In November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded more than $4.3 million to 48 veterinarians. The graduates will use the money to pay for their student loans. In return, they promise to serve in areas with animal doctor shortages.
The awards, part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, will help 27 states fill a necessary need.
How the awards work
The 48 recipients commit to practicing three years in an area with a recognized shortage of livestock veterinarians.
In a type 1 shortage area, veterinarians agree to work in a private practice where food animal medicine makes up 80 percent of their work. Type 2 shortage areas require a veterinarian to work in a private practice and provide food animal medicine 30 percent of the time. Finally, in a type 3 area, veterinarians focus on public service and commit at least 49 percent of their time.
Recipients can only use the loan repayment awards to pay principal and interest on educational loans used to pursue their degrees.
Impact on economy and food supply
The recipients of the awards are not your typical small animal vets that care for your pet dog or cat. They are livestock veterinarians; the USDA intends for the program to ensure healthy animals and a seamless food supply.
“Veterinarians play a critical role in keeping our nation’s food supply safe and animals healthy,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director, in a statement.
“The need for veterinarians in designated shortage areas is urgent. This loan repayment assistance program provides incentives for students to take up rural veterinary practices and help take care of American livestock.”
Research has shown significant shortages of food livestock veterinarians in areas where farmers breed and raise animals. The high cost of veterinarian school is part of the problem; veterinarian graduates average $135,000 in student loan debt.
What is the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program?
Under NIFA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, eligible veterinarians receive up to $25,000 a year towards qualifying student loans. To qualify for the program, veterinarians agree to serve for at least three years in a region that NIFA has designated to have a veterinarian shortage.
This is the fourth year NIFA has offered the program, and they received 187 applications. Of the 48 recipients, 38 are new awardees, while 10 are renewal awards. Previous awardees who still owe at least $15,000 in loans can apply again, though their renewal is not guaranteed.
Since the program’s launch, more than 300 veterinarians have filled shortage situations in 46 states.
How do I apply for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program?
Each year, NIFA releases a map of the country, noting which areas have a veterinarian shortage. If NIFA does not count your area as a shortage area, you have the option of relocating if you want to pursue the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.
If you decide to relocate, NIFA will not help you find a job. Looking for work is entirely your responsibility, but it can be a way to find new work while getting a large portion of your debt covered.
Applications for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program are due May 20, 2017. To be eligible for an award, you must meet the following criteria:
- You must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from an accredited school;
- Your student loans must meet their qualifications;
- You need to secure employment in an area with a livestock veterinarian shortage;
- You must submit your certifications and employment verifications when requested.
What if I’m not willing to work in a shortage area?
If you’re a veterinarian but don’t live in a designated shortage area (or are not willing to relocate), you may be eligible for other loan forgiveness programs. States like Kentucky, Minnesota, and North Dakota all have generous loan forgiveness programs for veterinarians.
While each state has different formats, the principles are generally the same; in return for a guaranteed term of service, you have an amount of student loans forgiven.
What other options do I have?
If you don’t qualify for loan forgiveness, either because you have private loans or because you are a small animal veterinarian, there are still ways to manage your debt.
One option is refinancing. By refinancing your loans, you can get a lower interest rate, a different repayment term, and even a lower monthly payment. That change can help you free up more money in your budget when you’re just getting started.
As you get more established, the lower interest rate will help you pay off the loan faster, since more of the payment goes towards the principal.
Use our refinancing calculator below to find out how much you can save — and how much lower your monthly payment may be — over the term of your loan.
Student Loan Refinancing Calculator
Find out how much interest you can save and calculate new monthly payments by refinancing and/or consolidating loans.
There are some other factors to consider before refinancing, especially if you paid for veterinary school with federal loans. This article can help you understand all of the variables before making a decision.
If you decide refinancing is for you, we can help you get the best offers and apply for free.
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