Student Loan Repayment Guide for Dentists
A career as a dentist can be very satisfying, but paying off those student loans could be a challenge.
Luckily, there are many sources of repayment assistance and dental loan forgiveness, which can also include plans for dental assistants and hygienists. In this guide, you’ll learn about your options for student loan repayment assistance and loan forgiveness for dentists.
Dental loan forgiveness and repayment plans to consider
When it comes to dental school loan repayment and forgiveness programs, you’ll often have to work in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), which may mean you have a lower salary and you’re tied to a certain location for a specified period of time. But depending on your situation, choosing this path could be worth it in the long run.
Here are options to know about when it comes to dental school loan forgiveness and repayment:
- Income-driven repayment programs
- Student loan refinancing
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
- Perkins Loan cancellation program
- Army Dental Corps programs
- Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program
- Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
- National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program
- VA Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP)
- National Institute of Health Loan Repayment Program
- Loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) by state
Although federal student loan borrowers are automatically placed on the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, this is not the only repayment option available. For one, dental professionals, as well as all other federal student loan borrowers, can look into income-driven repayment programs if their monthly payments are too high. (Keep in mind, though, that these programs are not available for private loan borrowers.)
Presently, the following income-driven plans exist:
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR): IBR caps student loan payments at 10% of your discretionary income if you’re a new borrower on or before July 1, 2014, and 15% otherwise. You’ll have a repayment period of 20 years if you’re a newer borrower, and 25 years otherwise. The amount you would owe on this plan must be lower than what it would be on the Standard Plan.
- Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): Your monthly payment under this plan will be the lesser of 20% of your discretionary income or what your payment would be on a fixed 12-year payment plan, adjusted based on your income, with a repayment period of 25 years. There are no income eligibility requirements for this plan.
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE): Your payment amount with this program is typically 10% of your discretionary income, and it can never be more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount. The repayment period for this loan is 20 years.
- Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): Your monthly payments for this plan are capped at 10% of discretionary income. A key difference between this plan and the original PAYE plan and other programs is there is no cap on payments, which means that your payment amount could increase if your income also increases. These loans have different repayment periods, depending on the level of education pursued with them: 20 years for all undergraduate loans, and a 25-year payment period for loans for graduate-level studies.
Any balance still remaining on your loan at the end of the repayment period will be forgiven.
While these plans can be helpful for professional students who need help repaying their loans, you should understand that there are also potential drawbacks, including that you may stay in debt longer and ultimately pay more in interest. You should make sure you fully understand what you’re getting into if you choose one of these plans.
Another way to make student loan payments more manageable and save money in the process is through refinancing. This process involves paying off existing student loans with a single new loan at (hopefully) a lower interest rate. Not only can this make managing student loans easier by consolidating the debt, but it can also cut down on total interest paid. It’s also possible to refinance to a longer loan term in order to reduce monthly payments even further, though doing so could cancel out any savings because you may pay more in the end.
In addition, 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 into a private loan. You can take a look at our student loan refinancing calculator to further dig into the math as you consider taking this step.
If you have federal student loans and work at an eligible nonprofit or public service agency, you may be eligible to get all your loans forgiven after 10 years of monthly 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 with a public service focus.
Borrowers must have Direct Loans and have made payments after Oct. 1, 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).
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. For medical technicians, that’s up to 100% for five years of eligible service.
The Perkins Loan program expired on Sept. 30, 2017. You must have borrowed before that date to be eligible for the cancellation program.
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.
For those interested in joining the Navy, you may be eligible for up to $40,000 per year, minus 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 minimum of two years. For more details, you can go here.
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. For more information, go here.
Under the NHSC program, a variety of healthcare professionals, including dentists, may receive student loan repayment assistance for committing to a minimum two-year service agreement. To be eligible, you must work at a qualified Health Professional Shortage site. Learn more here.
If you choose to care for veterans as a dentist, you may be able to receive up to $40,000 per year in student loan repayment assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The maximum award amount is $200,000 over five years. You can find out more here.
The National Institute of Health offers up to $50,000 annually for health professionals, including dentists, to engage in NIH-relevant research. There are eight loan repayment programs, three of which require employment by the NIH. You can read more about the program here.
In addition to the national programs listed above, there are a number of programs offered by individual states that apply to a variety of dental professionals. Here are some of the programs that are available across the country.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The SHARP-II program in Alaska aims to fill shortages in certain areas and provide access to a variety of healthcare professionals, including dentists and dental hygienists. In exchange, the program offers dentists loan repayment assistance of up to $35,000 per year ($20,000 for hygienists). This number could increase to $47,000 ($27,000 for hygienists) for hard-to-fill positions.
