What should you do about your student loans while in dental residency?

August 1, 2022 | Robbie Morris

Robbie Morris, CSLP®
Robbie Morris, CSLP®
Hey! I'm Robbie, the founder of Roots Financial Planning, a fee-only, fiduciary advisor located in San Antonio, TX working virtually with dentists across the United States. When I'm not helping dentists live their best life, you can find me making pizza, swimming, or skiing.

Dental residency is a great option to expand your education beyond general dentistry. Residency length can vary, from as little as one year for AEGD/GPR to six years for OMFS. If you borrowed money to pay for your general dentistry degree it is likely that you will be taking out more loans to pay for residency. But what can you do with the outstanding loans from undergrad and dental school while in residency?

What are your student loan options during dental residency?

Mandatory In-School Forbearance

You may recall that during dental school, you were never required to make payments on your student loans (This applies to federal student loans. Private loans are subject to different rules). This is due to mandatory in-school deferment offered by the federal government. When you are enrolled in school full time, your loans are automatically placed on this payment pause.

In residency, things change a little bit. When you enroll, there isn’t an automatic stop to your payments. If you don’t take any action, payments would be required every month. However, you can request a mandatory in-school forbearance for dental residents. To do so, you will need to fill out the in-school forbearance request form at studentaid.gov and return it to your student loan servicer. If your residency is longer than one year, you will need to reapply each year if you wish continue your payment pause.

If you are truly unable to make any kind of payment, in-school forbearance is a nice tool to have.

Income Driven Repayment (IDR) Plans

Using an IDR plan during residency is a fantastic strategy, especially if you are pursing any form of forgiveness. You can use one of these plans to make small or even $0 payments that qualify towards forgiveness. Most dental students have no income while in school. This means that during your first year of residency, you can qualify to make $0 payments. After the first year of residency, you must continue to recertify your income on an annual basis. Though, any resident income that you make will likely qualify you for a very low payment.

If you can fit these small payments into your residency budget, using an IDR plan is an even better strategy than forbearance.

Paying what you can

This might be for the dentist that has a smaller loan balance or for the dentist that wants to pay the loans off as fast as possible, regardless of any forgiveness options. It will likely be difficult to make standard 10-year payments on a resident salary. Though, there are a couple other options to make payments. You can enroll in an IDR plan and pay your minimum required payment plus any extra you can afford. Or you could submit the mandatory forbearance request form and designate a certain amount in section 3.

Neither of these methods will make a huge dent in your student loan balance. However, it is better than nothing for the dentist who wants to pay the loans off as fast as possible.


Forbearance should be a last resort option if you are unable to make any payments on your loans while in residency.

IDR plans make a great option if you are pursuing any type of forgiveness offered by the federal government. Your payments will be little to nothing with a resident income.

If you’re trying to pay your loans off rapidly you can choose to overpay on an IDR plan or use the mandatory forbearance form to make specific payments. Neither method will make a huge difference on your balance, unless you have outside help. Any payment is better than no payment when you are paying the loans down fast.