Massive student loan debt, completely overwhelmed and have some questions

Posted on in r/personalfinance by u/throwaway-0807 on 9/26/2018

I graduated this year with a clinical doctorate in a field that requires a doctorate degree for entry level professionals. However, I am not truly paid to reflect the education and work that went into earning my degree. (For anyone interested, I have a DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy. Our professional organization pushed for the DPT for entry level clinicians but actual real-world pay as a professional has yet to catch up to match this degree)

I was young and naive when I started school and not once was educated on loans, how much school truly is, and what I will face after my education. I honestly just assumed that with my degree and qualifications, I would be making good money and would be able to cover the cost of education with my work. I was accepted to a great private program for both undergrad and my graduate studies, and just rolled with the opportunities. However, I am now facing over $200,000 in student loan debt and don't even know where to begin. Every day I get to work my dream job helping people stand, walk, and live their fullest, happiest quality of life, but it seems like the financial payoff is not equal to the satisfaction I find in my daily work.

All of my loans are federal loans, all fixed interest rates. They cover the span of undergrad through graduate school. I am currently on the Income Driven Payment option, but realize that it might not be the best option for me, considering that my payments over the last year have not even touched the original cost of loans but just the already rapidly accruing interest.

There are so many questions and so many contradictory answers online, it's really overwhelming. Do I consolidate or refinance? Is it worth the risk of losing federal loan protections if I do refinance? And what payment plan would be best for me, especially if we are ready to start putting money toward this? What about using our savings to just pay off a huge chunk now, versus letting it drag out over multiple payments?

Another consideration is that I recently got married, which may change some payment expectations from fedloan. I have no idea what a change in marital status does to my repayment plan but any insight or information regarding this would be appreciated.
Last piece of info---my new spouse is active duty military at the moment, but will be leaving the military next year. Are there any military benefits we should be aware of or that could be applied to our situation? It kills me that there is a GI bill benefit we could have used, had we met and gotten married just a little sooner :D

Any advice, insight, information, or tips would be incredibly helpful. This is daunting, frustrating, and really tough to face, but we're determined to do something about it.


  1. First, congratulations on both your graduation and your marriage. You make it clear that your life is underway and you are determined to be the navigator. Well played.

    Before starting to make financial decisions, I suggest you first build a complete picture of your future finances. Having a clear picture of your future cash flow makes playing "what if?" so much easier.

    The only tool available for building a future picture of your money is Income Companion. Once you have the program set up, you have a context within which to make decisions. Please download the program and add this missing piece to your life plan.


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