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New Bill Introduced to Legislature to Help Dental Students
By Brooke Heath

For some, the goal of pursuing a career in dentistry formed in childhood while playing "dentist" with toys as patients and a pair of pliers as instruments. Others may have decided on this career later on after considering the benefits of a high-paying salary and the opportunity to help others. However, though many would like to pursue a DMD or DDS, the high costs involved and the large amount of student loan debt usually acquired can cause many would-be dental students to choose less-pricey career routes.

With the rising costs of dental school, students are graduating with more debt than ever. According to Higher Education Washington, Inc.'s NewsLine, in 2006, the average dental student graduated with $145,465 in student loan debt.

While students are enrolled in dental school at least half time, they will not be responsible for repayment on their loans, as they will have entered into what is known as in-school deferment. However, when a dental student graduates, after his or her grace period ends (usually after six months), he or she will enter into a repayment period unless he or she files for deferment.

The Economic Hardship Deferment Program

Under the Economic Hardship Deferment (EHD) Program, students may apply to temporarily suspend their monthly payments due to financial hardship or inability to make their monthly payments for reasons such as a dental internship, residency, or fellowship. During the deferment period, the federal government continues to pay the interest on the subsidized portion of the student's loans. Interest on the unsubsidized portion of the student's loans continues to accrue during this time.

Currently, under the EHD, students are allowed a maximum of three years to suspend payments on their student loans. The problem is that many dental students choose to participate in residency, fellowship, or internship programs after dental school, which can last longer than the three years allotted under the EHD. When dental students have exhausted all three of their allotted deferment years but have not yet completed their postgraduate programs, they must begin to repay their loans or go into forbearance.

Like deferment, forbearance allows borrowers to suspend payments. However, unlike in deferment, interest on loans in forbearance continues to accrue, and the government will no longer pay the interest on subsidized loans. Also, interest may be capitalized on loans that are in forbearance, making this option an expensive one.

However, avoiding forbearance and trying to repay more than $140,000 in student loan debt on a meager intern's salary can be difficult as well.

The New Bill

Recently, a new bill was introduced to Congress to revise regulations regarding student loan repayment deferment with respect to borrowers who are in postgraduate medical or dental internship, residency, or fellowship programs. The Medical Education Affordability Act (MEAA) was introduced by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) as well as John Kerry (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI). If passed, this revision will extend the length of a dental or medical student's deferment until he or she has been able to fully complete his or her postgraduate program.

"As the cost of higher education tuition rises, far too many students are incurring significant and often unmanageable debt as they struggle to finance the long residencies required by medical and dental degree programs," said Senator Dodd. "This important legislation will help ensure that students are able to pursue a career in medicine without taking on debilitating debt."

If the time allotted for dental and medical residents' deferment periods is extended, students will be able to complete their residencies and establish themselves better financially; therefore, they will be able to afford to repay the high balances they accrued while in school.

"Higher education should not be a luxury available only to the wealthy," Senator Kerry said. "It's a test of whether we really believe in opportunity or whether we just say we do. This commonsense legislation will open the door to many students and bring more qualified doctors and dentists into our communities. I'm proud to support this plan, and I thank Senator Dodd for reintroducing the bill."

Although this bill has only been introduced to the legislature and has not yet been passed, it has a lot of support. The MEAA has been endorsed by a total of 22 medical and dental organizations, including the American Dental Education Association, American Academy of Dermatology Association, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, American College of Cardiology, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Geriatrics Society, American Medical Student Association, American Osteopathic Association, and American Society for Investigative Pathology.

Consolidate with Dental School Loans and Save

Another way to avoid excessive student loan debt is by consolidating your loans. Consolidation bundles all of your outstanding student loans into one easy-to-manage loan. The result is just one low monthly payment to just one lender! When you consolidate with an industry expert like Dental School Loans, you can actually save thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

For more information on the MEAA,

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