7 Best Dental School Loans of March 2023
Dental students facing heavy debt should opt for federal loans.
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Federal student loans should be your first choice if you need to borrow to pay for dental school.
Government-funded options include low-cost loans for dentists, and all federal loans let you tie payments to your future income.
Dentists also have strong earning power, so private dental school loans can make sense, too. Make sure you can get a better interest rate than what federal loans offer and that you won’t need benefits like income-driven payment plans.
Here are our picks for the best dental school loans, as well as what to know about each.
Best Dental School Loans
Our pick for
Most borrowers as a first option
If low-cost federal health professions student loans aren’t available, start with federal direct unsubsidized loans to pay for dental school.
Graduate students can receive only unsubsidized direct loans. They can take out up to $20,500 annually, which may not be enough to cover your dental school bill.
- More flexible repayment options for struggling borrowers than other lenders.
- Subsidized loans do not collect interest while in school or during deferment.
- Lower interest rates compared with private lenders.
- You pay an origination fee.
- No credit check or minimum income is needed to borrow.
- Loan amounts for undergraduates: $5,500 year one, $6,500 year two, $7,500 year three and thereafter, up to a total of $31,000
- Independent students and graduate students have higher loan limits.
- Undergraduate interest rate fixed at 3.73%, while grad students get higher 5.28% rate
Our pick for
Manageable payments post-graduation
Grad PLUS loans offer income-driven plans that can cap your bills at 10% of your discretionary income, but repayment terms can last up to 25 years.
Grad PLUS loans have higher interest rates and fees than unsubsidized loans but let you borrow more money.
- More flexible repayment options for struggling borrowers compared with private lenders.
- All borrowers who attend a school authorized to receive federal aid can qualify.
- May have higher interest rates compared with private lenders.
- You pay an origination fee.
- You can’t see if you’ll qualify without a hard credit check.
- Grad PLUS loan borrowers must not have adverse credit history.
- Borrowers with adverse credit history can still receive a grad PLUS loan by enlisting a co-signer without adverse credit history or documenting extenuating circumstances for their credit history.
- Loan amounts: Total cost of attendance minus other financial aid.
Our pick for
Dental students with excellent credit
Rating and details displayed are for Sallie Mae's undergraduate student loan. Dental students can receive a residency deferment of up to 48 months.
- One of the few lenders to provide loans to part-time students.
- Non-U.S. citizens, including DACA students, can apply with a U.S. co-signer.
- You can't see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.
- Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Does not disclose.
- Minimum income: Did not disclose.
- Loan amounts: $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified expenses.
- You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.
- Twelve-month grace period is longer than other lenders offer.
- You can defer payments up to an additional 12 months during residency after your grace period.
- You must be at least halfway through your repayment term before you can request a co-signer release.
- Typical credit score of approved borrowers: Mid-700s.
- Minimum income: $35,000 per year.
- Loan amounts: $1,000 up to the total cost of attendance.
Our pick for
International dental students
International students aren’t eligible for federal student loans and will have few private options without access to an eligible co-signer.
You can only take out up to $50,000 a year ($25,000 each semester) from MPOWER, which may not be enough by itself to pay for dental school.
- Offers a hard-to-find option: non-co-signed student loans for international and DACA students.
- Borrowers are assigned a dedicated student loan advisor.
- Borrowers can request forbearance of up to 24 months, which is longer than many lenders offer.
- Payment required while in school and during the grace period.
- Offers only one repayment term: 10 years.
- MPOWER considers future income potential but does not factor in credit scores.
- Loan amounts: Minimum $2,001. Maximum loan is $100,000, limited to $25,000 per academic period.
Our pick for
Part-time dental students
If you’re studying part-time to be a dental hygienist or dental assistant, for example, you may not qualify for federal student loans or some private loans.
- GPA is used to determine eligibility instead of credit or a co-signer.
- Offers a hard-to-find, temporary income-based repayment option for up to 36 months.
- All borrowers get the same fixed rate, benchmarked to the federal PLUS loan rates.
- Works with a limited list of schools.
- Charges an origination fee.
- Does not allow for bi-weekly payments via autopay.
- Typical credit score of approved borrowers: Credit and a co-signer are not required. Approval is based on GPA.
- Minimum income: No minimum. Approval is based on GPA.
- Loan amounts: $2,001 up to the full cost of attendance, maximum $50,000
Our pick for
Dental students from Texas
- May offer lower rates for graduate students than what are available through the federal government.
- Applies extra payments to the loan principal by default.
- Offers five loan terms, which is more than most lenders.
- Not available to borrowers enrolled in two year programs at community colleges.
- Not available to borrowers who are not Texas residents.
