Dr. David Donelson graduated from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine with $330,000 in student loan debt. After practicing in New York City for two years, he felt compelled to find a brand new environment and found himself in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The foreign earned income exclusion has allowed him to tackle his student loans more aggressively.
He still currently practices in Dubai, where he’s been located for seven years. He plans to return to the U.S. in the next few years and to finally kick the rest of his student loan debt.
In today’s episode, you’ll find out:
- David’s background in dental school at Tufts University
- His experience practicing dentistry in New York City
- How he ended up leaving the U.S. for Dubai
- Why living in Dubai helped David’s tax situation
- The cost of living in Dubai versus the U.S.
- How the foreign earned income tax exclusion works — and could help with student loan debt
- David’s tips for anyone wanting to practice dentistry in Dubai
- How being a dentist in Dubai compares to the U.S.
- David’s experience with refinancing his student loans
- How living in a tiny town can bump up your income
- His one regret while living in Dubai
- David’s advice for living abroad
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Episode 17 Transcript
Travis Hornsby: [00:00:02]Hello. Welcome to another episode of the Student Loan planner podcast. I’ve got Dr. David Donelson with me today. David, where are we interviewing you from?
Dr. David Donelson: [00:00:11]We are in Dubai United Arab Emirates.
Travis: [00:00:15] Goodness sakes. So that is going to have a bunch of follow up questions. David, why don’t you tell our listeners, just to start off: Tell us about your background going to dental school and what was that process like. Just to start off because obviously you know finding out that you’re practicing dentistry in Dubai is a very shocking thing to a lot of people. So tell us about, you know, your background educationally.
Dental school at Tufts University
David: [00:00:40] So my journey was not unlike many other dentists, I guess. I decided in undergrad that this was kind of the path I wanted to take. And I actually got a B in business. I just took the prereqs to get into dental school. I applied to a bunch of schools actually. Only got into Tufts. And when I got into Tufts, they actually gave me an option. They said, you know we’re going to put you in the class of 2009. I applied in 2008. So they said we’re going to give you the slot for 2009, but you have to wait a year. But you’re guaranteed a spot. And since this was kind of, I didn’t have too many options. And although it was a very expensive school, I felt quite privileged. I know it was a very good school.
David: [00:01:17] So I took that opportunity and spent actually a year, about a year and a half after school I graduated just a tad early and hung out in San Francisco and served. So I had a kind of a weird transition from undergrad to dental school. But then I did four years of dental school in Boston at Tufts, which was very expensive but very good school clinically. So I feel like I’ve got a very good education.
David: [00:01:37] And after that I did an AEGE at the University of Florida in Jacksonville, and I really wanted to learn implants. At the time there were two or three residency programs that were focused on real serious implant placements that didn’t require you to go into oral surgery or to period school. And the one that I went to, which now has closed was actually a very good program. I ended up placing about 70 implants in the one year. So I got an amazing comprehensive dental experience at the University of Florida Jacksonville campus which I said closed the year after I graduated, so I did that from 2009 to 2010.
David: [00:02:16] So yeah my journey was a little bit unique, but I think along the lines of most most dentists. And then I moved on from there. At the time like many people you know meet and find their spouse in dental school. I actually got married to a girl that I went to dental school with shortly after dental school, and she got into a residency for endodontics in New York City. So I actually practiced for a little while in Jacksonville after my residency for maybe about actually about two years. And then my then wife Jennifer, she got into a program, and we went to Manhattan for about two years and there was tough. I mean that was a tough place to practice. I did two separate jobs, and then I also did part time faculty at NYU.
David: [00:03:01] So I did that for about two years, and my marriage actually didn’t work out. And so once that ended, I really felt a compulsion to leave and get into a new environment. Oddly enough we had talked about what the advantages maybe of going into like a tax-free scenario. At the time I actually thought about Saudi Arabia. Little did I know about the area. So it turns out really actually great that I ended up in Dubai. But yeah that’s kind of what brought me out here and gosh that was almost seven years ago. So it’s so it’s been a crazy wild ride.
Dental school student loan debt
Travis: [00:03:32] Well, let me stop you there. Tell me what your student loan debt was when you finished dental school.
David: [00:03:38] So when I finished dental school I want to say it was about $330… Give or take, $330,000.
Travis: [00:03:45] Okay, and what breakdown was federal versus private?
David: [00:03:49] I know I did as much of the Subsidized Stafford and Unsubsidized as I could. I would say 70 percent of it was that. Maybe I think, maybe $130,000, yeah, $130,000, $140,000 of it was private. And then the remainder was federal.
Travis: [00:04:06] So for folks listening, definitely trying to take all the federal debt that you can right now, especially with dental school being a little bit more expensive than when you went, I think. Right?
David: [00:04:16] Yeah. I mean I guess it probably is a little bit cheaper then. It didn’t seem like it. I mean, I guess at the time, maybe it was tuition was $45,000 something. But then of course I took out everything I could to live like some of the other speakers I’ve heard on your show. I didn’t want to live on ramen. The pediatric dentist said the same thing. I lived a normal life. I actually wouldn’t go back and change that because I think that my quality of life in school was excellent and I really enjoyed that time.
David: [00:04:41] But yeah I mean I took out the max that I — But i had to. And I think it ended up being about that amount, which I’m sure now was an extra hundred thousand more.
Travis: [00:04:48] Do you remember what your first-year tuition was?
David: [00:04:50] I’d have to look at it but I want to say it was in the 40s.
Travis: [00:04:53] 40s. So today I just pulled it up here with the Tufts financial aid office. It’s $76,000.
David: [00:05:03] Okay, I could be wrong. I don’t think it’s gone up that much in eight years. I would say OK maybe it was 50 years. I really have to look.
