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  • Writer's pictureNathan Zarcaro

Is Becoming a Nurse Practitioner Worth the Student Loan Debt?

Updated: Dec 20, 2023


Nurse practitioners are a career in demand right now, as provider offices nationwide look to add qualified and credentialed healthcare professions to their staffs.


With the number of nurse practitioners in the United States projected to increase by 45% between 2019 and 2029, there are definitely some exciting career prospects.


But most NPs will incur large amounts of student loan debt along the way. But is becoming an NP worth the student debt?




Average nurse practitioner salary


Nationally, the average nurse practitioner earns $122,846 in 2023. This is compared to the average college graduate income of $80,500 and nursing average of $77,460.


If you're keeping track, that means that the average NP earns:


  • $42,346 more than the average college grad

  • $45,386 more than the average nurse


The prospect of earning this much money is definitely exciting!


It is important to note, though, that becoming a nurse practitioner requires extra education beyond the undergraduate level.



Average nurse practitioner student loan balance


To determine whether becoming an NP is worth it, we'll need to take a look at the average student loan debt you'll incur while in school.


According to a 2022 research paper published by the National Institute of Health, the average nurse practitioner has about $50,000 in student debt.


This is compared to the average nurse debt (graduating with a BSN) of $23,711 and average undergraduate debt of $37,338.


So, the question is this.


Is becoming a nurse practitioner worth an additional $26,289 or $12,662 in student loans (beyond the average nurse and undergraduate, respectively)?


 

Well, it depends on the extent to which you value income, money, and your time. And there are a lot of factors to consider!


For one, do you really want to spend extra time in school so that you can work as an NP in a provider office, hospital, or other setting? This may sound great to some, but undesirable for others.


Then there is the life you want to live in those early stages of your career.


Before deciding, it may also be worth considering your options for repayment and forgiveness.



Repayment options for nurse practitioners


NPs across the country also have a couple of main repayment plans and options available to them, including:


  • Standard repayment

  • Income-driven repayment

  • Refinancing



1. Standard repayment


Most nurse practitioners will end up repaying their loans via standard repayment, as a result of limited forgiveness and income-based options. Standard repayment terms typically are ten years in length and carry fixed monthly payments based on balance and interest rate.


Usually, standard repayment is the best way for borrowers to limit their interest payments, excluding any assistance or forgiveness programs.



2. Income-driven repayment


Some NPs will be able to leverage income-driven repayment to their advantage, particularly now that President Biden's administration has launched the new Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan.


This plan also limits borrower payments to just 5% of their monthly discretionary income, or the difference between 225% the poverty line and your adjusted gross income (AGI).


In time, it will also replace the other income-driven plans out there, like:




3. Refinancing


Other NPs will opt to refinance their loans to lower their monthly payments. Many with advanced degrees qualify for special financing rates that can lead to huge savings each month.


For instance, $100,000 in loans at a 6% interest rate would lead to $1,110 monthly payments under a standard repayment plan.


Should you refinance down to a 4% rate, your payments would drop all the way to $1,012, saving you about $100 per month.


Some lenders even allow borrowers to alter the term on their loan(s). Our student loan refinancing guide has everything that you need to know.



Nurse practitioner student loan forgiveness


There are a number of NP student loan forgiveness programs too. Among the available programs include:


  • National Health Service Corps: The federal government offers three forgiveness programs through the NHSC, which can award qualifying nurse practitioners up to $100,000 in student loan assistance in exchange for three years of service at a qualifying practice site.


  • Nurse Corps LRAP: Nurse Corps is another option for those in a designated specialty within a critical shortage facility (CSF). The program repays up to 85% of nursing education debt.


  • Indian Health Services LRAP: NPs practicing at facilities that serve American Indian or Alaskan Native populations may qualify for up to $50,000 in forgiveness through the Indian Health Services LRAP.


  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Many NPs will qualify for PSLF, so long as they work for a qualifying non-profit facility, group, or practice. The program does require ten years of payments on the SAVE plan, but will forgive 100% of a remaining balance.



Are nurse practitioners happy with their jobs?


In a positive sign that the profession may be worth the extra time, effort, and money, most NPs report satisfaction in their careers! In fact, according to a U.S. News & World Report Analysis from 2018, nurse practitioners score an 8.2/10 on the job satisfaction scale, good for fourth of all careers!


The lack of buyer's remorse among practicing NPs is a great sign that the job is as good as advertised.


But let's not just listen to one opinion, either. This satisfaction seems to be something measurable across other studies and surveys too! For example:





So, is becoming a nurse practitioner worth it?


Remember - NPs tend to earn $1,815,440 more than nurses and $1,693,840 more than other college grads. This is a HUGE difference. Of course, this earnings difference will be subject to some combination of federal, state, and/or local taxes.


Assuming an average career tax rate of 40%, these figures become $1,089,264 and $1,016,304, respectively.


Given the fact that the average NP only takes on an extra $26,000 or so in student loan debt, there clearly can be a great return on your investment! NPs also qualify for many physician loan programs too!


Taking some extra his extra income sounds like a no-brainer, but you'll also want to consider that/whether:


  • You're prepared to continue your education

  • You may be in student loan debt for longer: Is this something that you're okay with?

  • Are the functions of the job something that you want to do in life?

  • There is consistent demand for nurse practitioners in your area



Conclusion


Nurse practitioners are an incredibly powerful asset to the United States healthcare system. They're very much in demand right now, and they have lots of available repayment and forgiveness strategies to deal with student loan debt.


This variety of strategies can make the debt much easier to navigate and eliminate.


My friends over at Student Loan Planner are happy to help a consult with you. They've saved Americans nearly $800 million off their student loans and they have a perfect 5.0 star rating on Google (with 426 reviews)!




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About Nathan Zarcaro

Nathan Zarcaro is the founder of The Student Debt Destroyer and is passionate about personal finance related causes.  A 2018 graduate of Providence College's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Nathan studied Finance, and has worked for industry leaders in both finance and healthcare.  In his free time, Nathan enjoys playing golf and traveling with his wife Brigid.

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