Physician Assistant Loan Repayment
Once you have completed your two plus year physician assistant program, you have passed the PANCE, and now you are ready to enter the workforce. Often, a new physician assistant will be beaming with excitement. Thrilled for the challenges that lie ahead.
The last thing that may be on your mind is your student loans which have piled up, perhaps in the previous six-plus years.
Today we will be talking about physician assistant loan repayment.
Physician Assistant Job Growth
The outlook for physician assistant jobs has never been brighter. As we all know with the ever-increasing need for access to health care, this drives the need for advanced healthcare providers such as physician assistants.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 37 percent growth in job opportunities for physician assistants from 2016 to 2026, which is must faster than the average occupation growth rate. The 37 percent growth rate equivalates to around 39,600 new jobs for physician assistants.
The median pay for physician assistant according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was $108,610 annually or $52.22 per hours. As you can see, there is a lot to be excited about regarding the future of our profession.
However, what some of you new graduates may have found, sometimes employers will want to hire physician assistants who have experience as opposed to new graduates. You’re stuck in the “you have no experience to get a job to get experience” controversy.
Then, before you know it, the student loan companies come knocking to start collecting payments….
The Cost of Becoming a Physician Assistant
Becoming a physician assistant as you have found out by now can be a bit of a double-edged sword. This holds true for most healthcare professionals.
The total cost of physician assistant school varies depending on the location and which school or program you attend. In 2016 The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) released a survey to graduating students asking what their anticipated student loan debt total was to be.
The survey found that 21.9 percent of physician assistant debt coming out of school was between $100,000 to $125,000. Around 20.8 percent of newly graduating physician assistants had between $75,000 to $100,000 in debt, and 14.5 percent had $50,000 to $75,000 of debt upon graduating.
Therefore, when coming out of the gates with a proverbial dump truck load of debt, it is essential to weigh out all of the options for physician assistant loan repayment, and see which might work best for you!
Physician Assistant Loan Repayment Options
There is a myriad of different national or federal programs that can help physician assistants relieve their student loan debt faster, instead of simply making your monthly payments on your own. It is well worth your time to investigate these options as you enter practice to see if or which of the many options that you may qualify for.
AmeriCorps is a government ran organization to aid students in repaying their student loans. This option provides several ways to work in the field of medicine and earn physician assistant loan repayment assistance. If one were to join AmeriCorps, a healthcare provider would often serve a year and then receive approximately $4,725 to use to pay back student loans. Additionally, the time in which you worked with AmeriCorps can be used towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) which we will talk more about later.
Indian Health Services Program
The Indian Health Service has a loan repayment program that health professionals can receive if they commit to a two-year commitment to serve in American Indian or Alaska Native communities. In this route, you can earn up to $40,000 in loan repayment for the two-year commitment. Additionally, the contract can be renewed until your debt is paid off completely!
Military Loan Repayment
The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Health Service loan repayment may be available if you are a member of the Commissioned Corp. In this program, dependent upon where you work, you could meet the criteria for The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program. Another service that might be beneficial is that if you have not finished your education yet, you could also get access to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
For those who are serving in the military, you may have the opportunity to use the physician assistant loan repayment through The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program. This program is available for physician assistants who are members of the Army, Navy, and National Guard.
The Army provides active duty physician assistants possibly $40,000 annually for three years towards student loan through the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program.
If you are an active member of the National Guard, you may be eligible for up to $25,000 in student loan payments per year for three years. Additionally, the National Guard offers bonuses from $10,000 to $20,000 dependent upon how long of a contract that is signed.
Active Navy members must serve three years to receive loan repayment, with a maximum repayment of $40,000.
Income-Based Repayment Plans
If your student loans are federal student loans, and you have difficulty being able to afford and pay your payments, you can consider an income-based repayment plan. These include the Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE), Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR), Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR), and the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan (REPAYE).
With all of these plans, you will not be getting out of your student loan debt at a faster rate; however, they will work to lower your monthly payments to a percentage of your income.
Once you have paid into your loan for 20 or 25 years depending on your plan, you can apply to have the remaining portion of your debt forgiven. It is important to remember with these plans that you will have to reapply annually. This means that if you have an increase in your income, then your payments are likely to increase somewhat as well.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) provides student loan forgiveness to providers who work in not-for-profits, governmental organizations, and other public service organizations. To qualify you first must consolidate your student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan.
After this, you will make 120 payments, and once these payments are completed, one can apply for forgiveness at this point. However, there has been some concern with PSLF recently where people are finding out that their approvals are being reversed after making years’ worth of approved payments.
There will be more to come regarding PSLF in the future, but as for now, this is still a viable option that could work well for clinicians looking to have a chunk of their loans forgiven.
National Health Service Corps
The National Health Service Corps provides up to $50,000 in student loan repayment that is tax-free for a two-year time commitment to work at an approved site. Just as with the Indian Health Service, you can work another two-year contract and continue doing so until you have paid off all of your student loans if desired.
Refinancing and Consolidation
Two additional ways to alter your student loans are to use private loan refinancing or consolidation. When you refinance your student loan, what happens is a private loan company pays your balance to the federal government, and in return you likely benefit from a lower interest rate with your new loan from the private company.
Consolidation is available if you have federal loans and allows you to combine all of your loans into one loan with a single monthly payment with a weighted interest rate.
The two benefits of refinancing are that a lower interest rate can help you pay off the debt faster than originally, and additionally save money if you have a shorter repayment term with the new company. The second benefit is that if you would choose a longer payment term, which can lower your monthly payments, creating less of a burden, but in the long run will likely not save you much money.
It is also important to look at the negatives as well with refinancing. If you do choose to refinance with a private company, then you lose out on the federal protections such as deferment, forgiveness, or forbearance. You also do not have access to the income-based repayment options either.
Regarding consolidation, the big benefit of this is to simplify your monthly student loan payment to one bill/company and one payment monthly. This option additionally allows you to use federal repayment plans such as PSLF and most of the income-based plans, unlike in refinancing as we talked about above. However, consolidation often does not provide a lower rate of interest.
State-Based Loan Repayment Programs
Dependent upon which state you reside and practice in, there might be options provided by the state itself to ease the student loan burden. The best place to start this search is with The State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) where you can find more information on what may be available options in your state.
You can even dive further into this and look specifically at rural and underserved areas which provide student loan forgiveness.
For example, the facility where I worked after finishing school paid 33.3 percent of my student loans annually for a three-year commitment. After completing this time commitment, student debt was forgiven.
These types of loan repayment are often hospital or facility based and can be negotiable within the contractual agreement.
I hope this article laid out several options for student loan forgiveness for those new and currently practicing physician assistants. Just like the countless hours you spent studying in PA school or for the PANCE, make sure that you are researching your options for student loan forgiveness, and making the best decision for yourself and your future!