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Veterinary EduDebtology 101

The study of veterinary educational debt and student loan repayment for the 21st-century veterinary graduate.

What’s the big deal?

Since the early 2000s, the cost of a veterinary education has rapidly outpaced the increases in new veterinary graduate starting salaries.  This results in a debt-to-income ratio that consistently exceeds 2:1. Veterinary graduates leave school with two, three, four, and sometimes six or seven times the average starting salary of a newly minted veterinarian.  This imparts huge stresses upon new graduates and those who employ and work with them.  According to many professionals, a “healthy” debt-to-income ratio is closer to 1. 

This mortgage-sized debt takes center stage to a new graduate’s financial situation, often causing them to delay starting families or purchasing homes, and adversely influences their overall financial and mental well-being.  It also spills over into many aspects of our profession and society.

As debt-to-income ratios exceed 2:1, traditional loan repayment plans cease to be the most prudent repayment plans for federal student loans.  An evolving group of income-driven repayment plans can make managing veterinary educational debt much more bearable. However, this structure of repayment has some side effects that must be managed along the way.

Income-driven repayment can save veterinary graduates with debt to income ratios over 2:1 tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in total repayment costs. How can that be, you ask?  See for yourself with the VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator.

Unfortunately, these plans require a shift in thinking away from the passively managed strategies of traditional repayment plans, to active management.  The borrower needs to consider: borrowing history, income, family size, marital status, spouse circumstances, tax circumstances, and overall financial plan to effectively manage student loans using income-driven repayment options.

How’d we get here?

Just like many of the complex diseases we face in medicine, the debt crisis is multifactorial and poorly understood.   Contributing factors include decreased state funding for higher education, a rapid increase in costs of all higher education, the unlimited availability of federal student loans, an increase in student loan interest rates, a shift away from subsidized graduate/professional school student loans, and an increasing number of higher-priced veterinary school seats.   Setting this cost of education background against only a modest increase in veterinary salaries has produced an educational debt crisis for the veterinary profession.

Why should I care?

I am an experienced veterinary practitioner/practice owner with little or no educational debt but I want to know more…

You remember what it was like to be a new grad, right?   Your new grad colleagues not only need clinical mentorship, but also guidance on finding resources for understanding their student loan repayment options.

If high school or college students often ask you what it takes to be a veterinarian, the VIN Foundation provides easy answers to give them at iwanttobeaveterinarian.org.  The VIN Foundation Cost of Education Map and AAVMC Cost Comparison Tool can help them understand the costs of each school.  Please ask us about the differences you notice between the tools. The VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator is the next stop for veterinary students or graduates in loan repayment.  They can enter their graduation year, current or projected student loan balance, income and family plans to see a comparison of various loan repayment plan costs. If you have any feedback or receive questions you can’t answer from those you mentor please contact info@vinfoundation.org.

I am a veterinarian with educational debt…

The hardest part for you is understanding which repayment plan(s) you can use and which plan(s) you should use.  The evolution of income-driven repayment can make it difficult to understand which repayment plans you can use and which plans you should use.  With a debt-to-income ratio greater than 2, you’ll often save the most money short and long term using plans like Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Pay as you Earn (PAYE), or Revised Pay as you Earn (REPAYE).  Each plan has its pros and cons.  Your choice will depend on your family circumstances and financial plan.  Use the VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator to see repayment costs for each.

I am a fourth-year veterinary student with educational debt…

Being on clinics doesn’t leave much time to think about your student loan repayment plan.  While there is not much you can do about your debt balance at this point, you can start to plan for repayment.  Know your loan details.  Download your student aid data file available at studentaid.gov and upload it into the VIN Foundation My Student Loans tool.  Run your free annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com to make sure you uncover all your loans that might not be covered in your student aid data file.  Use your time before graduation and the VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator to solidify your repayment strategy.