Travis: [00:05:09] No, I think it might. I think it might have gone up that much.
David: [00:05:12] Really? I mean it’s possible.
Travis: [00:05:14] Yeah. Also one thing that I like to do is there’s this thing called Wayback Machine online that you can pretty much put any URL into it to see what it looked like years ago. So sometimes I’ll do that. And then you know you can really find what the prices were kind of back in the day. I mean sometimes they frustratingly change the URL, so I can’t figure it out. But yeah you know that’s one way to find out if anybody, you know, is curious and wants to — Basically if the dental school chose a really easy URL then they probably have screenshots from back in the day where you can see some of tuition data. But yeah that’s kind of nuts. So the total cost for you, if you came out with $330,000, you know that tells me that you are borrowing probably around $60,000 in total over each year probably. You probably had some debt from undergrad to I’m gonna guess, right?
David: [00:06:01] Well no, I was lucky and privileged enough where my folks took care of undergrad, so I didn’t have any undergrad debt. So I only started taking out debt in dental school. And you know, gosh I’ve been out of school long enough to where I could be wrong in my historian recording of what I did owe. It could have been slightly more, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t significantly more than about $330,000, maybe up to $350,000 or something. But yeah.
Travis: [00:06:21] Yeah. So probably like worst case, you possibly had all in about $70,000 of of loans you were taken out each year. And then you have —.
David: [00:06:29] That sounds about right.
Travis: [00:06:29] Yeah. Then you had accrued interest. You know you had origination fees, tuition inflation, like the kind of things that they really can get you. What year did you graduate?
David: [00:06:37] 2009.
Travis: [00:06:38] Compare 2009 to 2019. Right? So in 2019, the stated cost on the website for Tufts they have the total build costs, which is you know, the actual costs that you’re definitely going to have to pay to the school. And then they have the living expense fees as well. And so they’re estimating about $120,000 for each year. $120,000 times four is $480,000. Now what I tell people who have yet to go to dental school is there are accrued interest expenses because you have to take that debt out. And you know that’s going to accrue interest while you’re in school as a graduate student. And you’re also going to have the tuition that all the dental schools ever, for their estimated cost of attendance, they always list the same cost for years one through four. And we know that that is not going to happen. We know that there’s going to be an increase in the tuition over the four years. Right. Right. Then what I do is I have come up with a multiple that you multiply the total summed up cost of attendance. And if you’re financing your dental school entirely with loans, that is the true estimate of what you’re going to leave with. To someone that’s going to Tufts today I would say $480,000 and then multiply that by 27 percent. So 1.27. And that gives you about $610,000.
David: [00:07:58] Wow. Yeah that’s a big difference in 10 years, huh?
Travis: [00:07:59] Yeah it is. So. So my estimate is that people that would graduate from Tufts in 2023 would owe in the neighborhood of$ 610,000 if they finance the entire thing.
David: [00:08:09] And that to me, when you say that is the debt that I would expect to have incurred if I did a residency for a specialty.
Travis: [00:08:15] Right. Yeah. Here’s your General Dentist degree. Let’s charge you oral surgery prices.
David: [00:08:21] Exactly.
Moving to Dubai
Travis: [00:08:22] So you kind of dodged a little bit of a bullet there. If you had gone to a typical general dentist pathway in a big city like Boston or New York. And let’s say that you associated and never bought a practice, then you might have still pursued forgiveness strategy and that still might have been in the best, you know in your best interest. Also if you had all federal debt that might have been in your best interest. But you know you took a different path. Maybe you can share. First off I think a lot of folks listening to this show would have no idea how to even start taking their degree that they probably have a license to practice in the United States and looking at opportunities to practice abroad. So how did that even get started in the first place?
David: [00:09:06] You know like I said I was being naive but also kind of interested in looking at places where my tax situation would be better improved to better improve my income. Off the top of my head I knew of three or four places that did not tax income. Of course I knew that I would get taxed as a U.S. citizen but there wouldn’t be a dual tax treaty like most countries. There are places where there is zero tax there. So for instance the United Arab Emirates has zero tax on income. Saudi Arabia has zero tax on income. Monaco has zero tax on income. There’s a little town outside of Gibraltar and in Spain that’s teeny tiny but also no income tax. So these places you’re only paying the federal tax. And as long as you prove a bona fide residence of where you’re living either by staying in the country 330 days a year or by proving one or two other ways that you’re a bona fide resident of that other country, every year changes, but you get you know $100,000 tax-free income. And then the rest of the tax, the rest of the income of course you have to pay for. So my goal was looking at those things.
David: [00:10:08] So I started by looking at to Saudi Arabia because there is a big oil company there called Saudi Aramco with a lot of American expats. In my naivete at that point time I thought this would be a great option. Not to say that I’m sure some doctors don’t have a fantastic time there but luckily that particular job I didn’t get. And I got this job because one of the good friends of mine who was a year above me at the 08. She was a pediatric, got out of her pediatric residency and actually she has some Lebanese roots, so she was actually working out here for the same company, the same dental office that I actually got hired as. So I had reached out to her and said, gosh I know you’re in Dubai. How hard was that? How did that work? She put me directly in touch with the H.R. of their office. They’re a bigger office out here. There’s two or three larger offices that are kind of expat driven. I literally just had a really quick conversation with her. She said, send me all your CV and all your diplomas and all the stuff, and then you can have a Skype call with the owner.
David: [00:11:03] I had a Skype call for literally five minutes with the owner I think because I was a referral from my friend and also because of kind of what I had been doing at the time. It took him about five minutes to say, “Sure, why don’t you look at our offer and see if you like it and if you want to accept that you can come over.” So he sent me an offer the next day in the mail which I accepted, and I literally left New York a month later with two bags. Showed up to a place I had never ever been to in my entire life with a two-year contract thinking, ‘OK, two years.’ And here I am seven years later. So clearly it’s an amazing place to live and it’s been great.