Initial contracts are for a three-year period. After the initial contract period, employees may be eligible for another contract and award. You can find out more here.
Under the Arizona State Loan Repayment Program, dentists may be able to get a good chunk of their loans paid off by working in a 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.
The award amount depends on the rank of the HPSA, but qualified candidates can receive as much as $65,000 for the initial two-year service period. Awards decrease in amount after the initial service agreement. To find out more, go here.
Under the California State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), qualified dentists and dental hygienists who practice in designated HPSAs 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, which must be on the SLRP Certified Eligible Site List, to match the award.
In addition, the California Dental Association (CDA) 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.
As of the writing of this article, the 2020 CDA program had been put on hold, but you can check back here to stay up to date.
The Colorado Health Service Corps offers loan repayment assistance to general and pediatric dentists who practice in HPSAs. Qualified dentists who work full time may receive up to $90,000, while dental hygienists may be awarded as much as $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 hygienists 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 $25,000 and $50,000 depending on how many patients they see, while dental hygienists can receive between $6,000 to $12,000 depending on the number of people they serve.
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 $151,841.29 over a four-year period. Dental hygienists may be able to get up to $83,510.61.
For more information, you can go here.
Through the Delaware State Loan Repayment Program, general and pediatric dentists who work at a qualified HPSA may be eligible for loan repayment assistance. Practitioners have opportunities to work full time, which is classified as 40 hours per week or a part time schedule of 20 to 39 hours.
Awards range from $30,000 to $100,000. Each applicant must commit to two years of full-time employment in a federally designated HPSA. You can find out more about the program here.
The Dentists for Rural Areas Assistance Program offers loan repayment assistance to licensed dentists who serve in medically underserved, rural areas of Georgia. Contracts are awarded $25,000 for one year of full-time service, which may be renewable for up to four years total and a maximum of $100,000.
For more information, you can go here.
Under the Illinois National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program, dentists who work full time or half time in a HPSA 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. For more information, you can go here.
The Delta Dental of Iowa Loan Repayment Program offers an annual award of $50,000 over three years for repayment assistance.
In addition, there is also funding available through the Fulfilling Iowa’s Need for Dentists (FIND) program, an extension of the Delta Dental of Iowa Loan Repayment Program. In this program, dentists receive up to $100,000 in loan repayment over a period of five years if they agree to allocate 35% of their services to underserved patient populations in rural areas. For more information, you can go here.
Under the Kansas State Loan Repayment Program, dentists and dental surgeons who work in an HPSA can receive loan repayment assistance of up to $25,000 per year for two years, then potentially $20,000 for a third year, $15,000 for a fourth year and $10,000 for a fifth year. Dental hygienists can receive up to $20,000 for a two-year commitment, and potentially $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000 for the next 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.
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 earn as much as $20,000. This is a match program, meaning that for every federal dollar contributed, there must be a dollar match from a source such as an employer, private foundation, corporation or community organization.
You can get more details about the program here.
The Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment assistance to medical professionals, including dentists and dental hygienists, who work full time at a designated HPSA or nonprofit.
Dentists can receive up to $30,000 per year ($15,000 for dental hygienists) in exchange for a three-year service commitment. Once the initial commitment is served, eligible candidates with remaining loans may extend the contract for an additional two years. You can read more about the award here.
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 if they received a first program loan before Jan. 1, 2020, and $25,000 for those who received their first loan on or after this date. 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 for dentists who received a first program loan before Jan. 1, 2020, and up to $100,000 for those who entered a first loan agreement on or after that date.
You can get more details here.
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. You can read more about the program here.
Massachusetts is currently offering health professionals (including dentists and dental hygienists) up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year commitment to serve in a designated HPSA. You can learn more about the program and how to apply here.
Under the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program, qualified dentists can receive significant loan repayment assistance. Dentists who work in eligible nonprofit practice sites can receive a maximum of $200,000 for a service commitment of up to eight years. Eligible candidates must work full time with a minimum two-year commitment. You can find more information on the program here.
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.
For more information, you can go here.
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 per year. You can read more about the program here.
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. You can read more about this program here.
