How much is the average medical school debt in the U.S.?

A medical degree can lead to a fulfilling and well-paying career. It can also leave you with significant student loan debt.

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The average medical school debt for physicians and other medical school graduates is $203,062. Here are some ways to get out of student loan debt. (Shutterstock)

There are no two ways about it: Medical school is expensive. The average medical school debt for the class of 2021 was $203,062, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Facing such extraordinary costs, many medical students turn to student loans to fund their education. The AAMC says that 73% of 2021 graduates carried student loan debt.

While as a medical school student, you can likely look forward to a handsome salary in your chosen profession, high monthly student loan payments can weigh down your budget until you pay off your loans. Fortunately, you have ways to simplify your loan repayment and even pay off medical school debt sooner.  

Refinancing is one way to make medical school debt more manageable. Visit Credible to learn more about private student loan refinancing and to see your prequalified rates.

Average medical school debt

The average medical school student loan debt is $203,062, including debt from pre-med education. With an average balance of $203,062, you’d pay $2,182 a month on a federal 10-year Standard Repayment Plan with a 5.28% average interest rate. 

Many graduates owe more or less than that amount, according to the AAMC: 

  • 83% of graduates owe at least $100,000.
  • 53% of graduates owe more than $200,000.
  • 19% of graduates leave medical school with more than $300,000 in debt.

While these debt figures are staggering, you may be able to afford your monthly loan payments based on your salary. The average family medicine physician earns $242,190 annually, according to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physicians specializing in other types of medicine, such as oncology and cardiology, can earn an additional $100,000 or more.

Average medical school debt by calendar year

The average debt for medical school graduates increased at a clip of 2.3% per year from 2009 to 2019 — a rate which eclipsed the 1.7% annual Consumer Price Index inflation rate during that period, according to the AAMC.

Here’s a breakdown of the cost-of-attendance (COA) versus medical education debt from 2009-2019, adjusted for inflation:

While the cost of admission has increased at twice the rate of inflation, the amount of medical student debt has remained relatively stable.

You’ll notice a larger difference in medical school debt when you take a longer view. The average loan balances for medical school graduates increased by 97% — from $124,700 to $246,000 — between the 1999-2000 and 2015-16 school years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Credible makes it easy to compare private student loan refinance rates from multiple lenders, and it won’t affect your credit.

Public vs. private medical school debt

Where you go to school is another critical factor that influences your total student loan debt. Private medical schools are generally more expensive to attend than public institutions. For example, the average private medical school debt was $220,000 in 2021, while graduates from public medical schools owed $195,000, the AAMC says. 

Graduates from these 12 medical schools had the highest amount of student loan debt in the U.S., according to 2022 data from U.S. News and World Report.

Extreme medical school debt

So far, most of the figures we’ve discussed are median debt numbers. But many medical school graduates leave school with significantly higher debt than average.

Here are the specific debt levels for 2021 medical school graduates by percentage, according to AAMC data: 

  • $0: 30.4%
  • $1 to $49,999: 4.7%
  • $50,000 to $99,999: 6.3%
  • $100,000 to $149,999: 9.6%
  • $150,000 to $199,999: 13.9%
  • $200,000 to $299,999: 24.7%
  • $300,000 to $399,999: 8.8%
  • $400,000 or more: 1.7%

While the majority of graduate students owe less than $300,000, roughly 1 in 10 owe more than that amount.

Here are the 2021 medical school graduate debt levels broken down further, based on AAMC data:

  • $0 to $149,000: 20.5%
  • $150,000 to $299,999: 38.6%
  • $300,000 or more: 10.6%
  • Students who graduated without debt: 30.4%
  • Graduates with debt who plan to enter a loan forgiveness or repayment program: 47%

Cost to repay medical school debt

A few factors determine your cost to repay your medical school debt. One important factor is whether you defer — or postpone — your student loan payments during residency. The amount you borrow, your interest rate, and your loan repayment term also weigh heavily on your debt costs.

If you want to get a quick idea of the total costs and time it’ll take to repay your student loans, use Credible’s student loan interest calculator. Once you enter your information, you can view your estimated monthly payment amount, the total interest you’d pay over the life of the loan, and the total loan amount. 

Average interest rates on medical school loans

Federal student loan interest rates update annually. The Department of Education offers three different types of loans, each with a different interest rate.

These are the federal loan interest rates by loan type for the 2021-22 school year:

  • Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans (undergraduate): 3.73%
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans (graduate or professional): 5.28%
  • Direct PLUS Loans (parents and graduate or professional students): 6.28%

Graduate and professional students may borrow up to $138,500 in federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. Keep in mind that subsidized loans are capped at $65,500. It’s not uncommon for medical school graduates to have all three types of federal loans.

By contrast, private student loans come with fixed and variable interest rates that typically range from just under 1% to 14.5%. The rate you receive will be based on your — or your cosigner’s — credit.