Travis: [00:11:39] One question if you don’t mind. I mean certainly a lot of readers like to ask us the question you know, what happens to student loans in the event of divorce? And it’s my understanding that most courts will just split. You know you’re not going to get any debt distributed besides what you already have in your own name, right. Was that your experience?
David: [00:11:57] We didn’t have kids. We had no assets. We only had liabilities. It was actually pretty easy. It was quite amicable. It was kind of, we both, we-we actually just used a mediator. We didn’t go to court or anything. And yeah exactly, like you said. She had her debt; I had my debt. We had maybe a combined credit card that we were supposed to split, which I ended up bearing. Never got that money. But that is inconsequential. I mean yeah there was no division of debt. And to be honest, had maybe she not had debt, I don’t know if they ever redistribute it. I mean my assumption is that they don’t. But maybe in different situations they do. I don’t know.
Travis: [00:12:31] I’ve certainly never run across a situation where they did, you know. It’s interesting. So basically for debt, just so folks know, a couple of horror stories that I have heard if you don’t have an amicable situation, if the spouse without the student loan spends a lot of assets to help the spouse with debt pay that down, you don’t get credit for that basically. You know the debt is always generally just what the person who actually has it in a divorce, but the assets are equitably distributed. But the debt is is in a lot of cases with student debt is not. So I just wanted to make a quick comment on that. So you’ve got the job offer from Dubai. Did you did you negotiate at all? Or was it so awesome, you’re like sign me up? What did that process look like.?
David: [00:13:11] Because I was a new dentist, a fairly new dentist, I mean I had a great job in Jacksonville actually. I should have in hindsight purchased that office. It was actually a guy who was an FAGD, did all of his own work, had his own office, his own real estate, got into an addiction problem. Like you had said, a very small percentage of dentists that fail on their loans, but he had already worked for 25 years, was producing $1.5 million. I mean it was really a diamond in the rough. I ended up taking that on through a relationship that I had developed during my residency and brought it back up to you know$800 from $500 where it tumbled. So I had a great job. So when I moved to New York, I really suffered because New York is a really tough market. Unless you’re going to buy in with somebody, you start your own and even then it’s just a difficult market.
David: [00:13:53] And so you know I got a per diem as a young dentist. I was getting the $500 dollar a day per diem, which is pretty at the time pretty normal working two or three different offices. Monday Tuesday here, Wednesday Thursday here, Saturday here, and all in all maybe making $120,000. And it was just so tough. It sounds crazy, but with my debt burden and everything else, it was just so tough to live there and enjoy it. In hindsight I wouldn’t say it was an excessive amount of money but it was significantly more than what I was making as that that young dentist you know getting the $500 a day per diem.
Travis: [00:14:25] That makes sense. You moved over there. At the time you were you were single and you’ve been there for seven years. How did you decide to stay there and what kind of family stuff developed since that time?
David: [00:14:38] Yeah I moved here. Wonderful place to be single. I mean nothing like what anyone thinks of. I mean, I think probably Dubai came on them on the map to some degree during the “Mission Impossible” movie, you know back when the Burj Khalifa had just been finished. It’s a mega city with everything you can imagine. Very, very culturally diverse and all the things that people worried about. Although you have to respect the culture and make sure that you understand what’s accepted and not accepted. I mean it’s like being anywhere in the States. I mean I have friends that come here and honestly everyone speaks English. All the signs are in English. All of the menus are. I mean nobody you walk up to doesn’t speak English. Yes of course there’s Arabic everywhere. And yes, you’ll see the locals in local dress. Emiratis. I have tons of patients who are Emiratis and very wonderful generous people. It’s just a lifestyle that I think most people live here. The reason they stay here is because it’s kind of like a vacation. You’re living this kind of vacation lifestyle. It’s it’s very bizarre. It’s an amazing lifestyle. Clearly that’s why I’ve been here for seven years. But it does feel very much like a rotating vacation because you’re very close to the world. Right. So within five hours you can get to 60 different countries and the airfare isn’t very expensive. So traveling is very easy to do. The climate it’s always sunny. Yes, it’s really hot during the summer. But right now it’s you know, it’s 9:00 here. And if I step outside, it’s a nice 70 degrees. And then you know maybe it gets to 76 during the day and it’s just gorgeous. You know totally clear skies. So it’s just a really wonderful place to live. But you know I was single for quite a while. And then kind of the girl that got away for when I was in college in San Francisco before I became a dentist, we reconnected on social media and we were both in the right place at the right time and I flew her out here for five days. Seven days. And I asked her on the 5th to marry me. So it was kind of an impulsive decision. But lo and behold it worked out and she came back a month later. And she’s been living with me for about four years here in Dubai, and we just had a baby girl Claire about 18 months ago.
Travis: [00:16:37] Wow. So from knowing someone from college, you got married in a week. Or proposed in a week.
David: [00:16:44] I proposed in under a week. We actually went skydiving at the Palm, which is one of the most epic destinations to skydive. As she was coming down I had had a big banner that said, Will you marry me, Jodi? So let’s just say she said yes, but I think she was a little bit stunned. So I was really aggressive at wanting her to not leave versus kind of going back and getting her stuff together, which she did. And it only took her about literally five weeks. I was shocked. And she was back. So yeah I mean it was pretty crazy and that was, that was 2014, I think.
Living in Dubai compared to the US
Travis: [00:17:16] A lot of dentists and you know other people that have a lot of student loan debt kind of feel like they have this big burden and they’re trapped and they can’t have any adventures anymore. What you’re describing is the exact opposite of that. Go to the Middle East practicing dentistry and skydiving and proposing in a week. That’s really kind of an amazing story. What kind of living situation do you have in Dubai?