The Nebraska Loan Repayment Program offers dentists working in designated shortage areas loan repayment assistance. There are two programs offered, and one application for both: The State Loan Repayment program and NHSC State Loan Repayment. After you fill out the application, you will be informed about which program, if any, for which you qualify.
This program is a matching program, so the site or a local entity must match the state dollars provided. Eligible candidates must serve two to four years, depending on the program (one is a three-year contract program, while the other is two years with the possibility of an extension to four), and may receive up to $200,000 total.
You can find more information on the program here.
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 available funding. For more information, go here.
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 ($27,500 for part time), and they may extend their contract for two years at $40,000 in additional funding ($10,000 for part time). Dental hygienists are eligible for $30,000, and can extend their contract another for up to $10,000 (for part time, it’s $17,500, and an additional $5,000 for another year).
At the time of publication, funding for this program was in flux, so you can check back here for updates.
The New Mexico Health Professional Loan Repayment Program offers dentists working at a qualified HPSA. Candidates must be licensed in New Mexico and work full time to qualify for this program. The website does not specify funding amounts, but notes that “payments are made on the quarterly basis to the loan servicer directly upon verification of employment for the quarter.” You can find more information about the program here.
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, and there are also opportunities for dental hygienists (up to $60,000 for four years). You can read more about the program here.
The North Dakota Dental Loan Repayment Program aims to attract dentists in North Dakota to serve in areas of need. Qualified candidates who are selected may receive up to $100,000 in loan repayment assistance for a service agreement of up to five years in a public health clinic, a nonprofit clinic or a practice with a focus on underserved patients. You can read more about the program here.
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 $25,000 annually in exchange for a two-year commitment if you work full time at a qualified site. Qualified candidates can renew their contract after their initial service obligation for two more one-year contracts for up to $35,000 annually for a third and fourth year of service. Read more about the programs here.
The Oklahoma Dental Loan Repayment Program aims to recruit dentists to serve in underserved communities. The program offers assistance to 25 dentists for a period of two to five years, and qualified candidates can receive up to $25,000 per year in loan repayment assistance. See more about the program here.
The Oregon Partnership State Loan Repayment Program offers dentists and dental hygienists loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year service commitment working in an HPSA. Full-time dentists may receive up to a total of 50% of their qualifying student loan debt, up to a maximum of $35,000 per year, for an initial two-year commitment. You can read more here.
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 part-time work. (There are also opportunities available for dental hygienists.) Per the website, the program is not currently accepting applications, but you can check here for updates.
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. Specific award amounts are not available on the website. Check out this PDF for more information on the program and how to apply.
The South Carolina Rural Dentist Program offers loan repayment assistance to dentists who serve in designated HPSAs, or those who serve on the faculty of the Medical University of South Carolina’s dental program. Priority is given to applicants who intend to put down roots in their practice area and stay beyond the funding period, both in the community and in their form of practice. Loan amounts may vary. You can find out more about the program here.
The South Dakota Department of Health has a Recruitment Assistance Program that offers eligible dentists “incentive payment” in exchange for three years of service in a rural community. Awards given to qualifying dentists can total $231,384. Read more about this program here.
In addition, Delta Dental of South Dakota provides loan repayment assistance to dentists who work with a percentage of Medicaid patients in their practice. Award amounts are between $40,000 and $100,000 and vary depending on service.
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. You can go here to read more about the program and keep up to date on application requirements.
Under the Virginia State Loan Repayment Program, dentists, as well as registered dental hygienists, may receive nontaxed incentive awards 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. The maximum award is $140,000 for a four-year service obligation. Find out more about the program here.
Washington state offers two programs aimed to recruit healthcare professionals to fill in the gap in critical shortage areas: a federal and state repayment plan.
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 in the state program.
The federal health program offers a maximum award of $70,000 with a two-year service agreement. The state program features a three-year commitment with a maximum award of $75,000. You can go here to read more FAQs on the program.
Through the Dental Workforce Loan Reimbursement Program, dentists may be eligible for loan assistance. Candidates must commit to serving in a HPSA. The amounts available are $40,000 for an initial two-year commitment, $25,000 per year for an additional two-year commitment and a maximum of four years of funding for $90,000 total. You can find out more information here.
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 ($25,000 for dental hygienists) in loan assistance. You can read more about the program here.
Considering your options
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, which is 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. Be sure to weigh the costs versus benefits of getting loan repayment assistance, compared to working in a private practice. If you’re just starting to think about going into dentistry, see our piece on four types of student loans every dental student should consider.