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Student Debt Has Financial Ripple Effect

95% of respondents to Pop-up Poll said they graduated with debt

Nearly 30% (29.1%) of respondents to a WO Pop-up Poll shared by Review of Optometric Business said that they did or anticipate graduating optometry school with at least $200,000 in student loan debt. A slightly larger percentage, 29.7%, said they expect that paying off their student loan debt will take at least 20 years.

While nearly 38% of respondents said that they have no student loan debt at the moment, 18% said their debt load tops $200,000 today.

pie chart that shows about 38% of ODs have no debt but 18% have debt that tops $200,00
Six percent say their debt tops $300,000 today.

Chart above shows the responses from 258 respondents on their educational debt now. Chart below shows the debt at graduation.

Nearly 56% of the respondents graduated since 2007.

One respondent of the 258 said they graduated prior to 1976.

pie chart showing how long optometrists expect to pay off student debt
Nearly 30% said it did or will take them 30 years to pay off their student loans.

HELP WITH STUDENT LOAN DEBT? 

This Pop-up Poll was issued before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s plan to help students in lower income brackets with up to $10,000 or $20,000 of student debt forgiveness. That decision came while this poll was still open to comments and responses. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said that they have applied for some time of student loan/debt relief program.

More are amendable to the government doing more to help with student loan debts, as this chart shows. More than 50% say they are in favor of some type of government action to forgive or reformat some student loan debt, and another 12% said they might be.

Of the respondents, 71.2% said they were female ODs, 24.9% said they were male ODs, and 1.2% of the OD respondents said they preferred not to specify gender.

Debt holding some back

The poll offered respondents a chance to share whether or how their student loan debt is holding them back or how they managed it. Here are some of those responses.

“I rolled whatever was left of my student loan at year ten into my mortgage. I went to SUNY in 1989 because it was affordable, I wanted to apply to PCO but could not afford it. I don’t know what I would have done career-wise if I had not been accepted to SUNY [as it was the only school respondent applied to.]” – Female OD, grad from 1987-1996, graduating with $10,000-$50,000 in debt
Salaries are too low
“The overall cost of education needs to be lowered – this is the real problem. The debt to income ratio for optometry is very poor in compared to other medical professions.” Female OD, grad from 2017-2022, who now carries between $100,000-$150,000 but started with between $200,000-$300,000 of debt
“All my debt is from graduate school and I would recommend never to get in debt from school it is a trap you can’t get out. Optometry doesn’t pay enough.” – Female OD from 1987-1996, whose $150,000-$200,000 debt upon graduation has ballooned to more than $300,000
Salaries are adequate
“Optometry salary was more than adequate to manage the debt. All I had to do was be willing to work full time.” – Female OD who graduated between 1987-1996 and paid off $10,000-$50,000 debt in 6-10 years
“New graduates need to continue to live as they did as students and not buy new cars, homes etc… Pack a lunch everyday like i have for 30 years and you can pay off your debt in 11 years like i did.” – Female OD from 1987-1996 graduation period who paid off her $50,000-$100,000 loans in 11 years.
Work-life balance impacted
“I worked 13 days every 2 weeks for years, have 5 part time jobs. No work-life balance at that time, resulting in stress at home.” Female OD, 2007-2016 grad who has paid off student loan debts of between 100,000-$150,000. 

“Student loan debt is the reason why I wish that I had never gone to Optometry school. I should’ve been an electrician, in my area, I’d make the same amount of money without the decade plus mortgage payment. I am extremely frugal by nature, but I find myself much further behind my friends who simply have a bachelor’s degree and are working in other fields. I have a 16 year old daughter, she’ll start college in 2 years, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to help even as much as my blue collar parents did for my education. I just hope my alma keeps sending me reminders to donate.” –– Male OD, a 2007-2016 graduate who still owes more than $50,000 on his original $200,000-$300,000 loan

Working six-day weeks. Not going on vacations other than just visiting family. Can’t afford trips right now. It’s kept us from buying a house for several years or from me wanting to start my own business. Last thing I need is a business to fail and I’m stuck with that burden as well. With the monthly payments for student debt, and rising costs, it’s hard to have any breathing room. But I’m also against the government forgiving the debt. I borrowed it willingly. I should pay it back. I think they should find a way to cap the interest at 2% though so it’s manageable to pay back.” – Male OD, 2007-2016 grad with between $150,000-$200,000 left on loans that were originally $200,000-$300,000. 

