Refinancing my student loans and owning my education

$254,358.44.

This is the amount it cost me for four years of two bachelor’s degrees and four years of a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. I’m not proud of that number, but it could be worse. In fact, I already did pay off some of the undergrad loans prior to this number. But this is the number I refinanced. This is the number I swore to myself I will pay off in less than 10 years. This is the number my husband and I have decided will be down to $0 by the time we have a child starting kindergarten.

Dr. Stuchlik

Dr. Stuchlik

One misconception among more seasoned dentists is that dental students take out loans and spend frivolously. Attending dental school is a job in itself, but I was different in that I actually did work during school. I coached a swim team at the YMCA for majority of the time I was in school with the exception of first year. On top of my involvement in ASDA and every other school commitment, I spent two hours most evenings and at least one early Saturday morning a month perfecting the strokes of kids ages 4-16. In the summers when school was less hectic, I spent just about every hour outside of school teaching swim lessons, whether at the University of Texas Health Science Center Rec or at the Y.

I worked hard, I had a paycheck, but it wasn’t enough.

In my fourth year of dental school, I visited my parents’ house more frequently to grocery shop in the pantry. I was running out of funds. My parents have always been my biggest supporters in continuing my education, despite their inability to fund those dreams. They helped in whatever ways they could like buying groceries on occasion and paying my cell phone bill. My mom even saved up money to buy all of my Western Regional Examining Board exam instruments because she knew I’d be out of my financial aid by the time my initial dental licensure exam rolled around.

My parents instilled the value of pursuing my dreams. My parents also instilled the value of following through. To me, this means following through on paying my debt. I made the decision to attend both college and dental school with minimal financial support besides loans and an undergrad scholarship from the Cy-Fair Educational Foundation. Therefore, it is my responsibility to pay back what I borrowed to become the person I am today.

I made the decision in dental school that I would refinance my loans when I was able to. I began my initial payments of loans via income-based repayment. After a year of paying loans, I decided last fall to refinance. I wanted to have all of my loans in order before I got married in April. I looked into multiple refinancing options. I researched a number of rates and number of years to pay back. Eventually, the ADA program with Darien Rowayton Bank was the best option for me. The rate savings by being an ADA member surpassed anything else I came across. This program was perfect for me knowing I’d be an ADA member for life.

The process was tedious but actually simpler than I thought. Since I had a large number of loans from so many different lenders due to undergraduate loans, I had to compile everything together. The best part of the process with DRB was I did everything online. I absolutely hate talking on the phone, so it was nice there were quick, easy ways to communicate with DRB without picking up the phone. A simple screen shot of most of my current loan balances along with account numbers was suitable for DRB to appropriate the funds to my lenders. The whole process was completed in about a week and a half. After refinancing, I was able to receive more discounts by auto-paying. I was also able to conveniently change my due date to fit perfectly in my budget.

I could have a pretty awesome car (and maybe even a boat) with the amount of money I pay every month, but knowing in less than 10 years I will completely own my education makes it all more than worth it.

Dr. Katie Stuchlik is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Houston and graduated from The University of Texas School of Dentistry in 2015. Katie is a general dentist in a large group practice in Katy, Texas (a quick 25 minute commute from Houston). When she’s not working or staying involved with the Greater Houston Dental Society and the Texas Dental Association, she’s usually posting pictures of her miniature Australian shepherd puppy or her CrossFit workouts.

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