8 Dental School Debt Forgiveness Programs

Dental school debt forgiveness may be possible if you plan to work in the public sector or an underserved area.

Teddy NykielMay 19, 2020
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State and federal dental school debt forgiveness programs can eliminate a portion of a dentist's or dental hygienist's college debt. That probably sounds pretty good, especially if you're facing the average dental school debt of more than $292,000.

You typically need to work in the public sector or an underserved area to qualify for dental school debt forgiveness. If that doesn't align with your career goals, consider other strategies to pay off dental school loans, like refinancing and income-driven repayment.

1. State dental school debt forgiveness programs

Best for: Dentists and dental hygienists who work in underserved areas.

All 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have programs designed to help dentists repay dental school loans. The American Dental Education Association has a comprehensive list of programs available for dentists.

Dental hygienists are often eligible, but they may receive less dental school debt forgiveness. For example, the Alaska State Loan Repayment Program forgives up to $47,000 for dentists and up to $27,000 for dental hygienists.

Find out from your state if both federal and private student loans are eligible.

2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Best for: Nonprofit and government employees.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a federal program that forgives borrowers’ remaining student loan balance after they make 10 years’ worth of payments while working for the government or a qualifying nonprofit organization.

This program is available to dentists and dental hygienists who work for a qualifying employer. To see if your employer qualifies, submit the PSLF employer certification form to the U.S. Department of Education.

For federal student loans only.

3. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

Best for: Dentists and dental hygienists working in a Health Professional Shortage Area.

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program offers up to $50,000 in tax-free student loan repayment for dentists and dental hygienists who work at least two years in a Health Professional Shortage Area.

A Health Professional Shortage Area is a designated geographic location, population or facility that has a lack of primary care, dental care or mental health providers. You can search for these areas through the Health Resources & Services Administration website.

You may qualify for the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program if you’re in general or pediatric dentistry. Parent PLUS loans aren’t eligible.

For federal and private student loans.

4. National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program

Best for: Dentists in their last year of school.

The National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program offers up to $120,000 in tax-free student loan repayment (up to $30,000 a year for four years) for students in their last year of dental school pursuing a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry degree.

You must agree to work full time for at least three years in a Health Professional Shortage Area to use this dental debt forgiveness program. You may qualify if you plan to practice general or pediatric dentistry. Parent PLUS loans aren’t eligible.

For federal and private student loans.

5. Health Resources and Services Administration Faculty Loan Repayment Program

Best for: Dentists interested in teaching.

The HRSA’s Faculty Loan Repayment Program offers up to $40,000 in student loan repayment for health professionals — including dentists — who serve as a faculty member at a health professions school for at least two years.

To qualify, you must come from an economically or environmentally disadvantaged background.

For federal and private student loans.

6. National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs

Best for: Dentists pursuing careers in research.

There are eight National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs that each offer up to $50,000 in student loan repayment per year for dentists in biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. Each of the programs targets researchers in various fields including clinical, pediatric, AIDS and contraception and infertility.

Your loans don’t qualify if you refinanced or consolidated them with loans issued to someone else, like a parent or spouse.

For federal and private student loans.

7. Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program

Best for: Dentists and dental hygienists serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program offers up to $40,000 in student loan repayment for dentists who work for at least two years in communities that serve American Indian or Alaska Native populations. You may be able to extend your contract beyond the initial two years and continue receiving loan repayment benefits until your qualifying dental school loans are paid off.

Your loans don’t qualify if you refinanced or consolidated them with loans issued to someone else, like a parent or spouse. This loan repayment benefit is taxable, but the program pays a percentage of the federal taxes.

For federal and private student loans.

8. Military loan repayment programs

Best for: Dentists in the military.

The U.S. military offers student loan repayment benefits to doctors who serve. For example, the Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program offers up to $40,000 a year in loan repayment for up to three years. Contact your military branch for details about your options.

Ask your military branch whether both federal and private student loans are eligible.

Don't qualify for dental student loan forgiveness?

You have other options to save money when repaying dental school loans:

  • If you need lower monthly payments. Income-driven repayment plans base your federal loan payments on your discretionary income and family size. Even if you earn the average dentist salary of $178,260, you may still pay less each month under an income-driven plan than the standard plan depending on how much you owe in total.

  • If you want to pay less overall. Refinancing dental school loans to a lower interest rate could trim your monthly payments, too, but its bigger impact would be on your bottom line. For example, refinancing the average dental school debt of $292,169 from 7% interest to 5% would save you $290 a month and more than $35,200 over a 10-year term.

Refinancing federal student loans will cost you access to income-driven repayment and some dental student loan forgiveness programs. Be sure you won't need those options before refinancing.

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