David: [00:17:39] At the moment I’ve been two years in this apartment. It’s you know it’s a two-bedroom high rise. I’m on the fifth floor and maybe there’s 17 floors. We’ve been here for about two years. Previously we were in a different high-rise in a different part of town about 20 minutes away on the fiftieth for forty-ninth floor. Really big depending on where you are. You know there’s lots of residential, lots of skyscrapers. Actually more than they have people for because the cost of living has gone down drastically as more of this retail has come online because they pump the market almost too much. But I have friends that live in villas on roads that are you know regular normal houses. They’re a little bit pricier, but a lot of the doctors I work with, because I work in a multidisciplinary actual boutique hospital where everyone’s, I’m the only dentist. And most of these guys live in normal houses villas. They call them villas, but normal three-, four-bedroom villas or wherever they might be. So living is really quite normal for a city. Different from a place like New York but also not dissimilar from kind of your average larger city in the U.S.
Travis: [00:18:39] One thing I’d like you to talk about is your budget. So the amount of spending that you do in each of the big categories. You know, rent, dining out, entertainment, that kind of thing. And obviously you’re spending in a different currency, so if you can kind of relate it back to U.S. dollars our listeners would probably appreciate it.
David: [00:18:56] Yeah, sure. So you know I mean as far as the cost of living is concerned. So my rent is something like $2,300, which is not cheap. I mean you know, listen, Dubai isn’t cheap, but it’s also not New York. I mean the $2,300 I’m spending here is a very nice, brand new, ‘I was the first person to live in it’ apartment that’s two bedrooms and 1,200 square feet. Versus when I was in New York 10 years ago, I paid $2,000 for a walk up in the West Village that was a studio and about 400 square feet. So it’s all relative to where you are, right. But in general, housing is expensive, but it depends on what you want to do because there’s so many different nationalities and people that work here that they have to have a little bit for everybody, right? So like my assistant and a lot of the workers are from places like India or Pakistan or the Philippines. They can live in accommodations that are really reasonable. But it probably wouldn’t be a place where any of your listeners would want to live.
David: [00:19:51] Food I think is actually relatively competitively priced. It’s not exactly U.S. prices, especially organic produce and things like that can be more expensive. Weird items end up being bizarrely expensive. You can find almost everything you can imagine here that you can get in the States minus a few things. Additionally, because where everything’s imported, we get some great stuff from Europe and in the U.K. Tons of, you know — And they don’t allow for a lot of the kind of produce that they do for the U.S. So. So those things are quite quite accessible, and they’re not overly expensive.
David: [00:20:24] The things that get expensive is eating out and alcohol, right? Because alcohol is heavily taxed here because the only people that drink it typically are the expats. Because if you’re Muslim you really aren’t supposed to be partaking in the libations. So it’s very expensive to go out and drink. And also even if you have a license and a liquor license to go and buy and bring into the house, for instance, the cheapest bottle of wine you’re going to get at the liquor store here if you have an alcohol license is like 20 bucks. And that’s like for the bottle of wine that you would get for like $5. Like a 2-buck chuck.
David: [00:20:54] So going out for those types of things, that is expensive. And just eating out in general. Although after seven years, I’m quite savvy, and I know how to know how to go out and eat for a reasonable amount. But you know I mean here you can easily go to any random nice place or even moderately nice place and somehow get served a $30 burger. And I’m not even kidding. I mean $30, $35 burger. Like the only place I’ve ever had a $30 burger outside of Dubai is at the Monette, a tavern which is like the best place or one of the most well-known places in the West Village of New York to get like this outstandingly crazy burger.
David: [00:21:28] So it is a little bit weird here with certain things.
Travis: [00:21:31] It makes sense. I mean the most expensive burger I ever had was at a Burger King in Switzerland. It was like $18.
David: [00:21:38] Yeah.
Travis: [00:21:39] And I was like, how did — how did this happen? I asked my Swiss buddy, and it’s like, well you know, they require us to use Swiss beef. And you know Swiss beef is very premium. It’s the best beef. OK, what about taxes? So you said you pay zero percent income tax in Dubai. Is that, is that right?
David: [00:21:56] Yeah. So the benefit is it that every year it changes, but you get a foreign earned income tax exclusion, which changes yearly. But this year, I think it’s $150,000, so you get to take that automatically off of as long as you qualify for it off of your taxable income. And on top of that, you can take off your living expenses. So even if you’re — Often employers will give you accommodation, but then if they don’t, you pay for your own accommodation. But you can deduct that. There’s a way that the IRS does it.m You know a certain percentage of what you pay. But it does help. So if you’re making $200,000, you get to essentially deduct maybe $120,000, so you really, your taxable income is only something like $80,000 or $90,000.
Travis: [00:22:35] So I want to talk about that a little more because you know, if you’re married, it’s my understanding that you can get a bigger exclusion is that the case.
David: [00:22:43] Yeah. Right. You know what, my situation was a little bit different. Before my — we had a child, my wife was working and because what she made was under $100,000, all of her money was tax-free. And of course, then whatever I would make I got a discount of course on that first hundred thousand, but anything over that, I paid the normal tax bracket for the total amount. And I paid the tax on the leftover remaining income, but yeah. So if you have a spouse then and you’re both earning, then you both get the hundred, you know, whereas if one is working and making more, they don’t give that one person 200 unfortunately.
Travis: [00:23:15] OK. I think that what’s interesting is usually you work abroad, and you have to pay income taxes you know in the local governments rates, right? But certain places aroundd the world have this little loophole where you know they’re not taxing you, but then your home country is not going to tax you as heavily either. Your Adjusted Gross Income as a married couple because of this is significantly less than what you’re actually earning, correct?
