At What Age Should a Doctor Be Debt Free

For most doctors medicine is a calling not a profession. They choose to enter the medical profession because they want to help people, have an innate need to contribute to society and want a fulfilling career that allows them to do both.

But almost all physicians graduate medical school with a vast amount of debt from student loans. This can prevent them from starting private practices or working in primary care and rural and underserved communities.

According to a 2019 Medical School Debt Report by Weatherby Healthcare, 34% of doctors surveyed expect to pay their student loans off in 10 years, while 25% said it would take 6 years, and only 10% thought they would be debt free in 2 years. With so many doctors taking on debt and the increasing costs of medical school, it’s no surprise that paying off student loans is difficult.

Graduation is just the beginning

At the same time, Weatherby Healthcare found that the number of doctors paying off medical school loans five years after graduating from medical school had steadily increased. With the average amount of debt owed topping $205,037, how did this happen?

Many physicians paid down their debt faster through a combination of managing finances, pursuing additional work, and consolidating debt. Nearly 34% worked locum tenens or pursued extra shifts, while 18% of respondents leveraged federal programs, and 10% used private refinancing.


We’re happy to answer any questions you have about our firm and our processes. Here are answers to some of the questions we receive most frequently.

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There are repayment strategies available to pay off student loans. Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, the federal government offers student loan forgiveness to doctors who work for a government agency or not-for-profit. And federal and state agencies offer a variety of student loan repayment assistance programs.

One such program is the National Institute of Health (NIH) loan repayment program for physicians pursuing a career in research, which grants $50,000 in student loan repayment. The NIH also offers loan repayment assistance for minority healthcare professionals researching health disparities or for doctors from low-income backgrounds who work in clinical research.

When asked for other strategies, a percentage of doctors responded that they took advantage of scholarships or active-duty loan forgiveness programs if they served in the military. However, most doctors who paid off medical debt quickly did so by living simply while simultaneously taking advantage of outside opportunities.

After rigorous academic work and long hours of training on a shoestring budget, it’s easy for doctors to fall into lifestyle inflation. Physician loans in particular can make it effortless to purchase expensive assets, such as a house with high monthly mortgage payments and upkeep. 

Doctors can pay down debt sooner when they live frugally relative to their income. Which means minimizing large expenses such as owning a house with high property taxes, shopping at expensive stores, buying luxury cars and taking lavish vacations.


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Planning with the pros

As of 2022 the national student loan debt total was $1.76 trillion, with medical students enduring the majority of that. Medical school student loans are enormous, long-lasting and compounded when physicians try to find a work-life balance. And although some doctors have paid off their debt through careful planning, strict budgeting and taking advantage of outside opportunities, it can still take a decade or more to be debt free.

But it can be accomplished, especially when collaborating with financial planners for physicians.

If you are an M.D. or D.O., the wealth management advisors at Blankinship & Foster can guide you on all financial issues from managing debt and investing to building your portfolio and retirement. You will have unlimited access to a Certified Financial Planner® Practitioner who will listen to your goals and values. Then define your steps to financial independence and together you will walk the roadmap to your success.

For over 30 years our thoughtful and resolute team has been committed to helping clients with their financial futures.

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