If you are struggling with student loans, let this be your guide to debt freedom
I’ll never forget the day I hit that button.
It was May 2019 in San Antonio. I just finished a Human Matrix seminar and made my final student loan payment.
I cried. It was finally over. A huge weight off my shoulders. A resting level of stress was gone
While I was ecstatic to be debt-free, I still had one regret:
Not paying off my student loans sooner.
That’s why this post you are about to read by my dear friend and fellow PT Josh Madonick is essential. It’s a post on navigating your way out of student loans and towards financial freedom.
It’s tips I wish I would’ve known years ago.
If you struggle with student loans, then keep on reading. Be prepared to end the struggle!
The end of the student loan problem
Did you go through graduate school to earn a DPT, ATC, or another license to perform/provide health care services? If you did, chances are that necessary step cost you by way of student loan debt.
In fact, the average DPT comes with nearly $100,000 of accrued debt. You’re not alone if that number makes you cringe. You’re also not alone if that number looks more generous than the pile of student loans that you’re currently sitting on.
Consider that the average income of a DPT in the United States is roughly $87,000. For many of you new/recent grads out there, that number might look a little inflated. If you live in California (like ya boy does), then you’ll be paying almost $24,000 of that to the government. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to pay for rent, food, your car, your continuing education, and your fun (plus all that travel, #millenial) with the remaining funds. Oh yeah, and you’ll also need to contribute to those student loans too.
Sure, PT school was pretty fun. Learning about rib cages and pelvises is awesome (shout out to Zac for killing it in this regard). But was it really worth putting yourself in debt for the foreseeable future?
A lot of us have had to grapple with this question.
There is no doubt that the current student loan situation is a problem. While I don’t have the answer to the national problem, I’m pretty damn sure that I can help you with yours.
If your goal is to pay off your loans using the least amount of money, and in the shortest time frame possible, then keep on reading.
Why in the hell should you listen to me?
This troubling train of thought leads me down a path of figuring out how the hell my wife and I (she’s a DPT too, #powercouple) could overcome our student loans, as quickly as possible.
The first step came in analyzing exactly what we were up against. After some simple (and not fun) math, we totaled roughly $115,000.
I was making $70,000/year at the time (and my wife $85,000), well under the average salary for our profession. Luckily, we were well under the average amount. But damn! That’s a lot of money that we would need to pay back.
I know how it feels to be sitting on a pile of debt that seems incomprehensible. My wife and I had big plans to buy a house, travel the world, and start our own PT clinic. All of that would take financial security in a major way, which seemed eons away due to our troubling debt.
The enormity of the situation shook us both, and admittedly we crawled into a hole for about 1 month. Neither of us talked about it, and we sure as hell didn’t try to figure out how we could make this debt go away any faster.
But then, something changed. Neither of us was sure as to what it was, but we decided to dig in and do some research. We changed our perspective and knocked down the necessary steps. Just 2 years later, we were entirely debt-free.
The feeling of exiting from that situation was probably as rewarding (if not more) as getting our DPT and license to practice. Finally, the world seemed to open up. Opportunities arose, we were able to start a cash-based PT clinic, and we were narrowing in our sights on our first house.
So why should you listen to me, or what I have to say? Because I know what it’s like. I’ve been where you are. I had to learn everything needed to conquer our student loans so that we could get on with our lives. And I don’t want you to have to deal with the same shit!
Your Best Friend In The Loan Game
There are no “hidden secrets” to getting out of student loan debt. There sure are a lot of simple steps, that if done, will make MASSIVE changes in the amount you pay (as well as the duration of time you pay).
Perhaps no step is more important than the step of refinancing your loans.
What does refinancing entail, and how can you do it?
Refinancing essentially means that a company is willing to pay off your loan for you so that you repay your loan to them. Sounds great, right!?
The reason why it’s advantageous for you is that the lending company will typically offer you a reduced interest rate compared to the federal government (they are responsible for the vast majority of graduate school loans).
Refinancing is a fairly simple process, but does require you to compare rates amongst a few different companies. My advice is to look at the various interest rates and term lengths to find the lowest and longest, respectively.
I’ll drop a list of my favorite re-financing companies at the end of this post.
Why does your interest rate make such a big deal?
I’m glad you asked (my best Z cup impression)!
Your interest rate is the percentage of your loan that you pay to the lender (federal government, or one of the other companies listed below) each year. Let’s say that you have $100,000 loan, with a 4% interest rate. This means that each year, you’ll owe roughly $4,000 of interest (the amount changes with each payment that you make).
