4 Types of Student Loans Every Dental Student Should Consider

 May 4, 2020
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student loans for dental school

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If you’re headed to dental school, you’re probably destined for the student debt that comes with it. In the class of 2019, dental school graduates borrowed an average of $292,169, according to the American Dental Education Association.

If you have to borrow money to get your dental degree, there are several avenues to get student loans for dental school. Finding cost-effective ways will make a big difference when you’re facing costly student debt. Here’s our guide on where to look and how to choose the best student loans for you.

Where to get student loans for dental school

There are four main types of student loans for dental school:

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans (Read more)
  • Federal Grad PLUS Loans (Read more)
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Loans (Read more)
  • Private student loans for dental school (Read more)

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Each type of loan has its own benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a general comparison of student loans for dental school:

Loan type Interest rate (2019-2020) Loan fee Annual loan limit
Direct Unsubsidized Loans 6.60% 1.062% $20,500
Grad PLUS Loans 7.08% 4.236% Up to cost of attendance
HRSA student loans 5.00% None Set by your dental school
Private student loans Varies by lender Varies by lender Varies by lender

Of course, what makes sense for you will depend on your costs, the dental school you’ve chosen to attend and the loans you qualify for. Here’s more information to help you find the best mix of student loans for dental school.

1. Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Dental students can file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to gain access to federal student loans for dental school.

These loans are offered to both undergraduates and students working toward a graduate or professional degree (such as a doctorate in dentistry). The terms of a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, however, will be different for dental students and undergrads:

  • All students pay the same fee. Both undergraduate and graduate students pay a 1.062% loan fee on Direct Unsubsidized loans.
  • Dental students face higher interest rates. The rate for graduate and professional students is 6.60%, which is higher than the 5.05% rate for undergrads.
  • Dental students can borrow more. While undergrads can borrow only up to $12,500 per year, dental students can borrow up to $20,500 per year to pay for their advanced degree.

When it comes to affordable student loans for dental school, Direct Unsubsidized Loans from the federal government are hard to beat. Keep this as one of your first-choice strategies to pay for dental school.

2. Federal Grad PLUS Loans

Grad PLUS Loans, which are offered by the federal government only to graduate students, have significantly higher costs then Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which are available to undergrads as well:

  • Grad PLUS Loans have higher fees. Grad PLUS Loans have a loan fee of 4.236%, four times higher than the 1.062% fee on Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • Grad PLUS Loans charge higher interest. The interest rate is 7.08% — nearly half of a percentage point more than the 6.60% rate on Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • Dental students can borrow more. Dental students can borrow up to their school’s full cost of attendance with Grad PLUS Loans, but they face a limit under Direct Unsubsidized Loans.

Because Grad PLUS Loans are more expensive, dental school students should compare them to other student loans before applying. If you have excellent credit, for example, you might pay lower costs with a private student loan.

3. Health Resources and Services Administration Loans

The HRSA, a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, oversees programs to help dental students complete their degrees. This includes HRSA student loans, which are overseen and administered by dental schools:

  • The Loans for Disadvantaged Students (LDS) Program offers low-interest loans to dental students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It might be an option if your dental school participates in the LDS Program.
  • Health Professions Student Loans (HPSL) are extended to students with a financial need. They are granted to eligible students through dental schools that participate in the HPSL Program.

These loans are an affordable option, with an interest rate of 5.00% and no origination fees.

Not all students will qualify for HRSA student loans, however, and the funds often are limited. Contact the financial aid office at your dental school to find out if it participates in the LDS Program or HPSL Program and learn how you can apply for these loans.

4. Private student loans for dental students

Borrowing from private lenders could be a smart way to find affordable student loans for dental school. The rates and fees for private student loans sometimes can be lower than those for federal student loans, making them a potentially cost-effective way to borrow.

But getting a good deal on private dental school loans requires two things: You must meet eligibility requirements and find the right lender.

You’ll need a good or excellent credit score to qualify for affordable private student loan rates. If you have less-than-perfect credit, you could consider applying with a cosigner who has better credit.

Identifying lenders that offer private student loans for an advanced degree can be tricky too. Always shop around and compare interest rates, fee structures and repayment plans from different lenders to see which one offers you the best deal.

Remember your dental school’s financial aid office

Your school’s financial aid office is a good source of knowledge about grants, aid and student loans for dental school. As any savvy counselor there can tell you, there are also forms of financing that should be avoided.

Income-share agreements (ISAs), for example, are often poor matches for students entering the dentist profession. That’s because ISAs call for borrowers to make payments according to a percentage of their income: A dentist’s higher income would lead to a greater payout.

Also, be wary of shady lenders that offer no credit, last-minute or emergency student loans if you find yourself in a bind. Rely on the four federal and private loan types above, and you should be safe from predatory lending.

Once you’ve financed your education, it’s also never too early to start thinking about how to repay your dental school debt through different repayment plans or loan assistance programs. By borrowing wisely now and planning ahead, you can take on the student loans for dental school without facing a big setback in your financial future.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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