- Biweekly payments via autopay is not available.
Choosing student loans for dental school
Dental school loans are often unavoidable: More than 80% of dentists in the class of 2020 graduated with student debt, according to the American Dental Education Association. Their average dental school debt was more than $304,824.
If you might face that level of debt, federal student loans should be your first choice.
Federal student loans offer income-driven repayment plans that typically limit payments to 10% of your discretionary income. That can provide some financial breathing room, especially if you need money to start your own dental practice or purchase an existing one.
Federal student loans also offer Public Service Loan Forgiveness. But unless you pursue a career like academic research or teaching dentistry, PSLF may be less of an incentive than it is for other health professionals who are more likely to work for a nonprofit like a hospital.
There are other dental school debt forgiveness programs. Many of these eliminate federal and private student loans. You typically need to practice in a rural or underserved area to qualify.
Federal student loans for dental school
You may have access to multiple federal student loans for dental school. Consider them in the following order:
Health Professions Student Loan. Students with financial need can apply for these health professions student loans at participating dental schools. Funding may be limited. These loans have fixed interest rates of 5% and interest is subsidized while you’re in school.
Loans for Disadvantaged Students. LDS and HPSL have similar terms, and both come from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Because LDS and HPSL aren’t Department of Education loans, they aren’t eligible for programs like PSLF or income-driven repayment. But you can consolidate them to qualify.
Unsubsidized federal direct loans. Graduate students are eligible for up to $20,500 annually in federal unsubsidized loans.
Graduate PLUS loans. After exhausting the previous options, you can borrow what remains up to your cost of attendance in graduate PLUS loans. PLUS loans have the highest interest rates and charge the most in fees among federal student loans.
If you’re in an undergraduate dental program — to be a dental hygienist or dental assistant, for example — you may also be eligible for subsidized loans. You’ll need to demonstrate financial need to qualify for these loans, and loan limits are different for undergraduates.
Private loans for dental school
Many private lenders offer student loans for dental school. These loans are credit-based, so you could beat a federal loan’s interest rate if you or a co-signer has good credit.
Some lenders market loans specifically for graduate-level dental students. These may have features tailored to dental students. For example, multiple lenders let you postpone payments during a residency.
Such perks can sound nice, but keep an eye on how much you’ll owe each month. A potential six-figure dentist salary may make you confident in affording those bills. But if you aren’t able to, you won’t be able to fall back on income-driven payments like you can with federal loans.
And if you stick with federal loans and your earnings do align with those expectations? You can consider refinancing dental school loans with a private lender at a lower interest rate to recoup some savings.
How to get loans for dental school
How you get loans for dental school will depend on the type you wish to take out:
Health professions student loans. Contact your dental school’s financial aid office to see if it participates in this program, and ask about its application process.
Federal student loans. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to qualify for subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans, as well as graduate PLUS loans.
Private student loans. You can borrow from any private lender that offers graduate student loans. Get the best deal possible by shopping around; then apply directly with the lender.
STUDENT LOAN RATINGS METHODOLOGY
Our survey of more than 29 banks, credit unions and online lenders offering student loans and student loan refinancing includes the top 10 lenders by market share and top 10 lenders by online search volume, as well as lenders that serve specialty or nontraditional markets.
We consider 40 features and data points for each financial institution. Depending on the category, these include the availability of biweekly payments through autopay, minimum credit score and income requirement disclosures, availability to borrowers in all states, extended grace periods and in-house customer service.
The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.
Read more about our ratings methodologies for student loans and our editorial guidelines.
Last updated on December 2, 2022
NerdWallet's Best Dental School Loans of March 2023
- Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan: Best for Most borrowers as a first option
- Federal Grad PLUS Loan: Best for Manageable payments post-graduation
- Sallie Mae Private Student Loan: Best for Dental students with excellent credit
- College Ave Dental Student Loan: Best for Dental students with excellent credit
- MPOWER Private Student Loan: Best for International dental students
- A.M. Money Private Student Loan: Best for Part-time dental students
- Brazos Private Student Loan: Best for Dental students from Texas
Frequently asked questions
- What is the average dental school debt?
Dentists in the class of 2020 graduated with an average student loan debt of more than $304,824, according to the American Dental Education Association.
- How do you get loans for dental school?
Getting federal student loans for dental school will typically require completing the FAFSA. Private dental school loans would require applying directly with a lender.
- What’s the best student loan for dental school?
Because dental students average six figures of debt, they should usually opt first for federal student loans to have the option of enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan.
- Are there private loans for dental school?
Multiple lenders have private loans just for dental students, including College Ave and Sallie Mae. But you can take out any graduate-level loan. Compare multiple offers to get the best deal.