Here is my first installment in my “Vet Success Stories” Series. I figured that it would be a good idea to start with my own story. It was kind of weird to interview myself. It’s definitely not the most compelling story out there, but it will give you a quick overview of my journey to pay off my student loans. I will be including other stories that will showcase our diversity; no two paths are alike.
1. Please introduce yourself! Give us a little of your background and how you got started in veterinary medicine.
You can read about me in my About page. I am sure I will reveal more as this blog progresses.
I’ve always been drawn to animals from a young age, although I never considered veterinary medicine until college. It was literally one phone conversation with my father where he mentioned veterinary medicine (I was a bio major with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after graduation- I just knew for sure that I was NOT going to pursue medical school), and it was like a light bulb that flashed in my head. I think I didn’t consider it previously because I had never interacted with a veterinarian and there were no role models in my Asian-American community. But I immediately started volunteering and working in veterinary settings, and before long, I was 100% sure that I wanted to pursue this field. No regrets- it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
2. How much debt did you have upon graduating from veterinary school?
I graduated with nearly $120,000 (including some undergrad loans) back in 2003. This put me at a debt to income ratio of nearly 2:1 when I graduated.
3. What was your level of financial literacy prior to veterinary school? Were you price sensitive when pursuing veterinary medicine?
I had almost no financial literacy. I have always been a good saver and a terrible spender, but that was it. Turns out this isn’t such a bad habit to have in general. I had gotten accepted to several schools, and tuition did play a large factor in my decision. But other than that, I just assumed that I was going to have a large debt burden. I figured that I would make enough coming out of school to pay back my loans, but I certainly did not understand how loans worked and the consequences of carrying this amount of debt.
4. Did your veterinary school provide personal finance education?
There were some lectures, but not enough to fundamentally change my behavior or money management skills.
5. Describe your payback strategy and how you decided to use that strategy.
I had all federal loans, so I consolidated them to get a good rate. Back when I graduated in 2003, rates were very low at below 3%. Loan forgiveness programs did not exist back then as they do today, so I just chose the option that had the lowest payment, deciding to treat my loans like a 30 year mortgage.
6. How long did it take for you to pay off your student loans?
I just paid the minimum for the first 5-ish years. As I got married and had children, I began to despise having these loans that were going to follow me for decades. I decided to make extra payments, which continued to accelerate until they were finally paid off last year. So the total number of years was 14 years. This definitely could have been paid off faster, but we had so many other financial obligations that were higher on our priority list, so we were saving/investing in other areas at the same time as well.
7. If you have a significant other/spouse, what role did he/she play while paying off debt?
From day 1 of our marriage, we viewed our finances jointly, so it really was a joint effort. He also came into the marriage with medical school debt, so we worked on paying both of our loans off together. As I’ve noted previously, we ended up doing a lot of this by budgeting without actually budgeting. If we did have an actual spending plan earlier on in the marriage, there is no doubt this would have been paid off more quickly. Better late than never. Having this teamwork approach with your spouse/SO is so key to financial success.
8. Did you have any challenges while paying back your loans?
We were both pretty good about saving and not excessively inflating our lifestyle compared to our income. We also live in the Midwest, where the cost of living is very reasonable. In addition, we have not had to deal with major financial catastrophes, like losing a job or medical issues. We have been extremely lucky in this regard, and I am thankful every single day.
8. What are some financial mistakes that you’ve made in regards to this debt?
I really wish I had accelerated the payments earlier on, before getting married. I didn’t have any sort of financial plan in place, so my default mode was to just pay the minimum every month. Had I been more focused with an actual plan, I could have paid this off much more quickly.
I also think the low interest rate played a large factor. There wasn’t a sense of urgency because it was so low. Some people in my shoes would still carry this loan out to its 30 year term. I’m getting more debt averse as time goes on, so I’m glad that it’s paid off.
9. What is your financial advice for other veterinarians?
You will see the same themes come up on this blog: attain a level of basic financial literacy, have a spending plan, live within your means, develop a good savings habit, invest wisely, and make some financial goals.
10. Feel free to add any other information that people may find helpful!
The landscape for veterinarians looks quite different today compared to 15 years ago. The amount of student debt has gone up significantly, whereas wages and income have not kept pace. Interest rates are also significantly higher, and it doesn’t appear that they will be trending downward anytime soon. I truly hope that pre-vets, veterinary students, and veterinarians are getting the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves. The earlier you attain a level of basic financial literacy and a sense of how you can actually control your money, the better your chances of living the life you envisioned.
Are you interested in submitting your own Vet Success Story? I’m currently accepting submissions for student loan debt payoff, FIRE, and Entrepreneurs. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.