service obligation for two more one-year contracts.

Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Dental Loan Repayment Program aims to recruit dentists to serve in rural or underserved communities. The program offers assistance to 25 dentists for a period of two to five years. Qualified candidates can receive up to $25,000 per year in loan repayment assistance.

Oregon

The Oregon Partnership State Loan Repayment program offers dentists and dental hygienist who work in HPSA loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year service commitment. Awards are based on a tiered system, which is determined by a few factors: the HPSA score, your eligibility, as well as the amount of funding the site you work at can match.

The award amounts are based on percentages which vary from 10 to 20 percent of your outstanding student loan debt.

Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment program offers loan repayment assistance to health care providers who work in underserved communities. In exchange for a two-year service agreement, dentists can receive up to $100,000 in loan repayment assistance for full-time work and $50,000 for half-time work.

Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program provides loan repayment assistance to a variety of healthcare professionals who work in underserved communities.

Dentists must commit to a two-year service agreement; those working part-time must commit to four years. Check out the program eligibility for more information.

South Carolina

The South Carolina Rural Dentist Program offers loan repayment assistance to dentists who serve in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas.

Faculty who work full-time at the MUSC College of Dental Medicine are also eligible. In order to qualify, dental professionals must serve at least 100 individual Medicaid patients. Loan payments are made quarterly; amounts may vary.

South Dakota 

The South Dakota Department of Health has a Recruitment Assistance Program which offers eligible dentists “incentive payment” in exchange for three years of service in a rural community (with populations of 10,000 or less).

Awards given to qualifying dentists amount to double the University of South Dakota School of Medicine tuition for the previous four years. Currently, that amount is $186,750.

In addition, Delta Dental of South Dakota provides loan repayment assistance to dentists who work with a percentage of Medicaid patients or dentists who split their time with their practice and serving in Delta’s Mobile Dental Program. Award amounts are between $40,000 and $100,000 and vary depending on service.

Tennessee

Through the Tennessee State Loan Repayment Program (TSLRP), dentists who work full-time in a designated HPSA or non-profit may be eligible loan repayment assistance.

In exchange for a two-year service commitment, qualified dentists can receive up to $50,000. After the initial service agreement, candidates in good standing can reapply and receive up to $20,000 in additional assistance.

Vermont

The Vermont Educational Loan Repayment Program for Dentists offers loan repayment assistance to dentists who work at a qualified site.

Applicants must work at least 20 clinical hours per week for at least 45 weeks per year. Qualified candidates can receive up to $20,000 in funds each year, with a minimum award of at least $10,000.

Virginia

Under the Virginia State Loan Repayment Program, dentists, as well as registered dental hygienists, may receive incentive awards that are non-taxed in exchange for two years of service at a qualified site or designated HPSA.

This is a matching program, so the site would need to match each dollar the program provides. Candidates must work full-time and can receive up to $100,000 for the initial two-year commitment. The maximum award is $140,000 for a four-year service obligation.

Washington

Washington state offers two programs aimed to recruit healthcare professionals to fill in the gap in critical shortage areas: The Federal-State Loan Repayment Program (FSLRP) and The Health Professional Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP).

These programs offer loan repayment assistance to dentists and dental hygienists who work full-time and commit to a two- or three-year term of service. It is possible to serve part-time, however, the award will be prorated.

The FSLRP program offers a maximum award of $70,000 with a two-year service agreement. The HPLRP is a three-year commitment with a maximum award of $75,000.

West Virginia

Through the Dental Workforce Loan Reimbursement Program, dentists who recently graduated may be eligible for loan assistance. Candidates must commit to serving in a HPSA. For more information on this program, you can contact Jason Roush at Jason.M.Roush@wv.gov or by telephone at (800) 642-8522.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin dentists and dental hygienists who work in designated shortage areas may be eligible for loan repayment assistance. In exchange for three years of service, dentists can receive up to $50,000, whereas dental hygienists can receive up to $25,000.

Wyoming

The Wyoming Healthcare Professional Loan Repayment Program is currently not funded until 2018. Check back in May 2018 for more details.

Final Word

As you can see, there are many options for student loan assistance, as well as student loan forgiveness for dentists.

Many of these programs do require you work with underserved communities, but that isn’t necessarily bad news. What a great way to make a difference, while getting help to pay back your loans.

Be sure to read the fine print on any service commitments, as well as learn the tax implications. Weight the costs versus benefits of getting loan repayment assistance, compared to working in a private practice. Regardless, you have options.

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Published in Pay Off Student Loans, Student Loan Forgiveness, Student Loan Repayment