Financial/Legal

How One GI Is Tackling His Student Debt – And the Lessons He’s Learned Along the Way


 

The AGA recently partnered with CommonBond (studentloans.gastro.org) to help its members save thousands by refinancing their student loans. Kevin Tin, MD, who is an AGA member, has a student loan story that can certainly offer guidance and perspective to others. Kevin earned his B.S. in health sciences from Stony Brook University and his M.D. from American University of Antigua. He completed his residency at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he is currently a gastroenterology fellow.

Radhika Duggal

As with many other aspiring gastroenterologists, Kevin took out more than $200,000 in federal and private student loans to pay his way through medical school. He recently refinanced these loans and picked up some lessons along the way. Below, he offers some tips for getting free of debt; taking Kevin’s advice to heart can help you worry less about your loans and focus instead on serving your patients.

How was your medical school experience?

My medical school experience was memorable for many reasons, particularly because I had an opportunity to study in Antigua. My time there allowed me to experience a different culture and, ultimately, a different perspective. I believe this taught me how to relate to each of my patients’ individual situations and to see things from their eyes. But, the overall cost of medical school (i.e., tuition, cost of living, medical supplies, and study resources) caught me off guard. By the time I graduated, I had amassed more than $200,000 in student loans; this was not something that I felt prepared to deal with.

How would you describe your initial experience with student loans?

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Frustrating and stressful. I struggled to understand the complex application processes, the best type of loan for my personal situation, and to find the lowest rates. In addition, I later learned that my loans’ interest capitalized while I was still in school, which made the volume of my debt greater than what I initially borrowed. It would have been helpful to know that up front, as I could have made small, monthly payments earlier.

What strategies have you implemented to pay off your student loans?

I’ve learned a few crucial strategies that any physician could, and should, take advantage of to save money on their student loans. First, be sure to spend responsibly while in medical school. I focused on finding free study resources and medical supplies as well as sharing materials with friends and roommates whenever possible. As I mentioned earlier, make small payments when you can; as soon as I entered residency, I started making interest payments on my loans. I wanted to contribute as much as I could, as early as I could, to get out of debt. Second, after graduation, endeavor to live frugally. Although I knew my salary would ultimately increase, I saved as much money as I could and put money toward paying off my loans. Finally, try to refinance your student loans; I refinanced mine with CommonBond. It was an unexpectedly pleasant experience: the website was extremely easy to navigate and any time I needed help, a representative was available to answer my questions. CommonBond also gave me the best rates I could find.

What were the benefits of refinancing your student loans?

Dr. Kevin Tin

I initially had a 15-year student loan with a 5.75% APR. When I refinanced with CommonBond, I secured a 7-year, fixed-rate student loan with a 4.2% APR. I made this choice because I’ll be saving $30,000 to $40,000 over the life of my loan, and my monthly payment stays stable, regardless of how the market fluctuates. Refinancing my student loan has put me on the path to becoming debt free, which will allow me to focus more on my career.

What is your advice to early-career GIs who have or need to take out loans?

Do your research and do it early. While in medical school, understand what options are available to you and learn to live within your means. In your residency, plan to use a portion of your salary for paying off your student loans, even if it is only a small amount each month. This will reduce the volume of interest that will capitalize, so your loan balance doesn’t grow over time. When you start your full-time job, be financially responsible and limit your spending so you can devote additional funds to paying off your student loans.

If you would like to learn more about student loan refinancing with CommonBond, please visit studentloans.gastro.org. AGA members get a $200 cash bonus for refinancing!

Ms. Duggal is vice president of marketing for CommonBond.

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