3 Important Financial Considerations for Dental Students
As a dental student, sometimes you may not be thinking about finances in the future. You may think that the financial stuff will take care of itself once you become a doctor. However, there are some important things to think about financially while you are still in dental school. There are many important financial decisions to make while in school. Here I would like to discuss 3 Financial considerations for dental students. This will also apply to any student of any health or other professional school.
1. Limit Your Dental School Debt
I remember being somewhat worried about the amount of debt I would come out of dental school with. However, I didn’t worry about it much. It seemed like monopoly money. Debt didn’t really scare me as long as it was for something important like dental school. A future dentist tends to think that they will just get a good job making a lot of money and the dental school loan debt is a drop in the bucket.
This is not a good attitude. As a dental student, or a future dental student, the amount of money you borrow for school should scare the crap out of you. Seriously. I have talked before about how sometimes fear is a good motivator. It motivated me to pay off over $400,000 of student loan debt in 3 years.
The average dental school loan debt
Here is some sobering information from the American Dental Educations Association (ADEA) website:
- 17% of dental school graduates in the Class of 2019 reported no student loan debt.
- Average educational debt for all indebted dental school graduates in the Class of 2019 was $292,169, with the average for public and private schools at $261,305 and $321,184 respectively.
- 19% of indebted dental school graduates in the Class of 2019 reported debt less than $200,000.
- 25% of indebted dental school graduates in the Class of 2019 for public and private dental schools reported debt of $200,000 to $300,000.
- 39% of indebted dental school graduates in the Class of 2019 reported student loan debt of more than $300,000.
The average debt is just shy of $300,000. That is a huge number. It’s just an average. 39% have over $300,000 and I know several with over $400k or $500,000 in student loan debt. From someone who had over $400,000 in dental school loans, it is not easy to pay back. Trust me.
Ways to decrease your student loan debt
1) Be lucky (or blessed) to have someone pay for it for you.
2) Be careful which school you choose if you have a choice. Private schools tend to be more expensive than state schools. If you have an in state school or any way you can get in state tuition, go there instead of an out of state school. Out of state tuition tends to be much higher.
3) Limit how much you borrow for living expenses. They let you borrow for tuition, books, supplies, and also living money. You can’t change how much tuition, books, and supplies cost. But you can change how much you live off of. Sometimes people mistakingly think that another 10 or 20 or even 50 thousand dollars tacked on to their already huge loan burden is no big deal. I have news for you, it is a big deal.
It’s a big deal from a numbers standpoint, but it is an even bigger deal from an attitude or behavioral standpoint. This same attitude will eventually lead you to taking on more debt for a home, cars, even a dental practice than you should. It can be a never ending cycle and then you wake up 20 years later and you have a lot of stuff but no wealth.
Ways to limit how much you borrow for living expenses
1)Drive a beater. I did in dental school and I got the same education as those with a fancy car did.
2)Live in an affordable apartment. I’m not asking you to live somewhere you feel unsafe or bad living conditions. But you don’t need to live in conditions your parents do. They earned where they live. You will too later in life.
3) Find affordable entertainment. Taking fancy trips, going to expensive concerts, or other expensive options are not necessary. You will definitely need to take a break from all of the studying and do fun things. But think of cheaper fun things you can do.
2. Focus on Becoming a good dentist
Another important thing to consider as a dental student for your future finances is how good of a practitioner you become. This seems like a no brainer here. We all want to be a good dentist. However, I don’t know if that is always our focus in school. Sometimes it may feel like just being able to graduate is all you need to worry about. There are minimum requirements you need to do in order to graduate. Don’t stop there. Go the extra mile.
Learn how to do those things that are required better than you are required to learn them. There are also more advanced procedures that you are not required to learn to be a general dentist. Talk to your instructors about opportunities to learn them. If you go to a school with specialty programs, go shadow in the clinics. If they let you do the specialist procedures, volunteer to do more and as much as you can.
Do a GPR or AEGD
This is a fantastic way to become more proficient at general and advanced procedures. It is true that if you do this extra year of training then you lose out on a year of income. However, if you choose the right program, you will learn things and become so much more proficient that it will pay off. You will be able to do procedures better and faster. And more advanced procedures like Dental Implants will usually be taught. This will help you be able to provide better and more patient care sooner and make more money faster.
There are 9 recognized dental specialties: Endodontics, Periodontics, Prosthodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Orthodontics, Pediatrics, and Dental Public Health.
Most of these specialties have higher average incomes that general dentistry. Doing one of these specialties (or dentistry at all) for the money is not a good idea. It will lead you to have burnout and dissatisfaction for your job. It is also not best for the patients. However, if one of these specialties do interest you, they can be good financial decisions.
3. Learn the Business side of Dentistry and Prospect
It is no secret that we don’t learn much about the business side of dentistry in dental school. It would be great if schools had more to offer with that, but they usually don’t. I wish I would have taken more time to learn it on my own while still in school. Ask questions of those faculty who have been in private practice. Get a mentor in the community. Search online forums and blogs. Having an understanding of the business side of dentistry before you graduate will help you find better financial opportunities when you do graduate.
Most dental graduates get their first job as an associate. There is nothing wrong with that. However, it may not be the best financial decision. Some studies show that practice owners make on average about $50,000 more per year than associates. And that is just the average. A lot of practice owners make a lot more than that above most associate dentists. If you just aren’t interested in running a business and you only want to focus on patient care throughout your career, that is fine.
But if you like business, want to work for yourself, and want to earn a higher income, the earlier you start doing it the better. Becoming an associate first is fine, but some can get comfortable and stay in that role a lot longer than they planned. Becoming an associate with hopes to buy into a practice is great in theory, but I have seen those plans fall through a lot and then the associate just bounces around from one associateship to another.
The more business side of dentistry you learn while in school, the farther along you will be when you graduate and the better your job and financial prospects will be.
Dental school isn’t the time to become wealthy. You should have at least a small emergency fund. It really isn’t the time to learn a whole bunch about investing. If you can contribute to a Roth IRA or some other form of retirement savings then by all means do it and learn to do it right. However there are at least 3 Important Financial consideration for dental students to think about in school to make sure your financial life gets off to a good start.
Dental school debt is very high for most of us. Learning ways to decrease that debt is a very important financial decision to make while still in school. Becoming a good dentist is also crucial. This is not only important for your future finances, but more importantly for your future patients. Learning the business side of dentistry will also put you ahead of the game when you get out of school. Do whatever you can to learn from mentors about this under taught aspect of dentistry.
Follow my blog and/or reach out to me with any questions. Remember you don’t have to be a slave to debt. Together we can become debt free, great dentists, financially literate, and financially independent
-Debt Free DDS
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*Nothing on my website is professional or legal advice. I am only sharing information that I have learned and it may or may not be accurate. I am not liable for any problems you may have by following this advice. Please do further research and get professional and/or legal advice about any of these topics. This post likely contains affiliate links. This site could be paid for clicks or purchases made through these links. See my disclosure here.