Physical Therapy Student Loan Debt and Available Options.
Average Physical Therapy Student Loan Debt: Physical therapists take on a staggering amount of debt to complete their education. More than half of PT grads leave school owing more than $70,000 in student loans according to WebPT. Over one-third owe more than $100,000. For one in ten grads, their debt load exceeds $150,000.
The cost of higher education in the United States is big news. One major reason for the media attention is rising student loan debt. Concerns about rising student loan debt are being voiced at the federal government level1 and by political candidates
However, the price of the DPT education does not reflect this altruistic calling. Even at in-state public schools, it’s all too easy to leave with a six-figure debt amount given the high cost of the physical therapy profession.
The student loan racket affecting DPTs is a house of cards that will eventually fall. After all, when your tuition continues to escalate at a rate much faster than inflation even though salaries do not grow at the same rate, something has to give.
Average Physical Therapy Student Loan Debt
According to a survey conducted by the APTA, the average total debt of physical therapists is about $96,000.
The average physical therapist student debt has been about $154,000. To be fair, the average debts of my clients tend to be higher than the average overall.
That said, I’ve seen debts over $200,000 for physical therapists from private schools. This debt loads balloon even more for a student who had to do a postbac program to meet the prereqs for the DPT program.
Average Physical Therapist Income
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median PT makes $86,850 per year. The average is close to that level as well. Of course, that number is after you’ve been working in the profession for a while and includes all different sectors that employ PTs.
The range of physical therapist incomes that I’ve seen is $60,000 to $100,000 depending on what region of the country you’re talking about.
Possibilities of an Average Physical Therapist paying Back Her Student Loans
If you graduated from an in-state public university and owe less than $100,000, you have a legitimate path to paying off your DPT student debt. Assuming you’re working in a private sector setting, you can refinance that debt to a 10-year fixed rate and make extra payments to pay it off even sooner.
You could also sign up with the National Health Service Corps to receive benefits for serving in a high need area.
However, if you owe more than $100,000, the route to debt freedom becomes trickier. While you could always live on rice and beans and try to pay the debt off rapidly, what if that pathway is not open to you? Perhaps you have aspirations to have a family, buy a house, save for retirement, or other financial goals.
Why Physical Therapists Get a Bad Deal Under Federal Student Loan Policy
Paying back your student loans shouldn’t be incredibly hard. Programs should be a reasonable length and cost a fair amount that puts you no more than 1 times your expected first-year income in debt.
However, because the federal student loan system has no caps on borrowing and no underwriting standards, schools are free to charge whatever they want. Any university can add to a new DPT program.
A similar phenomenon already happened in the pharmacy profession. An influential federal report declared a massive shortage of pharmacists was imminent and the only way to stop the doom was to drastically increase the supply of graduates.
While physical therapists always have options, they pale in comparison to the setup that physicians have. You might not know this, but most physicians qualify for the PSLF program. Their training during residency and fellowship counts too.
Hence, a physical therapist and a physician might end up paying a similar amount to their student loans even though the MD will have significantly greater lifetime earnings and substantially more debt.
Forgiveness Options for Physical Therapy Student Loan Debt
They are many possible options available for you, listed below;
Not everyone working as a physical therapist will qualify for one of the forgiveness programs outlined above. Maybe you don’t want to move, or you work in or are planning to open a private practice. Whatever the case, you still have other options, namely private refinancing.
Refinancing your student loans won’t forgive them, but it can help you save a lot of money. At the very least, it can help make your monthly payments more manageable or get your cosigner off the hook.
Therefore if you have a high credit score and steady income from your job as a PT; you’ll have no trouble securing the lowest interest rates and getting the terms you want.