Not the government’s role
“I graduated optometry school in 1991 with about $70,000 in student loan debt. My salary at that time was $45,000 per year. That is equivalent to some one today making $150,000 per year with $231,000 in debt. Suck it up buttercup and pay off your obligation. I already paid off mine. I don’t want to pay for yours too.” – Male OD, loan details in text
“Stupid poll, stupid discussion.” – Male OD who graduated between 1977 and 1986 with between $10,000-$50,000 of debt, paid off within 5 years.
Student loan pause helped
“I paid $111k during this 0% interest period. I am so thankful for the 0% relief period.” Female OD, 2007-2016 graduate, who was able to pay off about half of her $200,000-$300,000 initial student loan. 
Interest rates are the killer
“I was lucky to refi before interest rates shot up, so I’m at about 2%, and owe about $98,000 four years out of residency. I feel fortunate to afford my payments easily and have a spouse with a similar salary and no debt, but this would be so much harder as a single person. It would also be harder in another practice setting (I make significantly more with bonuses than the average BLS optometrist salary because I see high volume in an ophthalmology practice in dire need of providers). I fully support loan forgiveness for ODs, even a small amount, as OD salaries have generally not kept pace with rising tuition nor cost of living.”- Female OD, loan details in text
In hindsight, I would not have changed my repayment schedule from the standard 10 year repayment to income contingent with forgiveness after 25 years. (You get taxed on the forgiveness amount too.) I should have adjusted my lifestyle and gotten that loan payed off in 10 years. It took me over 20 years and the last $45K, I paid off using equity from my office building. Although having a loan did not hinder buying a practice or car, it did affect the timing on buying a house.”  Female OD who graduated between 1997-2006 with between 100,001-$150,000 in debt. 

“Cap interest rates, no capitalization after graduation are ways to constructively deal with debt. I have only made minimum payments because interest rate is very low, it may actually go up when payments resume because of Biden’s delay of payments.”  – Female OD, graduate in 2017-2022, whose student loan debt has increased to between $200,000-$300,000 now, more than when she graduated.

Even if they made student loans low interest ( 1-2%) it would make paying off student loans much easier.” – Male OD, paying down the last bit of a $50,000-$100,000 loan, lasting more than 20 years since graduation. 

Knotty problem

“80% of my student loan debt was at 16.9% interest. I worked 6 days a week for 8 years to pay that off, and another year to pay off the balance of my loans. My loans delayed all other facets of living, i.e.: I delayed getting married, starting a family, buying a house, buying/starting a practice, saving for retirement. I am both bitter about my student loans causing massive strain in my early professional life and profoundly happy that my two daughters will graduate without a dime in debt (I saved for their educations, and I’m helping my oldest pay for Medical School). I don’t see how any OD graduating today can pay their student loans totaling over $250k. I don’t see how I can have a young OD buy my practice in 10 years.” — Male OD, 1987-1996 grad who paid off $100,000-$150,000 in loans in 6-10 years.

Good lessons

“I was unable to purchase a larger house. I worked 13 days every 2 weeks for quite a few years and had 5 jobs to make ends meet in a very saturated market. It prevented me for expanding my family and resulted in significant family stress for many years, in addition to be able to focus on contributing fully to a retirement account.” – Female OD, 2007-2016 grad, who paid off $100,000-$150,000 in loans in 11-15 years. 

One respondent asked if WO had data on the debt load for ODs of color. We did not include a question about race or ethnicity in this pop-up poll. 
Hear from doctors on how they have paid of their student loan debts.
Here is Dr. Monica Johnsonbaugh.
Here is Dr. Emily Bjore.
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