David: [00:23:43] Yes.
The foreign earned income tax exclusion
Travis: [00:23:43] OK. So this is really, really powerful, and I want to back up a little bit and explain to some listeners what this even is when you work abroad. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you know you have to pay taxes on that foreign-earned income, but the IRS understands that that can be a big pain in the butt. And what they do is they make it so that if you’re earning less than $100,000, you can basically just claim this foreign-earned income tax exclusion that you mentioned, David. And then you can pretty much get out of having to worry about filing. Well, you should probably file, but that your income tax should be zero.
David: [00:24:16] Yeah, you have to file but, but yeah it is zero. I mean as long as you make under $100,000, it’s tax-free.
[00:24:22] Right. In your case, since you’re making more than that, they pose some more requirements. And so then you have to file and you basically have to declare you know that overage on your taxes. And so that becomes your Adjusted Gross Income. In the case of lower earning professionals, say like veterinarians, I’ve had a lot of clients in Australia and New Zealand. It’s kind of funny how it works like they’ll meet somebody a lot of them go to like Caribbean veterinary schools they might meet somebody at that school that’s from Australia. They’ll get married. They move back there, and they’ll make $80,000, $90,000. Well, what’s interesting is with this foreign-earned income tax exclusion, you can file in the U.S. And have a zero dollar AGI. Well legally you can show your U.S. AGI to your student loan servicer and get a zero dollar required monthly payment. Right?
David: [00:25:08] Correct.
Travis: [00:25:08] That’s one of the things that we talked about when we consulted the first time back in 2017 because with the Revised Pay As You Earn program, if you’re not going to go for loan forgiveness then you can get an interest subsidy on that leftover portion of the interest that you’re not paying. You can get 50 percent of it covered. Maybe talk a little bit about how you’re utilizing that with your job situation right now.
David: [00:25:31] I had always been on Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and until I had heard about you and had that initial consultation, I didn’t know to put it in REPAYE. But yeah, at that time because of my situation with my wife, whatever the income disparity was, I was actually still paying zero, and I didn’t realize at the time that even though I was paying zero on IBR, it would behoove me to put it in REPAYE. So I think I was in REPAYE at zero dollar payments for a lot of that federal loans for a while, up until I consolidated and then when I reported my previous last year’s tax because it had changed a little bit, I did owe money on those federal consolidated loans that I lumped all together. But it was still a much smaller payment, a reasonable payment to assume at the moment. But yeah, I mean, when my earnings were a little bit different, I was paying nothing on them because of, like you said, because of my Adjusted Gross Income being, showing so small even though my earning was actually quite a bit more.
Travis: [00:26:30] If a reader goes to StudentLoanPlanner.com forward slash refi today, r-e-f-i, and they refinance their student loans and get a cash rate bonus, you know, hot dog, and they get a 4.5% rate, that’s decent but in a case where you’re getting a zero dollar required payment on REPAYE and you’re living abroad like you are, that cuts the interest rate actually in half while you’re getting that required payment. You know, you could be, if you have a 7% interest rate, then you actually have an effective rate of 3.5% while you have this set up, which is better than refinancing. All right. In addition to that, the interest that grows on your balance, it’s accrued, so it means it doesn’t compound. So you literally have simple interest at a 3.5% rate, which is really powerful.
Travis: [00:27:12] And I remember when we spoke, the plan was basically to attack the private loans, to try to get rid of the private loans because of the fact that you know, you don’t have any special tricks or protections that you can use for that. But it’s interesting to me, David, that because you went to Tufts when you did, the price of, you know, attendance was enough where, you know, and also the fact that you split the loans federal and private like you did ,where getting out of debt eventually is actually probably the right thing to do rather than count on a loan forgiveness path. Especially based off of your plans to come back to the U.S. at some point. So maybe you can tell readers what is a realistic income expectation in Dubai. So I hear that everyone in Dubai makes $500,000 a year and drives a Lamborghini. Is that true?
David: [00:27:56] No. Yeah, no. I mean, I would like to say that a good estimate, like a monthly estimate of a salary is probably anywhere between like $10,000 and $13,000 monthly. That’s probably a little bit generous. But you got to remember all those tax benefits. So it’s not like you’re having that like you would if you were making that monthly in the States. You know, it’s not, you don’t take a third of that away every month as money that’s out the door. You’re actually taking most of that, if not all that home. We’re in, I mean, a little bit of I think a rocky place right now, a slippery slope with what the economy looks like in Dubai at the moment. So maybe it’s a little bit different now this year and next year, but I think overall, of course, that trend will go back up, and then the happy days will continue again. I think that’s probably an acceptable reasonable assumption on income. The difference is just gonna be whether you’re gonna get that as a straight salary or whether you’re gonna get that in some type of a scheme of 35 percent of collections or production.
David: [00:28:50] I mean, they do it very similar here that they do it in the U.S. Actually dentistry is almost very, very similar to the U.S. Otherwise I would have a hard time working here. So lots of dentists, but not very many hunky Americans like myself. So that does help me quite a bit. But lots of American-trained in this, oddly enough, from all all over the country really. And it’s not super hard to come and practice here. It does require you to sit an exam prometric exam that you can take still in the U.S. But 100 question, multiple choice questions. But you know, if anyone’s interested, they can they can reach out to me on my web site, which I think you’ll link in the description. There’s an info page there, and I can help guide you maybe if that was ever something you were interested in.
Advice for practicing in the Middle East
Travis: [00:29:32] Yeah, we can link to that in the show notes for sure. With the declining oil prices in Dubai, would you say that there are tough times ahead? Or do you think that this is, you said, it’s temporary. Do you think that a dentist graduating now could come over and work in the Middle East without too much trouble? Or what would your advice be for that person?
