Nurse practitioners (NP) are in high demand right now and have explosive job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for nurse practitioners is set to grow by 45% from 2020 to 2030. As of 2020, the median pay for nurse practitioners was $117,670 annually.
Although the career is promising, the six-figure average student loan debt for nurse practitioners is a worthwhile consideration.
Average student loan debt for nurse practitioners
Nurse practitioners can gain additional knowledge and experience and a boost in salary compared to registered nurses. However, that means more education and training costs.
Based on Student Loan Planner’s client data, the average student loan debt among nurse practitioners is $184,787. This offers a glimpse into the education loans that nurse practitioners might need. However, the cost of education in this field depends on numerous factors, like the specific nurse practitioner program and type of school.
Attending Oregon Health & Science University (OSHU) — which is a public college — in Portland, Oregon for a four-year degree in nursing has a median total debt of $16,625 after graduation.
By comparison, going to Samuel Merritt University — a private nonprofit college — in Oakland, CA for a four-year degree has a median total debt of $18,750 after graduation.
Educational requirements for nurse practitioners
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a process that requires intensive training and multiple levels of education. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), NPs must:
- Be a registered nurse (RN).
- Obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
- Get a graduate degree in nursing — either a master of science in nursing or doctorate degree in nursing.
- Pass the nurse practitioner board exam.
According to AANP, nurse practitioners have various classifications including:
- Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).
- Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).
- Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs).
- Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs).
Given this advanced knowledge, education requirements are more extensive for nurse practitioners compared to registered nurses, who might only need an Associate degree in nursing.
Nurse practitioner student loan repayment plans
Depending on your total student loan debt, you could owe as much in student loans as you earn annually as an NP. If you went to a private college or went out of state, your education costs may be higher.
To repay student debt from nursing school, you have many options if you have federal loans. Private loan repayment options are typically not as generous.
Standard Repayment Plan
Federal loan borrowers who want to pay the least amount in interest and ditch their debt fast can opt for the Standard Repayment Plan, which has a 10-year repayment term. According to AACN, 45% of respondents planned to repay under the Standard Repayment Plan.
Income-driven repayment (IDR)
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR).
- Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR).
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE).
- Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE).
The perks under these plans are twofold — you cap your monthly payments at 10% to 20% of your discretionary income. The remaining balance at the end of your repayment term is eligible for loan forgiveness.
Typically, REPAYE and PAYE are your best options. You can contact your loan servicer to see about eligibility requirements. As part of the process, you’ll need to recertify your income and family size each year and your payment may fluctuate based on that information.
Federal and state student loan forgiveness programs
If you work in the public sector, you can pursue student loan forgiveness through a variety of programs:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). After making 120 qualifying payments toward your federal nursing loans while working at an eligible government or nonprofit employer, you can be eligible for student loan forgiveness on your remaining student loan balance.
- Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. This is another nurse practitioner forgiveness option that offers 60% of your total outstanding, qualified loans after two years of service, and an additional 25% if you opt for an additional third year of service. Nurse practitioners must work in a critical shortage facility (CSF) or eligible nursing school. Find more information to apply here.
- State-based loan repayment programs. Some states offer loan repayment programs to healthcare professionals for a specific service commitment. For example, the California State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) requires health professionals to work in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). In exchange, participants receive $50,000 in loan repayment assistance for two years of full-time service. You can also choose to extend your service for additional student loan assistance. Find more information to apply here.
Student loan refinancing
NPs with private student loans that are ineligible for loan forgiveness but can potentially lower their interest rate through a student loan refinance. Student loan refinancing allows borrowers to apply for a new loan that pays off their existing loans, ideally with a more competitive rate.
Depending on the interest rate you qualify for based on your credit score, you could save thousands of dollars. If you have private loans already, refinancing presents minimal risk. However, if you have federal loans, be cautious refinancing means giving up federal benefits, like income-driven repayment, loan forgiveness, and more.
Nurse practitioners play a vital role in the healthcare ecosystem and can take advantage of many repayment programs and forgiveness options. The average student loan debt for nurse practitioners can vary by school and degree type, but regardless of the amount, there are many ways to deal with it.
If you need help with a student loan plan, book a consultation to get personalized help for your situation.