Home Polls What You Said: Your Responses to our Analysis of Student Loan Debt

What You Said: Your Responses to our Analysis of Student Loan Debt

The recent Women In Optometry Pop-Up on student loan debt drew in a great number of responses; 401 of poll participants were optometrists. So many individuals shared their opinions and experiences. We’ve gathered many of them here, sorted into the similar trends that we saw throughout your feedback.

INTEREST IS A KILLER

I understand debt for graduate level school. But I have been paying on loans for over 10 years and I have barely touched the principal. Considering I’ve already paid back my total loan amount in just the payments I’ve made shows how the system is broken for borrowers. I’m sure the lenders are loving it. The government needs to step in and change the whole system.

The no interest during COVID has been great. I’ve put so much focus into paying it down ($65,000 last year was paid toward my loans!). I plan to pay them off by next year because this is a weight that has affected every part of my life the last 10 yrs. I have paid so much in interest over the past 10 yrs it’s ridiculous. I don’t think school should be free and I think schools need tuition to make it competitive, but the amount of interest charged up until this point (6.8%) is terrible. At one point, ~$1000 of my payment each month was going toward interest.

I understand as doctors we make a lot more money than the average person, but we also worked very hard to get to where we are and our student debt will be with us for a very long time. If you feel we do not qualify for debt forgiveness at least lower the interest rate so we can start making payments toward actual principle and not just the interest.

My student loan debt interest rate was lower than my house loan interest. I chose to pay on my house extra versus my student loan.

After deferring payments and paying the minimum when starting out due to lower income, I paid down my student loans over 17-18 years. It was part of what I had planned when deciding to become an OD. I would not have expected anyone else including other tax payers to pay for my education and I am against my tax dollars paying for someone else’s educational pursuits, whatever they may be.


I consolidated my undergraduate and graduate school loans with Nelnet. In a 30 yr payment. I can’t put a dent in my loan. I had to request forbearance several times. I graduated in 2001 and still have over 100k balance. When Covid hit I asked for assistance and didn’t qualify for anything but had to do another forbearance not working for 4 months. My Loan which is backed by the federal govt that these lenders sallie mae nelnet has still was accumulating interest while federal loans were zero. Makes no sense if these private lenders have federal backed loans they should also freeze interest rates. Maybe we can all pay our students loans down faster to get out of debt. All student loans should be forgiven after certain amount of years. These lenders would have collected more money and enough interest. I would also tell my children not to get into debt and go to trade school instead. If i had to do it over again I would not take a loan out and not go to graduate school or optometry school because I can’t afford it. Still paying 20 years later. Like a mortgage these lenders collect so much interest and barely apply it to principal.

Loans are brutal. I think the interest is what kills you. They shouldn’t charge accruing interest on student loans in my opinion. You should just pay back the money you borrowed and not have to worry about years of added debt just for the money sitting there. Or they should think about possibly ending the accruing interest after you start making your first payment after graduation. Anything to help ease the tons of debt

I don’t mind paying student debt, but it would be helpful to get some level of forgiveness on a portion of the loans and to continue the zero interest rate. I’ve paid over $40,000 but have barely touched the principal of my loan. Getting an education should not require digging yourself out of debt.

The worst part was loans were not subsidized during school so 200k loans earning interest over 4 years capitalized to over 250k. The interest rates are also high on federal loans. I am paying as much as possible to loans to try to pay down as much as possible. Still looking at 20 years.

It is frustrating when tuition went up every year in school even though nothing else changed to warrant it. So we had to take out more loans and more loans. Being a naïve kid, we don’t know what we are getting into. We are under the impression school will be expensive and we have to take out loans, but we don’t understand the repercussions of payback or how it will affect our life. And the school certainly didn’t help explain anything. After 10 years of paying loans I have hardly touched the principal. Which shows the end is nowhere in sight.

Having graduated almost 12 years ago, my student loan debt has grow almost $100,000 despite paying on it for that amount of time. At the time of graduation, my optometry school loan debt was just under $200,000 and undergraduate debt was about $14,000. My current optometry school loan debt is $290,000 and undergraduate is about $1000. Once interest resumes on student loan debt later this year, my optometry loans will quickly go over $300,000. Going in to optometry school we were told that debt management was attainable and graduates could easily pay that money back. I graduated at a time of high student loan interest rates and low job availability. I have been on an income based repayment plan for almost 10 years because the standard loan payment is more than 60% of what I take home in a month. Unfortunately, this payment doesn’t even come close to paying the interest of the loan, let alone touching any of the principal so the loan amount grows larger every month. I remember a number of years ago trying to refinance my 7 year old car and the loan officer denying me after realizing that my student loan debt was not the house payment they thought it was. I have taken a job in a setting that has public service loan forgiveness after 10 years, and am currently about 5 years in, so hopefully in another 5 years I will be eligible for the remainder of my loans to be forgiven. However, the constant talks in the legislature about eliminating this option is terrifying for what that could mean in the long run for my student loan debt. It is disheartening to hear lawmakers dismiss loan forgiveness for higher education because they don’t want to give money to people who go to ivy league schools and come from significant means. Those people are not the ones who graduated school with large amounts of debt, it is the people who have tried to elevate themselves above their social standing to make something of themselves and be able to support their families. Unfortunately, this level of debt is only holding their families back.

