Nursing is one of the most popular areas of study in the US, and also one of the fastest growing occupations. There are almost four million active nurses in the United States, and it remains one of the careers with the highest rate of employment.
But, like many potential careers, nursing school can come with a hefty price tag. Thankfully, there are plenty of options to mitigate that cost. Read ahead for nursing-specific loan advice, as well as general tips to properly treat your student debt problem.
To be a Licensed Practical Nurse, costs hover around $5,000 to $25,000 for public university. A private nursing degree can run between $20,000 to $40,000. The cost to become a registered nurse is much higher. An associate degree in nursing will run about $6,000 to $40,000 while a bachelor’s degree will be between $30,000-$100,000.
The extra income that registered nurses receive can help make up for the added loan total. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for registered nurses is $66,000 a year, compared to $42,000 for LPNs. After 10 years, that adds up to $200,000.
In short, nursing school is expensive. So what can a nurse with five or six figure debt do to meet that expense?
Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program
One of the best options for nurses with student loans is the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. The program is in line with other government programs that forgive student loan debt in exchange for a certain period of service in the loan recipient’s chosen field.
Like many loan repayment programs, its members are required to work in a poor or rural community to receive the benefit. The program only requires two years of employment, but provides extra benefits to those who stay for a third year.
After two years, 60% of what’s left of a nurse’s student loans will be paid off. If they stay a third year, an extra 25% will be paid off based on the original balance. The program, run through the US Department of Health and Human Services, only accepts registered nurses.
The application deadline is February 25, 2016. Interested parties can apply here. There’s no guarantee you’ll be accepted, so make sure to take the application process seriously.
To be eligible you must be a licensed registered nurse or nurse faculty. You must also have completed your training (diploma, associate, baccalaureate or graduate) and be employed full time at an eligible critical shortage facility. You also must be a U.S. citizen or Nation and Lawful Permanent Resident, and your education must be from an accredited US nursing school.
If you’re selected for the program, you’ll be contractually required to serve at least two years at the location listed in your application. Those who break that contract will face substantial financial consequences.
Still, the program is almost always worth the required two years for those who are selected.
“This is a great program for nurses who want the financial benefit of paying off loans sooner, want the same competitive pay as any other employer and want to make a difference in an underserved area,” said CFP Chris Teofilak of Index Fund Wealth Group.
By participating in this program, nurses can gain experience, bolster their resume and become debt-free much faster. If you’re eligible, it’s definitely worth consideration.
Treating Your Debt
Sometimes, the old advice is the best advice. Here are some general tips that anyone paying off student loan debt will benefit from.
- Pay more than the minimum. Even the least well-paid registered nurses earn about $45,000 a year. Depending on your location, that could be more than enough to pay the minimum on your loans and then some. Throw as much extra money toward the principal as possible – that way, you’ll decrease how much you pay in interest.
- See if loan rates have improved. Depending on market conditions and your own credit profile, you may now be able to reduce the interest rate on your student loans. Look up your existing loans and monthly payment, and use our refinancing calculator to see if you could get a lower rate on your loans. It can help you reduce your monthly payments, and save over the lifetime of your loan.
- Work more hours. Many nursing jobs are paid on an hourly, not salaried basis. This means nurses can earn more money by working overtime. Lance Cothern of Money Manifesto, whose wife is a nurse, said, “Many nurses can earn differential pay for working evening, night, holiday or weekend shifts that can be used to help pay down student loan debt faster.” The median hourly rate for RNs is $26, which means their overtime rate would be around $40. A few extra hours a week would equal almost $1,000 before taxes – not a bad amount to contribute to your loans.
- Get a signing bonus. Professional athletes aren’t the only ones who can earn extra money just by signing a contract. Nurses are a highly in-demand profession, and many hospitals will pay large signing bonuses for qualified employees. By putting these bonuses straight toward your debt, you’ll knock off a large amount of principal with no extra effort. Don’t forget that you’ll have to pay taxes on the bonus, so you won’t receive the full amount listed in the contract.
- Create a budget. Anyone trying to pay down debt, especially a large sum, needs to start and stick to a budget. A budget can help a person find more money to throw at their loans, instead of only making the minimum payments. An easy method is the 50/30/20 rule, which dictates that 50% of your income should go to needs, 30% to wants and 20% to savings and debt payoff. Those who want to be more aggressive can reduce how much they spend on wants and put that difference toward their loans.
- Stick to the standard plan. For those with federal loans, the standard plan allows the borrower to pay the least amount of interest while repaying their loan. Even though switching to a different plan may have smaller monthly payments, the person will pay more in interest over the life of the loan. Even if the minimum payments seem large, the borrower will pay less interest and be debt-free faster if they stick to the standard plan.