Nursing Student Loan Debt

Nursing Student Loan Debt

You made it into nursing school. Congratulations! Getting into nursing school often seems unnecessarily difficult. When I first thought about going to nursing school, I went to the nursing school information meeting at my local community college. I thought it’d be an easy process since I’d already gone through college and earned a bachelor degree in something else. It turns out that to get into my local community college you have to go through a weighted application process meaning it’d probably be at least a year or so before I could start my Associate of Nursing degree. I said “forget this” and applied to two state university programs for their Bachelor of Nursing degree. Fortunately I was accepted to both. Unfortunately state university cost significantly more than my community college. I’d never had to pay for my own schooling before as my parents graciously paid for my previous education. The higher education industry is well acquainted with this fact. Shortly after my acceptance to my state university, I received a financial aid letter. This outlined the various options to pay for my tuition every semester and the amount of financial aid I qualified to receive in the form of student loans. They even categorized my loans as subsidized or unsubsidized loans meaning I wouldn’t have to pay interest while in school on the subsidized loans. They make you feel good about your qualification for the financial aid offer. You’re gonna be a nurse soon making real money so congratulations you qualify for at least a decade worth of debt! I don’t regret my student loan decisions necessarily, but I wish I was more informed and aware of their weight and implications.

Major Benefit of Nursing Student Loans

Nursing student loans have the significant benefit of getting you through nursing school as fast as possible. You don’t have any interruptions in your nursing program because of finances. You can concentrate on your nursing program. Most nursing programs seem to now move as cohorts meaning you pretty much make a commitment to start and finish at a certain time. This makes student loans that much more attractive and central to the financing of your nursing school.

I immensely benefited from using student loans to fund both my undergrad nursing program and my graduate nurse practitioner program. I didn’t ever have to take a break. In undergrad, I didn’t have to work at all, so I could concentrate fully on my studies. I spent many hours in the recesses of the school library during normal work hours studying. I didn’t have to worry about money for school or cost of living. You as a nursing student would also greatly benefit from this freedom provided by student loans. Many of my classmates worked part-time as CNAs, but I didn’t see the point in possibly compromising my grades and place at nursing school doing so especially since student loans were so easy to obtain. Of course in hind sight, it would’ve probably benefited me to have worked as a CNA as I would have had better job connections after graduation and also hopefully have less student debt, but regardless I never had to be concerned about my tuition payments with my student loans.

Downside of Nursing Student Loans

I took out approximately $35k of nursing student loans for my undergrad and $45k for my nurse practitioner program. It’s been almost 10 years since completing my undergrad nursing program, and I’m still paying down student loan debt. Truthfully, I paid off my undergrad student loan debt last year, but it’s still been almost 8 years of payments. When a student loan financial offer is given, they don’t usually tell you how much money you’re actually borrowing over the long haul. Yes technically I only borrowed $35k, but $35k with 6% interest over 10 years means I pay back $46k. That’s not too bad but no one tells you this or at least it’s not clearly presented that in the end I’ll probably pay $46k over 10 years.

Paying back student loans in general over a long period is a drag on your psyche. Student loans pay for education which is not as tangential as a house or car. It’s a little easier to pay a monthly mortgage for a house because you have to live somewhere and property tends to increase in value. It’s hard to have the same objectivity with nursing student loans. Yes, I’ve dramatically increase my earning ability, but after a long night in the hospital, I don’t care. When work starts feeling like a major drag and I’m in an all too common toxic work environment, a monthly payment is just one more irritation.

Alternatives to Paying for Nursing School

If you are looking for a magic bullet for funding nursing school, you’re not gonna find it here or anywhere else for that matter. Nursing student loans fill a needed void for quick financing during school. That’s all they are. Any scheme to raise money quick is just that – a scheme. Your best realistic bet for quick money for nursing school might be fundraiser or something. Unfortunately that doesn’t work for most of us.