I am a white female OD with undergrad and optometry school loans who did not receive much help. I am 32 years old and have had to delay home ownership and starting a family because I cannot qualify for a mortgage. I am paying about $4,000 monthly aggressively towards student loans and am also finding it difficult to save for retirement. I find it sad that students are plagued with up to 8.6%+ interest rates, making it very difficult to get ahead and pay down debt. The cost of education has gotten wildly out of control and we need to fix the system to allow people to achieve home ownership and start families.

Before having a sublease, I was an employed OD and my loan debt kept going up due to interest. I’m finally paying it down and it’s such a relief.

I pay on an income rated basis. My payment is less than the interest so my loans continue to climb and will never be paid

Beyond the debt itself, it is the accrued interest which has prevented me from paying off the debt in a more timely fashion. A family medical crisis resulted in the need to file bankruptcy. During the bankruptcy repayment period I was not “allowed” to pay towards the student loan since it was part of the total debt however it also was not written off at the conclusion of the chapter 13 plan. At this point I feel hopeless that I will be able to pay the debt off before reaching social security age. Finding a way to better finance the loan terms would make it easier to pay of these types of loans faster,

LIVING FRUGALLY AND MAKING AGGRESSIVE PAYMENTS

Paid off a big chunk of my student loans within 3 years post graduation. lived like a student even until now (2013 grad). Currently student loan debt is $18,000 (at 1.95%) will be paid off in 3 years. My husband did a WICHE scholarship and lived below he means, he is student loan debt free, 8 years out of school. Lots of sacrifices and commitment to tackle the big debt!

Managing student loan debt by living (way) below my means.

I intend to aggressively pay down my debt at least in the first few years to catch up to my principle. If things go well, I should be debt free in 6 years or so!

I worked six days a week for almost two years after graduation to pay off my loans, including my entire first pregnancy. I don’t think the government should forgive a lot of loans, especially without fixing the root causes first. It’s very regressive to forgive student loans when people with college credits make more money than those without. There’s a lot of people who have worked extremely hard to pay off loans, have worked two or more necessary jobs in school to keep their loans lower (RA, library, cafeteria, TA, etc), signed up for military service, signed up to work 10 years in underserved locations for forgiveness, and parents who have worked extra jobs and forgone all luxuries to allow every cent to go to their child’s tuition. It would be seriously unfair to the sacrifices made by those people to carte blanche forgive loans, let alone boosting the net worth of college educated people while blue collar and retail people get nothing. College needs to be vastly cheaper and if colleges and grad schools can’t figure that out and how to fix it then maybe they aren’t powerhouses of intellect after all. Otherwise, for people already graduated, they need to do a program where all debt is paid off within 10 years of graduation by taking 10-15% of salary for 40 working quarters and forgiving some principle yearly on an amortization schedule.

When I graduated in 1991, I had about 20k in debt, much lower than most of my classmates, whom had between 50-100K. The way this was possible for me, was I lived in modestly (small studio apartment), I worked part time while in school, and did not eat out alot, and did not buy a lot of things (especially new). I married a month before I graduated, and since I was doing a residency, had my loans deferred for year. My husband agreed with my idea/plan that I would save my residency salary and use if to pay off my loan in full while he would support us both that year. So we did this, and I was able to pay off my loan in full when I finished my residency. M parents raised me to take debt seriously, to accrue the minimum possible, and pay it off accordingly.

After 4 years of not making a lot of progress on my student loans, we started throwing everything extra to my student loans and will be done in less than two years now.


The first year or two after residency, I was overwhelmed by my debt (and average interest is 6.8). I finally made the decision to get aggressive about paying it off so it wasn’t hanging over me. I moved for a higher paying job in a town with a lower cost of living to help pay off my debt faster. Now I’m living on a budget and actively putting as much as I can (about 50-100k a year) towards my debt. My goal is to have it all paid off in the next 3 years. Personally while the forgiveness is a nice thought, I think there’s some flaws. 1. I don’t think it’s structured well. It probably should be a percentage to effective help those all over the spectrum with student debt. And 2. I don’t think it solves the national student debt problem. In my opinion, the problem goes deeper— exceptionally high costs of higher education, high student loan rates, and actively accruing interest are the bigger problems needing to be addressed. I whole heartedly don’t think high education should be free. However I also don’t think a 20 year old should have to take on the debt of a modest house (with an actively accruing interest rate that is higher than the average mortgage rate) to get a job that doesn’t typically even start at $90k per year.