I am a third-year veterinary student with educational debt…

The light at the end of the tunnel flickers.  This year you will probably receive career guidance, which may include loan repayment education. You will also be offered more financial aid this year due to the extra clinical semester associated with your final vet school year. This is a great time to get familiar with your borrowing history at studentaid.gov and review the interest that has accrued on your loans.  Ask your financial aid office how your school charges for your extra clinical semester and allows for extra living expenses to be borrowed during this time.  If you budget carefully, you might be able to reduce your final year of expenses.  Upload your student aid data file into the VIN Foundation My Student Loans tool and use the In-School Loan Estimator to project your remaining costs.  If you're feeling brave, send your In-School Loan Estimation to the Loan Repayment Simulator to see what repayment might look like for you after graduation.

I am a second-year veterinary student with educational debt…

You’re no longer the new kid on the block.  You know what to expect for financial aid, you may have experienced your first tuition increase, and you know how much it costs to live during veterinary school.  This is a good time to examine your budget, apply for every scholarship available, evaluate your financial aid award package closely, and to minimize your expenses.  Build a student loan worksheet to estimate your remaining veterinary school costs including tuition, fees, living expenses and interest on borrowed amounts.  With more than two years remaining in your education, small changes to your borrowed amounts will save you a lot of interest.  

I am a first-year veterinary student with education debt…

Even though it’s hard to focus on your cost of education in the middle of the excitement of beginning veterinary school, this is probably the most important time to do so.  This will be your most expensive year as interest accrues starting now.  That means you NEED to borrow wisely: build a budget, reduce your costs as much as possible, apply for scholarships and grants, critically analyze your financial aid award package and return any funds you don’t need.  You can always borrow more (up to your total cost of attendance) later if you need it. Get very familiar with your tuition, fees, and living expenses.  If you don’t purchase the recommended books, return the amount allocated for books.  If you live with three or four classmates, you probably won’t need the full offered room and board amount.  Little amounts can make a huge difference when interest accrues for more than four years.

I am a pre-veterinary student considering a career in veterinary medicine...

Knowing what your veterinary school choice will cost you is just as important as knowing application requirements and prerequisites. First, there is currently no evidence showing the amount you earn as a new graduate relates to the veterinary school you attend, ie. there is no "Harvard Effect" for veterinary schools.  Therefore, your goal should be to minimize your total veterinary school cost.  Usually, your state veterinary school or a school where you can obtain the in-state tuition rate will be the least costly.  Review the VIN Foundation Apply Smarter resources for more information on how to reduce your veterinary education costs and increase your chances of getting in.     

The VIN Foundation Cost of Education Map and AAVMC Cost Comparison Tool can help you research your veterinary school options and costs depending on where you live.  Will you be an in-state (resident) veterinary student?  An out-of-state (non-resident) veterinary student or attending a private veterinary school that has a flat tuition rate?  Maybe the school you're considering offers a special contract rate since you live in a state that doesn't have a veterinary school.  A little research during the application process can help you save tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on your veterinary education.  There are also pre-veterinary conferences and groups like APVMA where you can learn about applying to veterinary school, veterinary career options, and paying for veterinary school. Here is a recent Apply Smarter presentation by the VIN Foundation at the 2021 APVMA Symposium.  

I am a veterinary professional or support those considering a career in veterinary medicine...

VIN Foundation has a number of materials you can use to help you counsel veterinarians, veterinary students, or aspiring veterinary students.   Start with www.iwanttobeaveterinarian.org for an overview of what it takes to be a veterinarian as well as links to the VIN Foundation Cost of Education Map and Apply Smarter resources.  The VIN Foundation Student Debt Center is the next stop for veterinary students or graduates in the process of borrowing or repayment.  In the VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator, you can enter a graduation year, current or projected student loan balances, income and family plans to see a comparison of various loan repayment plan costs. If you have any feedback or receive any questions you cannot answer, please contact studentdebt@vinfoundation.org.


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