Your money, your life: Paying school loans on a new-vet salary


What do you do when you love your job, but it doesnt pay enough to repay the debt you accrued in veterinary school?

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Q. I have a bunch of student debt from veterinary school and a job I love that doesn't pay a lot, but I'm exactly where I want to be, geographically close to family and friends and a support system for my future-what do I do about that student debt?

Finding the right job is often one of the biggest stressors for veterinary students as they near graduation. Most individuals have a list of criteria the potential job must fulfill. The length of this list can vary, and individual priorities can often be quite different. It's OK if compensation isn't the highest item on your priority list. With that being said, you owe it to yourself to receive enough compensation that you're not in financial hardship. Stay open to the possibility that as time passes, another job might become available that meets all your goals and pays better.

Often, once veterinarians find a job, they switch the focus to doing their best at that job and stop evaluating other opportunities in the market. It's common for veterinarians to undervalue the importance of networking with other vets and understanding how their job stacks up to others in the industry. The more information you have, the more likely you are to know whether you're being compensated fairly.

Summary takeaway

It's important to continue to network, even if you're happy in your current position.

Create a strategy for repaying the student loans. A plan can be a major stress reliever.

Periodically reevaluate your situation and decide whether the plan needs to be updated.

Regardless of your salary, we highly recommend speaking with a student loan expert and, if you can, at least two of them. Not all “experts” are created equal. By collaborating with a professional, you can establish a repayment plan that makes the most sense for your specific situations in life.

One of the most well-known forgiveness plans is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan (PSLF) that eliminates loan debt after 10 years of working for a government or nonprofit organization. There are also several Income-Based Repayment plans (IBR) that set payments based on discretionary income and have varying forgiveness options.

Keep in mind, there are many variables in determining what strategy best suits your situation.

It's likely there will be some pain involved with repaying the hefty student loans, but creating a plan to follow is reassuring and can eliminate much of the stress. We find clients often worry unproductively, and our suggestion is to tackle the problem in a serious and professional manner. It's remarkable how relieved clients are once they fully commit to a decision.

Psych hint: Even when you feel comfortable in your current position, continue to explore and learn what else is available in your profession and marketplace. This might reinforce that your current position is an excellent fit; however, you might be surprised by some of the things you find.

Editor's note: Do you have a question for this money management duo? Shoot an email to and they'll take a look!

Dr. David Lazenby is director of Advanced Planning at Kalibr, a financial consulting firm in St. Louis, Missouri. Stephen Brinker is a consultant at Kalibr. In Stephen's spare time, he hunts, cycles, watches hockey and spends time with his wife (a veterinarian) and pets.

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