My suggestion is to take the fewest loans possible and get out as quick as possible. Cash flow is key to your practice and key in your personal life. Getting bogged down with debt adds stress. In regards to government forgiveness, it’s a terrible idea. I am responsible for the debt I take out, not the American taxpayer. If the government gives loan forgiveness, schools will just raise tuition and fees commensurately.

REFINANCING AND OTHER REPAYMENT OPTIONS

I refinanced my loans right out of school in order to try to pay them off/ save on the amount I would have had to pay. If I knew there would have been federal holds and possible slashes I would not have

Refinanced to a 2.6% fixed rate at 5 years repayment!

NIH NEI Loan Repayment Program took care of all of my student loan debt in exchange for pursuing a PhD

SCHOOLS NEED TO BE MORE UPFRONT AND THE SYSTEM NEEDS FIXING

During school, the student loan counselors made it seem like accruing more loans would not be an issue. But it is a huge issue. I wish they would talk about the potential barriers.

Refinanced early and didn’t benefit from covid related interest rates, nor would I benefit from future forgiveness. Nonetheless, student loans are a burden I don’t wish upon others! NO 18 to 20-something year old understands what they’re signing up for in terms of compound interest

I refinanced my loans for a lower interest rate 2 years ago. It was a good move before covid took interest rates to 0%, but who could have predicted that?

student loan debt is unavoidable especially now; however, the focus should not only be on the debt, but the spiraling costs of education. We need practitioners to provide care at all levels (private practice, hospitals, etc.) and not have to worry about excessive student debt.

The student loans I incurred during optometry school have hung over my head for over ten years. While I was in school I remember administrators and financial aid staff repeatedly saying, “It’s okay to take out more loans. Don’t worry; you will be able to pay them back easily”. The 2008 recession happened shortly before I graduated and I have struggled ever since to find stable work. For the past couple years I have held down three part-time jobs (weekend fill-in associate optometrist, adjunct professor, and high school science teacher) just to make ends meet. I had to convert/consolidate my student loans into an IBR plan so I could have some financial breathing room. Even with the income-based repayments I feel stuck in a rut that I can’t free myself from. I can’t save up money to start my own practice. I can’t afford a down payment on a house. My student loans are the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life.

YOU BORROWED IT, YOU PAY IT BACK

Totally against student loan debt forgiveness. Student loan money goes for all kinds of things not related to tuition and required educational expenses. However, as a defense against this effort to get me as a taxpayer to begin paying off others debt obligations I have contacted my representatives to amend the legislation and begin REPARATIONS for all of us that have paid for our high priced educations.

I believe any person who decides to take out student loans should be solely responsible for paying them back. Going to college is not a right. Going to college is not a necessity to make a decent living. Going to college is a privilege. I should not be responsible for paying off student loan debt for anyone unless I CHOOSE to do so. If you cannot afford to go to college without student loans, then choose a different career, or work through college. I did not have parents who paid for my college. I worked 40+ hours per week while going to school. Was I able to be carefree and party at all times? NO, but that is not what college is for. Did I go and purchase a huge new home and brand new luxury vehicle after I graduated college? I surely did NOT. If people would stop thinking they are ENTITLED to everything their peers or parents have, and just work for what they want, and live within their means, student debt would not be a “problem.”

My belief is that people opt to take on student loan debt. Therefore it is up to them to figure out how to pay it off. There are plenty of ways to do so. 1. Live like a student and not a doctor. Just because you are a doctor doesn’t mean you need the fanciest things in life. I drove a 15+ year old car that had no AC while living in Florida because paying off my debt was more important to me than having a newer car. 2. Join the military, there are opportunities for loan forgiveness if you choose to serve. Also, scholarships available while in school to eliminate or reduce your final debt. I have benefited from both of these. 3. Do the public health loan repayment program. Yes, you might not be practicing in your ideal location or office but your loans should be forgiven after 10 years. The student loan debt is a burden but people just need to be willing to make sacrifices to pay it off and not complain about it. If they didn’t want the loans they should have rethought their decision. In the end regardless of their loans becoming an OD gives tremendous earning power. People just need to figure out personally how to deal with the up front costs and not hope for a loan bailout from the government. Honestly a loan bailout would be a slap in the face to everyone else who sacrificed and paid off their loans with various programs or their own paycheck.

I am not a fan of forgiving debt…you took it out, you pay it back. I think there can be more ways to help mitigate the paying back whether through reduced interest or government sponsored positions that have debt reduction as part of the package.

