Here’s a figure that you’ve probably seen a zillion times: 79% of graduating medical students carry at least $100,000 in student loan debt, and 59% of those graduates carry over $150,000 in student loan debt.
Those numbers are hard to swallow, but they’re also easy to ignore.
Here’s a figure that I like better: Monthly student loan payments of more than $3,000 are not uncommon for medical school graduates.
It’s funny how that number is so much smaller, yet so much more intimidating. Why? Because it seems more real. We’re all used to dealing with our finances on a monthly basis. Big numbers — like $150,000 — are easy to ignore because we know we have lots of time to deal with them.
My goal isn’t to scare you — it’s to get you thinking seriously about the implications of medical student loan debt. Even if $3,000 per month doesn’t seem like much to you, keep in mind that you’re coupling that with other expenses: car payments, mortgage or rent payments, savings, etc. It adds up quickly, even for a well-earning physician.
It takes many physicians 20-30 years to pay off their medical student loan debt. But paying it off quickly means you’ll have more disposable income at your fingertips sooner.
Here are my five tried-and-true tips for whittling away at medical student loan debt fast:
1) Pay Extra Towards Your Medical Student Loan Debt Each Month
This is common knowledge, but it warrants repeating: Even if you just pay a little bit extra on your medical student loan debt each month, you have the potential to shave years off the life of your loan. Have the payments withdrawn automatically so you don’t have to think about them.
2) Get a Financial Planner Right Away
Finding a financial planner might seem like a big to-do, but it’s one of the best investments you can make for you and your family. You might be surprised at how simple financial management can be once you sit down with a pro who can give you insider tips based on your situation.
Face it — you don’t have the time to learn the ropes yourself. A good financial planner can help you create a realistic budget and spending plan as well as keep track of your assets and liabilities.
3) Make Sure You Have Adequate Life Insurance
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of physicians who don’t have adequate life insurance. Your career is your livelihood. If something happens to you that prevents you from practicing, you could be in financial jeopardy.
Explore options and find a policy as soon as you can. There’s no excuse not to when you’re young — it’s easy to get incredible coverage at a relatively inexpensive price.
4) Start Saving for Retirement Immediately
Even though paying off medical student loan debt might seem like your biggest priority, you should always think ahead to your future. Set aside as much as you can pre-tax into a 401(k) or another type of retirement account.
You should also avoid the temptation to overspend, especially during your post-residency years. Want to know how physicians end up in big financial trouble by the time they’re 40? Read my story here.
5) Discouraged by Medical Student Loan Debt? Keep Your Head High
It’s easy to feel discouraged by student loan debt, but it’s important to keep your head high. The minute you start feeling hopeless, you’ll be more tempted to make yourself feel better with luxury vacations and large impulse purchases, which only contribute to the downward spiral.
Nearly all physicians have medical student loan debt, and it does go away. And when you do pay off your debt, you’ll have an impressive amount of disposable income that you’ll be able to invest in other areas.
Just remember that the financial choices you make now can have an incredible impact on the life you lead down the road. Be wise, and be sure to visit the Adventures in Medicine Online Resource Library for more tips on paying off medical student loan debt.
What steps are you taking to manage your medical student loan debt?
Though the views expressed above are solely the writer's, Alexian Brothers supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Alexian Brothers is making practice purposeful.