Current student loan guidance isn't favorable for chiropractors. All too often, they're excluded from medical student loan forgiveness programs.
But at the same time, many employers are not PSLF eligible and many chiropractors make too much money to materially benefit from income-driven repayment.
And with incomes lower than most physicians and dentists nationwide, it's unfair that chiropractors oftentimes pay back a higher percentage of their federal and private loans.
Here's why chiropractic debt can be so hard to pay off, and how to take advantage of 2 main student loan forgiveness programs that chiropractors are eligible for.
Chiropractor student loan debt
For the reasons I just mentioned, chiropractors across the country have among the highest average student loan balances of any profession.
In fact, the average chiropractor in the United States owes between $150,000-$250,000 in student loan debt, staggering numbers given the average chiropractor income of $84,373 nationwide in 2023.
In fact, 74% of respondents to an NIH survey anticipate owing more than $125,000 in student loan debt upon graduation.
Here's three reasons why chiropractic student loan debt is among the hardest to pay off of any profession in America.
1. Very few chiropractic jobs at non-profits
The majority of chiropractic roles exist at for-profit offices, centers, and clinics. Not only does this limit options for student loan forgiveness under the PSLF program, but your starting income is also likely to be prohibitive to paying off your student loan debt.
Since many chiropractors begin their careers earning about $80,000 (depending on your state of residence), they have no real chance to eliminate debt that can exceed $175,000-$200,000, unless they're using most of their take-home pay to service their debt.
Not only do doctors have more roles to consider at not-for-profit, PSLF eligible centers, but their substantially higher starting pay gives them two legs up over chiropractors in terms of student loan repayment.
2. High enough income to be IDR prohibitive
As we've alluded to, the average chiropractor earns a higher income than the average American, which is great news from a quality of life perspective. But unfortunately, this can be a downside as it pertains to using income-driven repayment.
Even the SAVE plan, new for 2023, which requires monthly payments of just 5%, could leave chiropractors with monthly payments of $500-$1,000 per month, which may not even cover the interest accrual each month, particularly if you owe above $150,000.
So, even when forgiveness arrives in 10-20 years, you'll likely be left with a tax bill substantially higher than what you can afford.
Chiropractor student loan forgiveness
At this time, chiropractors have just a couple options when it comes to earning student loan forgiveness:
And while neither is truly ideal, they may be able to help lessen the burden of the cost of your education. Here's how you'll know if you're lucky enough to benefit from either of these options.
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Chiropractors working for qualifying non-profits, as few and far between as they may be, may utilize the PSLF program if they meet the following requirements:
Work full-time for a qualifying non-profit or governmental organization
Join a participating income-driven repayment plan and make 120 qualifying monthly payments
Have qualifying Federal Direct Loans or be able to consolidate federal loans via a Direct Consolidation Loan program
After making these 120 monthly payments, though, the remainder of your qualifying federal student loan debt will be forgiven.
It is good practice to recertify your income and employment status each year, as it will help the federal government to keep track of the number of payments that you've actually made.
2. Income-Driven Repayment
Income-driven repayment (IDR) is another option for chiropractic providers across the country. Currently, providers can choose among four different plans, all with different repayment criteria and years of payments.
For instance, borrowers may consider using:
Income-Based Repayment (IBR): IBR requires borrowers to pay either 10%/15% of their monthly discretionary income for 20 or 25 years, depending on when the loans were disbursed.
Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): 20% for 25 years
Pay as You Earn (PAYE): The lesser of your standard repayment amount spread over 12 years and 10% of your discretionary income for 20 years
Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE): 5% of your discretionary income (based on 225% of the poverty line, rather than 150%) for 10 years
As mentioned earlier, IDR program participants do need to prepare for the possibility of an income tax bomb, as your total forgiven balance may be treated as taxable income in the year the forgiveness is granted.
Chiropractors can always refinance
Honestly, most chiropractors will be best off refinancing their student loans down to the lowest possible interest rate that they can find. While not a perfect solution by any means, it can make things more manageable.
If you use our refinancing calculator and find that you still struggle to make your new monthly payments in full each month, another option is to pick a lender that will allow you to alter the term on your debt.
Extending your term up to 12, 15, or even 20 years can help you to open substantial cash flow monthly in the present.
Our favorite lenders to alter your term include:
Of course, if you're refinancing, you should consider choosing the loan with the lowest possible interest rate that you can find. Even a 1% difference can add up to thousands of dollars.
Consider $140,000 in debt on a 10-year term at 5% versus 6%. At 5%, your monthly payments will be $1,485 per month, but at 6%, this amount jumps all the way to $1,555 monthly. This $70 difference, over your ten year repayment, is an $8,400 difference.
Chiropractors across the country have caught the short end of the stick when it comes to student loan forgiveness and strategy. And while the federal government has largely ignored the issue, those impacted still may have PSLF, income-driven repayment, and refinancing as viable options.
Are you a chiropractor looking for a new student loan strategy? What question(s) do you have? Put them in the comments below and I'll answer them!
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