I’d just like to keep the interest rate low rather than forgiveness!

I do not expect my loan to be forgiven, however, lowering all federal student loan interest rates would be helpful.

TEMPORARY RELIEF IS A BLESSING

The 0% interest right now has been SO helpful during the pandemic!

Something needs to be done regarding the increase in the cost of schooling nationwide. Student debt has greatly outpaced inflation while median optometrist income has stayed flat relative to inflation for the last 20 years. New graduates have a larger debt to income ratio than many other professional fields. This will affect the ability for optometry schools to recruit qualified candidates, with larger implications for the field as a whole later down the line. Personally, I would support debt forgiveness, especially for optometrists in education or in rural practice, like other medical professionals can get. To help manage my debt, I refinanced at a lower interest rate with a private company.


Lower interest rates rather than forgiving loans

I don’t mind paying back what I owe (principal), it is the policy regarding the interest being credited before principal that makes me feel like I’m digging out of quicksand.

Barring any financial setbacks, I expect to have my $20,000 balance repaid by the end of 2021.

Way too high for our average salary. Debt/income ratio is too high compared to other professions.

Like a mortgage, refinancing should be permitted when interest rates drop

REGRETS

My optometry school student debt is the biggest mistake I have ever made. I foolishly listened to financial aid advisers or other school personnel when they said not to worry about taking out the loans because I would easily be able to pay them off after school. I graduated during the Great Recession and it has been a struggle finding stable optometry jobs, taking care of my family, and paying off my loans. Prior to the pandemic, I was working three jobs: independent optometric contractor, high school science teacher, and adjunct professor at a state university. Even then, I didn’t bring home enough to make a dent in my student loans. Also, thanks to interest rates (even after consolidation), my debt has grown 50K since graduation. I can’t afford to take out more loans to start my own practice where I live and I can’t ask my wife to give up her dream job so we can move halfway across the country for some vacant optometry position we know nothing about. All in all, I feel trapped by my student loans. I keep paying what meager amount I can into my IBR in the hopes that 20 years from now whatever debt I have remaining will be forgiven. (Then I can deal with the IRS who will tax me for what is forgiven.) Maybe some day one of the doctors in the area will decide he/she can finally retire after recouping their losses from the Great Recession and the pandemic. Then maybe I can work their practice and dig myself out of my own financial hole. It’s nice to dream sometimes.

My husband also has student loan debt (chiropractor) and we made the decision to not postpone our lives, as would be necessary in order to aggressively pay down our loans. We were able to buy a nice house but have chosen to do that understanding that it will be a long time before our student loan debt is gone. Our debt has only grown, despite making over $2000 in payments every month between the two of us. It is highly discouraging.


Working towards loan forgiveness, but concerned it won’t forgive all of my loans.

Took out smallest loan amount to cover tuition and equipment, received few small scholarships $1k-3k and WICHE grant for 2 years where I paid back a portion. Still ended with $180k grad 2018 in CA. I refinanced after 1 year and again 6 months ago. I did not get to avail of the 0% interest federal loan during covid. I am paying double payments each month. Hoping to pay off in 3 more years. Just bought first home last month, so that timeline may get delayed

I’m only able to manage my debt and on track to pay off within 10 years because I live with family AND we have my husband’s income to save for our first house and relatives to help with childcare. I can’t imagine doing it without any support, especially for those living in California because the low is ridiculously low. I’ve been offered as little as $350 for a full day of work. Of course I turned those down since I know I’m worth more but unfortunately what is considered competitive pay is still quite low.

It might be helpful to understand the breakdown of graduate vs undergraduate debt. I was fortunate to have a very manageable loan burden because I chose to go to state schools, resulting in 0 undergraduate loans, and deeply discounted optometry school tuition as compared to private or out-of-state schools. In any case, breaking down undergrad vs grad loans might help pinpoint just how much OD school is to blame for some of the astronomical figures that my colleagues owe.

Simply ridiculous

People’s issues with debt are that they didn’t benefit. Well, if something killed thousands would we be saying we shouldn’t end it because it’s too late for those that died? No. We still help those that need it.

My oldest child is starting college in the fall, still paying off my debt and now I have to help him pay for college

YOU CAN DO IT

Paying off my student loan was one of the best feelings. Try to put a little extra toward the principle every month – it is the interest that will kill you. I gave up little things – coffee from home instead of Starbucks and box lunch instead of take out, work an extra day and applied those $$$ toward my loan every month. Live like a student for a few more years after graduation and pay down your loan then have a big party when you reach your goal!


I paid off $150K (husband had an additional $121K) in 4 years all while buying into a million dollar practice, buying a home, and travelling to Europe. I love to educate students that it can be done!

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