If you’re able to pay that loan off in 10 years, you’ll end up paying about $21,500 in interest alone. On top of your $100,000 loan.
That sucks, right?
Now, if you cut that interest rate down to 3% (and nothing else changes), you’ll only end up paying $15,500 on interest. A $6,000 saving for only 1%? I can dig that.
How can you ensure that you get the best interest rate possible?
As you can see, dropping that interest rate is a bit of a game-changer. When we first looked into re-financing, my interest rate was around 5.5%, while my wife’s rate was at 4.9%. We were able to get our interest rates dropped to 3.8% and 2.75%, respectively.
Judging off of the savings above, you can imagine how much of a difference that made for us.
We want you to get the best interest rate possible. If you are reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t make sense for you to refinance, as the federal government has set all interest rates to 0%. This is a MASSIVE opportunity to make as much headway on your loans as possible.
It’s likely that beginning January 1, 2021, interest rates will resume back to their previous rates. When that happens, here’s what you can do to ensure that you get the best interest rate possible.
(P.S. If you want to keep an eye on what the federal government is doing with these interest rates, check out this website).
Step 1: Increase your loan duration
Increasing your loan duration?! Why the hell would I want to do that?
Chill, I know it sounds crazy at first. The reason for increasing the loan duration is that companies will be willing to drop your interest rate if they know they’ll be collecting from you for a long time. You’ll use this to your advantage to secure a lower rate, but you won’t end up paying for the entire length of the term you agree upon.
When my wife and I re-financed, we both set up 25-year terms. This helped us get the lower rates you saw above.
**Big note here: Before you agree to any re-financing contract, ensure that there is no penalty for early re-payment. Having a penalty for this is a non-negotiable factor. Last I checked, none of the below companies have them, but make sure you do your research. **
Step 2: Use a big-name company
While doing research, we came across a number of different lenders, but over and over again it became apparent that the biggest names were the ones offering the best rates.
This is by no means a guarantee, but it inherently makes sense. Bigger companies can afford to take on smaller profit margins to be more competitive. Check out our list below, but do your research among your local credit unions (or small-time banks) and see what you can find.
My wife was able to find her lowest rate through her own personal bank, which was a bit surprising for us.
Step 3: Enroll in auto-payments
A lot of companies out there will give you a 0.25% reduction on your interest rate for enrolling in auto-payments. Not only does this make it easier for you to stay organized and on top of your re-payment schedule, but you get to save money too!
Make sure to take advantage of these seemingly small tactics, as they make a big difference in the long run.
Again, there are no “hidden secrets” to paying your loans off early. The answers are straightforward but are often difficult to implement because of our own behaviors.
Interest rates and re-financing are your entry point into the early re-payment world. Beyond that are a number of other behavior changes and steps that you can take which will dramatically reduce the time that you’re in debt.
If you want to learn more, then check out the e-book we just put out “Say Goodbye to PT Loans”. It’s packed with the actionable steps you’ll need to get out of your debt, ASAP. We will show you how you can pay off over $100,000 in 4 years or less.
Our all-star Lenders
- First Republic Bank – my wife and I refinanced through First Republic, and our interest rate dropped to 2.75% (from 5%). Not only did we save a bunch of money, but their customer service was incredible. They will require you to have a personal account with the company, but we’ve been pleased with their service and accessibility up to this point. They actually gave us a bonus for paying our loans off quicker.
- Splash Financial – Splash is newer on the scene, and is an online re-financing group that has phenomenal reviews. There are no start-up costs, and their quote process can take as little as 10 minutes. They offer interest rates as low as 1.89% currently.
- Laurel Road – Laurel Road has been around a bit longer than Splash, but they cater specifically to grad students. They also don’t offer start-up fees and offer interest rates as low as 1.89%. Bonus here for APTA members, as you can get an additional 0.25% drop when applying through the APTA. Check out the below website to get the discounted rate.
About the Author
Josh Madonick graduated from Fresno State University with his DPT in 2017. Since graduating, Josh has opened up a cash-pay private practice, BaseCamp Physical Therapy, in the Northern Bay Area of California. Additionally, he created The $PT, which is a group focused on arming new grad PTs with the knowledge to tackle their student loan debt.
Josh specializes in working with both youth and adult athletes, using a treatment approach focused on human movement and strength and conditioning principles. He has a special interest in the development of future PT’s and strives to provide mentorship in the areas of business, finance, and treatment approaches.
You can reach Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about The $PT, visit their website.
To learn more about BaseCamp Physical Therapy, visit their website.