David: [00:29:51] You know what, America is good right now. Like you’ve said on kind of multiple occasions. I mean, we’ve even had this conversation, you know, it seemed like we’re ready for a correction. So I’m sure there might be troubled water ahead, but as far as this region is concerned, it’s not as fragile as I think as people assume it is by watching Fox News and CNN. Really super safe, pretty economically safe. After seven years of being here, I can tell you that it’s pretty steady Eddie. It has been declining over the past two years a little bit just in the flow of patients I’ve seen, amount of money that they’re spending. I do lots of smile designs and engineer cases, and so you know, I do see a little bit less and less of that. But overall I’ve just had a few friends leave.
David: [00:30:31] So there definitely has been a little bit of a diaspora away from Dubai at the current moment. That’s not to say that Expo 2020 is coming up, which they’ve really promoted. And if you’re not familiar with it, just like how they had the expo and several of the American cities, you know, I guess from the ’50s all the way up to ‘000s. Dubai has just made it into a real big deal trying to get investment into the city and people to stay and come here. So I think leading up to that maybe even a little bit after that it still will be a decent time here. And I guess it’s really hard to say depending on the politics of the region, which of course can be somewhat uncertain. I don’t think it’s ever necessarily a bad time. But I mean, I certainly, unless you really want to travel and you’re okay with maybe a little misstep and a little bit of bump and you know you have to be OK being a little bit uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone. And maybe having to be a little bit of a risk taker, you know, because you know, you might get into a situation where you come, you get a good job and then you don’t like it. Or you want to try and get more. I mean, I have made three lateral moves in Dubai, so I have three different jobs and three different offices. So it is doable.
David: [00:31:34] What I would recommend to any dentist that really does want to come out here is make sure you have a portfolio. If you take a look at my web site, you can see all the different types of dentistry I do. I have a photo studio and these things really help when you ask for jobs or you send your CV. And you say, hey, take a look at my portfolio. Look at this number 89. Look at this, at this composite I didn’t post to you. I mean it really helps the H.R. people out here or anywhere even in the U.S. say, oh, well, this guy’s talented. We need him. So yeah, I mean, I still think there’s opportunity here.
Travis: [00:32:04] How many patients do you have in a week compared to what you’d have in the United States?
David: [00:32:09] Well, that’s a that’s kind of a loaded question. At the moment, I’m working at a really wonderful startup, but it’s a startup. I’ve been there two years, and we’re still kind of slowly increasing, you know. We had a 300 percent year over year growth, but you know, we weren’t seeing very many patients. And now I think one of my my busier days might be five, six, eight patients. When I was in the U.S. In that very very first practice that I mentioned to you, I would easily see that many patients but then also see five, six, seven hygiene patients. So it would actually be double. But my dentistry and my style of dentistry, the kind of dentist I am, really I’ve never been in a, I guess, a circumstance where I’m seeing 15, 20, 18 patients because I do very productive procedures on less patients. So, 80-20, if anyone’s familiar with 80-20. Really 80 percent of your income comes from 20 percent of your patients. So I do a lot in a little bit of time — I’m sorry, a lot on a few patients versus doing a bunch of stuff on a lot of patients.
Travis: [00:33:05] That make sense. So when you come back to the States, what is your plan on that? When do you think you want to come back? What kind of career do you think you want to have in the States now that you’ve had this amazing career abroad?
Moving back to the US
David: [00:33:17] I really honed some very particular skills here. But I’ve also kind of gotten rusty on other, so I would like to really incorporate some of the things that I really enjoyed in my practice in the U.S. and do that again. Implant placement surgery. I see myself probably actively looking for an opportunity. I’d like to purchase an office and I have started picking at some locations. Oddly enough, I did look at some of the locations on your 12 or 11 small cities. Some of the states that I chose were part of your state, so it’s good enough research.
David: [00:33:48] So yeah, I’m actively looking in my timeframe. You know, it really depends on what happens. But I’d like to get back probably by, I would hopefully say you know maybe the first second quarter of 2020. But yeah, I’m actively looking for opportunities for that office, that value added office that has a lot of growth potential and has an exiting doctor, whatever the circumstance may be whether it’s distressed or maybe it’s just they’re looking to get out or or maybe none of the above. Maybe it’s just a fantastic office, but it has a lot of growth potential because they haven’t been marketing, and they have a lot of procedures that they don’t do that I do.
Travis: [00:34:21] Yeah, I mean, the the marketing opportunities are endless. You know, you could make the website DubaiDave.com and put a picture of Tom Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa and say, you know you want to smile like this? You know, get implants from the dentist that crafted the smiles of the sultan. I’m just kidding.
David: [00:34:40] You know, for a very long time, I had thought, I’ve been approached, I have some very good friends out here that lecture internationally. Some extremely good dentists, two or three that are just, I mean, I really admire them. And they have approached me and asked me if I wanted to do my own thing here with them. And to be honest, you can, I have some very successful friends that do it. The landscape is very much ever changing. It’s not like in the U.S. where you have the regulatory bodies are, it’s the same. And it doesn’t change. Here things tend to change because you know, you remember this country’s only I think 49 years old. I might have misspoke. And so it’s very young and things are still progressing. And you know they’re trying to emulate best practices of the U.S., and they’re very close. But since those things are so changing, I decided that especially with the new family, the best place for me is to be closer to family back home at some point, which I knew was going to happen. I just didn’t think it would be seven years.
Travis: [00:35:26] Yeah, seriously. So you know, with your $300,000 of debt approximately, so say you move back home. You make like $250K. Let’s maybe talk about your thoughts about when you would do certain actions in terms of you know getting off of REPAYE. When you would refinance, if you would refinance. That kind of thing. What are your thoughts on that?