Qualifying for federal Direct PLUS Loans 

Once you’ve reached the borrowing limits for subsidized and unsubsidized loans, you may look to federal Direct PLUS Loans or private student loans to fund your medical education. If eligible, you may borrow up to the cost of attendance for your chosen school, minus any financial aid you receive.

To qualify for Direct PLUS Loans, you must:

  • Be a graduate or professional student enrolled at least half-time
  • Be enrolled in a graduate or professional degree program
  • Have satisfactory credit
  • Satisfy general federal student aid requirements

How interest piles up during residency

After medical school, graduates begin residency programs. The average first-year residency stipend is $59,279, according to the AAMC. This may be insufficient for many graduates to make monthly loan payments on large student loan debt while in residency. That’s why many graduates put their loans in a graduate fellowship deferment, meaning they temporarily won’t have to make any payments on their debt.

Deferment may relieve the burden of student loan payments, at least until you become a licensed physician or professional with a better salary. But that relief comes at a cost, as interest charges may continue to mount while your student loans are in deferment. 

If you have room in your budget, it’s wise to pay your deferred loan interest charges as they accrue to keep your costs down. Otherwise, you can allow the interest rates to accrue and be added to your loan balance once the deferment period ends. But in that case, the total amount of your student loan debt will be higher.

Average salary with a medical school degree

Staring down medical school debt averaging $203,062 may be distressing for many future physicians, specialists, and healthcare professionals. But graduates can take comfort that the median wage for physicians and surgeons is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year, which rests at the upper end of all occupations, according to the BLS.

Here are the average salaries for physicians, surgeons, and other specialists as of 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Anesthesiologists: $331,190
  • Obstetricians and gynecologists: $296,210
  • Surgeons: $294,520
  • Physicians and surgeons, all other: $255,110
  • Psychiatrists: $249,760
  • Internists, general: $242,190
  • Family and general practitioners: $235,930
  • Pediatricians, general: $198,420

Ways to manage your medical school debt

Earning your medical degree can lead to a rewarding and lucrative career, but it can also saddle you with a mountain of student loan debt. 

Fortunately, you have options to potentially save money and shorten the time it takes to repay your medical school debt.

1. Pursue loan forgiveness

If you have federal student loan debt, student loan forgiveness may provide the shortest path to pay off your medical school debt. You may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) if you work for a government agency or a not-for-profit organization and make 120 qualifying payments. Unfortunately, private student loans aren’t eligible for loan forgiveness programs.

2. Enroll in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan

With the traditional 10-year Standard Repayment Plan for federal student loans, your payment amount is based on the total amount of your student loan debt. But if you enroll in one of four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans offered by the Department of Education, your monthly payments will be based on your income and family size.

For example, the Pay As You Earn repayment plan requires a monthly payment of only 10% of your discretionary income. You’ll make payments for 20 years, at which point your remaining balance will be forgiven (but still subject to taxes). To enroll in an IDR plan, visit the website.

You might also consider enrolling in a Graduated Repayment Plan. This type of plan begins with lower initial payments that rise every two years, which may be ideal for residents whose income is low now but will increase in the future.

3. Consider your forbearance options during residency

Though your stipend during residency may not be enough to cover your student loan debt, you can remove the burden of monthly payments by requesting a graduate fellowship forbearance. If possible, try to make at least interest-only payments during the forbearance period to keep interest charges from mounting.

How to refinance medical school debt

Refinancing is another option for managing your medical school debt. You can refinance federal student loans, private student loans, or a combination of the two into a new private loan. But think carefully before refinancing federal loans into a private loan: You’ll lose access to federal benefits and protections, like IDR plans and federal loan forgiveness.

If you’re ready to refinance your medical school loans, follow these four steps:

  1. Compare lenders. Before taking out a private student loan, it’s wise to compare as many lenders as possible to find the best loan for you. As you compare loan offers, pay particular attention to the interest rates, repayment terms, loan amounts, fees, and any rate discounts.
  2. Pick a loan option. After carefully reviewing loans from multiple lenders, choose the best loan option for you.
  3. Complete the application. The next step is to fill out the loan application. You’ll likely be asked to submit information regarding the student loans you wish to refinance, as well as pay stubs or tax information to verify your income. Student loan refinancing typically requires good to excellent credit, with a credit score of at least 700. Refinancing is still possible if your credit needs improvement, but these loans typically carry higher interest rates.
  4. Manage your payments. If the lender approves your application, continue making payments on your old loans until the lender processes your new loan. Once the new loan is active, make sure you make regular on-time payments to avoid late fees and harm to your credit. Your lender may even offer a rate discount for enrolling in automatic payments.

If student loan refinancing is right for you, visit Credible to see your prequalified private student loan refinance rates in minutes.