Welcome to another “Vet Success Stories” profile. This veterinarian is a small animal general practitioner in Virginia. She is married with two children, ages 4.5 and 2. Read how she paid off $80k of student loan debt in 6 years!
1. Please introduce yourself! Give us a little of your background and how you got started in veterinary medicine.
I started volunteering for a local veterinarian in high school, worked on weekends and school breaks, etc. My undergraduate degrees were in Animal Sciences and Agriculture and Applied Economics (small business management emphasis)
2. How much debt did you have upon graduating from veterinary school?
3. What was your level of financial literacy prior to veterinary school? Were you price sensitive when pursuing veterinary medicine?
I had undergraduate courses in economics, business management, and personal finance. I only applied to my in state school in order to save money on loans. I also had a lot of family education in finance growing up (living within our means and actually discussing it, getting the responsibility of a credit card right at 18 with a lot of discussion from my parents about always paying the full balance, etc.)
4. Did your veterinary school provide personal finance education? If so, what did you think of the quality?
Yes, a short course on it over the span of a couple of days. Too much information to absorb all at once and not nearly in depth enough in terms of strategies for different debt levels.
5. Describe your payback strategy and how you decided to use that strategy.
My husband and I were both full time for 1.5 years before our first child was born. During that time, we paid as much as we could towards my loans, usually making double payments. We also bought a house right after graduation but had enough help from family (stock that had been granted from my parents when I was a minor) to cover half our down payment and money that my husband had been saving while working during my vet school years to cover the other half. We could have qualified for a loan for a larger house but we went with something that would offer us manageable mortgage payments on just one of our salaries. We took out a home equity line of credit (HELOC) on our house at the advice of a financial planner and paid off most of my loans with that. It had a lower interest rate and more of the interest was tax deductible. We then focused on making minimum payments on the HELOC while getting the rest of the higher interest federal student loans paid off, then went to work on the HELOC. We had an introductory rate for a while after refinancing the loans at about 1% so were able to make really big strides on the principal. We continued to pay as much as was comfortable against the loans while still taking vacations, saving for retirement, saving for our kids’ college funds, and keeping a rainy day fund.
(Editor’s note: Remember that a HELOC is a secured loan. You are borrowing against the equity of your home, so if there is a reason that you cannot pay this back, your home could face foreclosure. Also, the rates tend to be variable, not fixed. Before going down this route, make sure you understand the costs and risks you are taking, as this is not a completely risk free way to pay off debt.)
6. How long did it take for you to pay off your student loans?
7. If you have a significant other/spouse, what role did they play while paying off debt?
My husband had a huge role in paying off my debt over the last 4.5 years since my son was born. I wanted to work part time after having kids, so he has been the breadwinner since then. About 2 years ago, he took a job with stock options that have vested over time as well as an employee stock purchase plan. We have been putting 15% of his paycheck into his stock purchase plan (which allows him to buy company stock at a discount), then using the sale of that stock quarterly to pay off large chunks of debt.
8. Did you have any challenges while paying back your loans?
No, not really
9. What are some financial mistakes that you’ve made?
Knock on wood, none that we have found yet
10. What is your financial advice for other veterinarians?
It is worth the time and money to talk with a financial planner to make sure you are going in the right direction financially. We were able to save money to put towards loans and quality of life goals at the same time.
(Editor’s note: Good financial planners are a lifesaver for those that benefit from their services. However, if you’re not sure if your financial advisor/planner is acting as your fiduciary or how they are being compensated, then it’s time to rethink your financial advisor. My thought is that the more you know about personal finance, the better you can utilize a financial advisor to work in your best interest. Otherwise, there could be major conflicts of interest where you are being sold products you don’t need or taking investment advice that benefits the advisor, not you.)
Closing thoughts: This veterinarian was fortunate to grow up in a family that had regular discussions about money. She also had the added benefit of taking economics and business management classes as an undergraduate, which is not a typical course load for a pre-vet. This affected her decision on where to attend veterinary school, and it also likely contributed to her lower than average school debt coming out of school.
She had also made it a point to not max out their mortgage. This allowed her that flexibility to save for retirement, save for college, save for an emergency fund, and go on vacations while paying down her debt.
If you decide to go down the route of using a financial planner, choose well. Go into this relationship with a foundation of personal finance literacy in order to maximize your benefits.
Thank you to the contributor- it seems like you and your family will be in a great financial space going forward!
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.