David: [00:35:45] So, in the circumstance that you just gave with about $250k, I would actually be probably okay with moving forward with the earnest attempt at doing kind of what I’m doing now with my private loans and paying the the federal loans at about $5,000 a month or something along those lines. To pay them off in a three to five year timeframe. And I think a lot of it has to do with what kind of practice I buy and how much profit there is at the end of it. Because like, I’ve heard you speak on a few different podcasts, and I need, of course, seek your consultation and advice more so when those times arise. But I’d like to start maximizing and really putting some money away towards that retirement, 401(k) plans, you know. I have very little of that just because of the lifestyle that I’ve been living, which hasn’t been exorbitant. But I also haven’t really allocated those things appropriately, so I have a lot, I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do.
Refinancing with a foreign address
David: [00:36:32] So if the income I’m making allows me to, then I probably would like to do a combination of saving and then also attacking those loans and paying them back in a three to five year timeframe, depending on how aggressive I can be at the payments. So I’ve been making $5,000 a month payments currently. So this $120,000 consolidated loan that I actually refinanced with one of your links through Laurel Road, who actually has been fantastic, and I’ve already made, I don’t know, 10, 12 payments, so I’ll have paid off that entire $120,000 in a little under two years by October of this year. Assuming that I’m still here, and the transitions haven’t happened that quickly. So then I’ll give myself a little bit of time to get an office and make things happen and then probably just do those REPAYE, very low payments for a few months until I’m really feeling like I’m making some money. And however long it takes. And then once I, once I have that kind of momentum and I have an income that can warrant paying those down, then yeah, I’d like to get back to five, and if I can afford, maybe even, maybe even more accelerated.
Travis: [00:37:34] Did you have any trouble refinancing with a foreign address?
David: [00:37:38] You know what? I had a real tough time with SoFi.
Travis: [00:37:43] Yeah.
David: [00:37:43] And oddly enough, I actually ended up writing a letter to the CEO because it was crazy. It was a joke how difficult they were with me. I gave them everything they wanted, but yeah, they wanted a W2. I was like, listen, I don’t I don’t live in America. I don’t get a W2. I said, you know, I can give you a pay stub, and that’s about it. And that wasn’t good enough for them.
David: [00:38:02] But Laurel Road was fantastic. I mean, very very minimal paperwork. They saw my income based on my tax return whatever, and they said, yeah, no problem, here’s your money. I mean literally, I had that money in a 24 to 48 hour time period, where I spoke with SoFi, I think maybe even Credible, God, it was like two weeks or something crazy. And I still couldn’t get an answer out of them when they finally denied it, which made no sense to me. So yeah, it was a little bit touch and go there for a moment, but Laurel road ended up being very good match.
Travis: [00:38:29] Yeah, I mean, I will say that in fairness your situation is a little bit unusual. But yeah, I mean, that just shows you why it’s important when you are refinancing to shop around. Don’t just look at one place. And realize that some of them might not be great to deal with for your particular situation. But you know, I do have people that use pretty much all the lenders on my site in certain situations, so they, and I would assume you’d only use that lender if you’re finding the best deal at that particular place. You know, I would say like try to shop at least three, kind of like you seem to have done. And obviously pick up the cash back bonus too. Or you know, the professional bonus for whatever is the best bonus you can get. You know, I think that the refinancing though obviously only makes sense if that’s the right thing to do. So if you’d had that 6, 10 kind of level of debt from a Tufts grad in 2023, then certainly refinancing would probably be a toxic financial decision.
Travis: [00:39:22] To talk a little bit about the idea of like living abroad versus, you know, living in the U.S. somewhere, I do think that your path is a much better path for someone seeking adventure or exciting path. Although if you go get an associate job somewhere and you buy a dental practice within a year or two of graduating, then you’ll be comparing your career point at this time. You’d be most of the way to paying off that dental practice, and that’s when dentistry gets really exciting is when you no longer have a practice load. But what I think is cool is like your path shows options, right David? Like you know, you don’t have to do any one path or a particular thing. And I think that one smart decision you made is I do think that what you did moving to Dubai was a way smarter decision than being an associate in New York. Maybe you can talk to that.
David: [00:40:13] Yeah, I mean, I was just having a tough time. I mean, it’s a dog eat dog world, and I’m sure there’s probably listeners from your podcast that are in New York and doing the grind. And listen, I know it’s oftentimes, New York is the only place I’d like to live. The best thing. Well, I loved it. I love New York, and you know what? If at some point I go make $10,000,000 and have no issues and I’d live there again. But until that time, it’s kind of like San Francisco. You know, I mean, you got to kind of pick and choose your battles, and at the time it was tough. I was single, which was nice. I didn’t have to look after anybody. But certainly even with the family, I mean, my goodness, you know. And that was what, seven, eight years ago. So now, I mean I can only amortize it out and assume that it’s much harder to live. So yeah, I mean, at the time, it seemed just like serendipity. Everything happens for a reason. So yeah I mean at the time it seemed just like serendipity everything happens for a reason most of the people that are already in relationships and have many children that I’ve heard be very very happy and make a lot of money is moving to these very small random towns.
More money in smaller towns
Travis: [00:40:55] Most of the people that are already in relationships and have many children that I’ve heard be very, very happy and make a lot of money is moving to these very small random towns. Howard Farran, Dr. Farran — a dental town, is one of the people who likes to harp on this the most. Like my favorite sayings of his is, he’s like, you know, all these kids, like they want to go sit in a concrete cinder block in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and have the Navy pay for their stupid debt, but they won’t move to rural Iowa where there’s Netflix and McDonald’s. And you know, you could sit and you know, just watch TV all day, and then work and make ten times the money. This is crazy.
