Thursday, October 17, 2019

Is Becoming a Veterinarian Worth it?

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All who know me are aware that the topic of student debt is a very personal one. It is a subject that haunts me every single day of my life. Because I graduated from vet school for almost 8 years now, many people assume that my student loan debt is almost paid off since typically a student loan puts you on a 10-year repayment plan. This is tragically not the case for the vast majority of vet students and practicing veterinarians.

The problem is I still have 18.5 years left to pay my student loan payments. When all is said and done, I will end up having to pay three times more than the original amount I borrowed. Three times…let that sink in. This is not irresponsibility on my part, but on the part of lenders. Here is how it works: Thanks to Income-Based Repayment with debt forgiveness, I only make payments on 15% of my income. Apparently, by this route, I come from the “lazy” generation. The generation that doesn’t know how to work, according to some perspectives.  

Prior to entering veterinary school, I had barely any undergraduate loans left and had parents that were amazing that paid for most of it. Upon entering vet school, we were not truthfully advised the financial state we would be in after graduating. It was also not made clear how much the interest rate would be, which would do with our debilitating amount of loans. While this may seem to reflect poorly on us for not taking the initiative to dig deeper and get a clear picture, keep in mind most vet students are young, carefree and eager to get their lives and careers started—real life problems are often not fully absorbed at this stage of life, or considered with proper weight, and creditors take full advantage of these specimens.

I felt complete joy upon graduation from vet school—all of the sleepless nights and dedication and exhaustion were finally going to pay off!  I was finally a doctor! That joy was tarnished almost immediately as I began to grasp the actual financial situation I was now living. The only way to avoid paying $4,500 per month in student loan payments was to apply for the income-based forgiveness plan. To be clear, that would have been $4,500 per month for a ten-year period to relieve me of all of my incurred student loan debt.

At this point, some of you are likely thinking: “Well, you are a doctor now, you can surely afford that payment”. Veterinarians do not earn nearly as much as a human doctor, in fact, most practicing veterinarians start out at around $70,000 per year. While this can be a very great salary to live on, you cannot live on this salary and pay your almost $300,000 student loans. This is the cold situation that many people find themselves in after all of their hard work–and this is the situation that many people don’t understand.

This is obviously not feasible. When I graduated, I was offered two jobs and both were an hour and a half from my parents. I found the cheapest apartment I could find and started my life post vet school. Every month when the payment came out, I had panic attacks thinking that while I was making the biggest payment I could–I wasn’t even touching my principal.

Throughout the last few years, my debt just keeps rising. Currently, I work full-time, have two part-time jobs and am a full-time mom. Every month I make payments and every month when I am about to give extra, something happens. I just never have been able to get ahead of them.

Throughout the last two years, I have been trying to search for ways to pay them off. I have been trying to pick up extra work to get them to a point I can live free. With my anxiety rising every year, I know at some point this bubble I have created will burst. This bubble I live in will one day be something I will have to face somehow head-on.

I have heard of two ways veterinarians and others are taking care of their student debt. One is the Dave Ramsey method, where they take every penny and pay down the loans no matter how long it takes. Living in a small apartment or home, waiting to have children, no vacations, no splurging– just every single penny goes to student loans. I read his books, looked into his ideas and for my situation, he is not the way to go for me. I have tried to minimally live and put money towards my loans… but then the daycare bill comes in, the medical bills come in or something breaks that needs replacing. All of these are very normal, very real parts of regular life and yet, to a veterinarian with crippling student loans looming, they all feel like defeat in its most complete and clever forms.

The second way I have been hearing about is to pay the minimum and take advantage of the student loan forgiveness at the end. What happens if they get rid of forgiveness? What happens if the tax bill I get is too large for me to pay? What I mean by that is when the loan amount is forgiven you have to pay income tax on it. Yes, that is correct—my loans are also taxed. While the government came up with a plan for our generation to “solve” the student debt, they failed to inform us that at the end of the 20-25 years you will get a nice big tax bill.

So how is there possibly a resolution to such complete and seemingly inescapable student loan debt?

Let me make one statement clear. I feel we should pay back what we borrowed—but the system is broken. Universities shouldn’t cost so much, interest rates shouldn’t be so staggering, and the options shouldn’t be limited. As it stands, only the wealthy can afford certain degrees and that is not what this country is about—America is for opportunity.

First, universities should be upfront and honest about what you are getting into. Many people, including myself, feel cheated by them and the bright picture they painted in front of us.

The big question: is getting into the veterinary industry worth it?

How can we actually recommend this career to others going into the field with the financial strain that we are now facing? While veterinary tuition has continued to rise along with the interest rates, it is getting harder and harder for us in our line of work to live a decent life and pay these loans off. Should a veterinarian succeed through years of rigid programs to earn that doctorate and then eat ramen noodles for 30 years? How is this ok? When a human displays the necessary dedication and education to create a better future for themselves, how is it ok to cut them off at the knees?

Right now, there is $1.48 trillion in total US student loan debt. $1.48 trillion…. Think of exactly how much that is. This number continues to rise. Many wonder why people in their 20’s don’t have children, don’t buy cars, don’t buy houses. I can easily tell you why: they cannot afford it. They may never be able to afford these simple rights of existence.

That generation has been labeled as “lazy” and that they don’t want to work. While yes, there are always the ones that don’t want to work, but this generation realizes the situation they are in and have become creative about ways to save money. They have learned to exist and to feed themselves, and they have no illusions of future successes, some know that they will never own a home or even be able to pay off a vehicle fully.

I see friends of mine that work two, even three jobs to make the minimum income-based repayment plan. Many people lived with parents after graduating to try and save money and worked like crazy.

I have researched if refinancing is even worth it at my current level, but the way the debt is spiraling out of control forgiveness seems to be the only option. When searching I found sites on the internet that encouraged refinancing while making money off of affiliate links. How can you trust these sites that refinancing is the best option? By you refinancing, they are making money off of it. Everything is a business and everywhere there is a hand open for a payout. Are they being truthful to you or is it just a way to make a quick buck for them?

If you refinance you are taking yourself out of the federal loan coverage, where the loans don’t pass to your children and your forgiveness goes away. Is this truly the best option?

So how can we change this senseless cycle of greed?

How can we stop people from profiting from education? This is an entirely separate topic that I will address later. There is so much wrong with it.

How can we get our country to realize this problem, to start to make a change? This issue does not just affect veterinarians. It affects every person going to college or that has graduated in the 2000s. If we all band together can we be the change this country needs to really have a booming economy? Imagine student loans being gone and people can buy homes, products, cars, and everything else. Imagine that.

Interested in becoming a veterinarian? Stay tuned for the PawBark podcast. Sign up and we will send you updates on its release date!  

Do you have a pet and have questions? Head on over to Ask The Veterinarian

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