Nursing Scholarships

I do recommend applying for nursing scholarships. This never worked too well for me as I’m a pretty standard person who didn’t qualify for most scholarship. I still spent time researching and applying, and I recommend everyone at least try. I did receive a couple of scholarships from my school for my academic achievement which was super helpful. Just google “nursing scholarships” and you’ll find a rabbit hole of options. Also many schools have scholarship links on their websites. Try it out.

Frugal Lifestyle

When you’re using student loans, every extra dollar counts. Most of us live a lifestyle that’s either inflated or beyond our financial means. This seems to be true regardless of how much money we have. A doctor expands his lifestyle to fit his larger income. A store clerk fits their lifestyle to their income. Point is they both figured out how to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle on a dramatically different income. During nursing school, try to live as cheaply as possible and use the extra money to pay for school. This will go a long ways for your financial life especially after school with hopefully much smaller nursing school loans. I didn’t take this advice during my undergrad and got involved in the expensive sport of kiteboarding. I enjoyed my time kiteboarding, but it probably wasn’t worth the extra thousands of dollars in student loans. Technically you’re not supposed to spend your student loans for anything but school or cost of living, but at the time I considered kiteboarding a quality of life expense that was an important part of my cost of living. Yup, it happened, and I’m literally paying for it! The internet is full of advice for living more frugally yet comfortably. If you don’t know where to start, head over to the Frugalwoods.

Working a Job

Many nursing students can easily find jobs as a CNA or medical assistant. Many of my classmates were CNAs which as a side-benefit gave them a connection for a future nursing job. I didn’t do this, but I probably should’ve as I could’ve saved thousands of dollars. I also probably would’ve gotten a job right out of undergrad instead of frantically searching for 1-2 months and moving to an undesirable location for my first job. There’s no avoiding the fact that a job is work. It’s not usually fun or something I want to spend my time doing. If you go into it with the mindset of it being temporary and with the goal of getting you through nursing school, then it won’t seem as bad.

Dealing with Nursing Student Loans

You already have student loans from nursing school. What can you do now? There are only a couple different options. Student loans cannot usually be discharge during bankruptcy, so your student loans are here to stay. Currently there a lot of buzz by political candidates about erasing student loans, but I wouldn’t count on political talk rescuing you quite yet.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

If you work for a qualifying employer and pay 120 payments on your student loans, then you might qualify to have the remainder of your loans forgiven by the government. I haven’t honestly done much research into it because it didn’t seem worth it for my situation plus I didn’t always work for a qualifying employer. Check out the official PSLF website for more info.  Also check out Student Loan Planner for more helpful and detailed info about PSLF. This might be a great option for you if you have a higher amount of student loans or if your a nurse practitioner with grad school debt.

Refinance Nursing Student Loans

There are a plethora of private lenders who will refinance your nursing student loans for a lower interest rate. I also never did this because student loan refinancing seemed sketchy when I first graduated undergrad, and my plan was to always pay off my student loans early. From experience, I can tell you it always takes longer to repay debt than I’d expect. I could’ve probably saved thousands if I would’ve refinanced. A caveat to refinancing is that you cannot participate in the PSLF, otherwise it seems like a great option today for most nurses. Check out the Student Loan Planner for some different lenders and deals for refinancing. (Note: I do not have any relationship financial or otherwise with I get literally nothing from them. I just find their content helpful.)

Paying Nurse Student Loans Off Early

There’s no penalty to paying off your nursing student loans early. This is my main strategy. If you pay them off early, then you save on the interest payments that accrue over time. In order to execute this plan, you will need to work hard to earn extra income and live frugally while paying them off. These two lifestyle choices result in extra cash to put toward your loans. I’ve written before on hacking the nurse payscale in order to increase your earning ability. Paying off your nursing student loans is a powerful goal to have, and it’s empowering to pay extra every month on the loans. I highly recommend this strategy, but it’s not for everyone. Your money might be better used elsewhere. You have to make that decision. I will write in the future about paying off student loans versus saving for retirement. I decided the psychological benefits of someday being debt free are worth it.

What are your thought about nursing student loan debt? Please leave a comment below and check back regularly to follow my journey