David: [00:41:29] Yeah.
Travis: [00:41:31] I think there is something to be said for that because I had a client who was producing $2,000,000 of dentistry working in Iowa. She was one year out of dental school, and she was —.
David: [00:41:42] Wow.
Travis: [00:41:42] — she was producing that amount of money. And you know, your listeners that are like, oh, this is total baloney. This is, no way that’s true. It was true because she showed me the financials of the practice. She was an associate, but she was the only person there. And this town was the middle of nowhere, like the absolute middle of — This is the kind of place that if the zombie apocalypse happened, like, the zombies wouldn’t have shown up there.
David: [00:42:03] They would’ve been safe.
Travis: [00:42:05] Yeah. If you do want to make a ton of money, and you already are in a relationship because obviously, you know, dating in a town of 5,000 people is probably going to be kind of tough.
David: [00:42:13] Yeah.
Travis: [00:42:13] You know, maybe if you’d flown Jodi out to that 5,000 person town in rural Iowa, you know —.
David: [00:42:19] Yeah, not gonna happen.
Travis: [00:42:20] I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know if that one-week proposal would’ve worked.
David: [00:42:25] I do think after kind of having done, you know — I’ve been doing three or four months of research, maybe even longer. I do think there is a happy medium, you know. For instance, I was just looking at some places in Spokane, Washington. Right outside of Spokane, Washington is a town called Pullman where Washington State University is. And right outside of that is a town called Colfax, and this kind of smaller general group is selling two of their offices there. Probably great buys, to be honest. And then you know, actually if you go just a little bit farther away, maybe an hour, you’re in a town called Moscow, Idaho, right? And a lot of these towns, maybe you’re only an hour outside of quote unquote cooler town. Or even that cooler town, I think there are a lot of opportunities. And these are the kind of places that I’m looking at. My wife is from a very small town called Hamilton, Montana where there was literally one stoplight. So you know, I do have the positive that she’s willing to go into that kind of an environment. But I’ve lived in only big mega cities. So I’m the one that actually would need to be okay with it because you know, I lived in San Francisco and New York, Boston, Dubai, you know, Miami, Jackson. I mean, I’ve only lived in coastal huge cities. So for me, it really would have to be something that I have to prepare myself for, I think.
Travis: [00:43:30] I was wondering if you were going to include Jacksonville on that list of global cities.
David: [00:43:35] Yeah well, I guess it’s not really all that global, but you know, they have the Jaguars. You know, it’s actually the largest city in square footage in the U.S.
Travis: [00:43:42] They have an NFL football team from Britain, you know, that plays there a couple times a year. But —
David: [00:43:48] That’s right.
Travis: [00:43:48] So one of the things I really wanted people to hear, David, is that living abroad with a bunch of student loan debt is possible. And not only is it possible, but you can use this for an income tax exclusion and pay as little as zero dollars a month on your student loans, which is almost the same thing as you being free from your debt, at least while you’re working abroad.
David: [00:44:07] Into that point, after seven years here, I do have one regret: I didn’t get serious about my loans until I had a kid. If I could do it over again, I would have spoken to somebody like you when I moved out here seven years ago because I had, I had money to burn. I mean, I was getting bottles in nightclubs. Maybe not every week, but I was spending a lot of money. So had I had the wherewithal to consult with somebody like you and think a little bit harder about how I could have kind of started to chip away at those loans. I could have probably been putting $2,000 towards my loans, and not only have gotten rid of most of them, maybe all of them in the seven years I’ve been here. So I do think that you can do both. I didn’t do both until last year, but had I started when I moved here, I’d be debt free already. For sure.
Travis: [00:44:49] Yeah, maybe that’s how I should market myself, you know. For the price of one one bottle of Captain Morgan Rum in Dubai, you know, you can get a student loan plan.
David: [00:44:57] One, oh my God, you can’t even get a round of drinks of regular beer for your — Well, for your fee actually, for the newest lowest guy on your totem pole, that’s what it costs. Four drinks is about his fee.
Travis: [00:45:08] Oh man. Yeah, I will say, you know, I was a little, I was little cheaper back in the day. I was like bottom shelf, and now a little more expensive.
David: [00:45:16] Now you’re the premium package. I can’t afford you anymore. Oh, my debts not so much anymore, so I guess I should be grateful.
David’s advice for those who want to work abroad
Travis: [00:45:21] Yeah, exactly. That’s the goal. So for that person listening who’s in dental school or a recent dental grad or maybe you know, even just somebody that isn’t even a dentist, just would like love the idea to work abroad, you know: any tips or advice you have for that person?
David: [00:45:34] Just do it. You know, listen, there’s no day like today. I had an opportunity, and I just took it. I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t think, oh, am I going to not like it? Am I going to miss it? I’ve always just done. Some things I’ve been a little bit kind of bullheaded about, but I just did it. I bought a plane ticket, and you know what? It’s great. What a great journey. And I’m so happy I did it. So of course, do your due diligence, you know. I mean, look into things. Make sure you don’t end up in some sprawling town outside of Afghanistan. You know, make sure that it’s someplace that you would live, right. But outside of that, just seize the opportunity if you have one, and do it because life is short.
Travis: [00:46:11] Thank you so much for being on the show, David. Great to have you on.
David: [00:46:13] Thank you. You’re welcome.
Travis: [00:46:17] Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you know that you need a custom student loan plan, you can schedule one today at StudentLoanPlanner.com forward slash book. You can find the show notes for today’s episode at StudentLoanPlanner.com forward slash the number of the episode. And finally, if you liked the podcast, leave us a review or share it with someone who owes more than you. Have a great week.