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August 14, 2020  | Updated: July 19, 2021

Category: Medical Careers, Nurses


  • Nurses often graduate with a massive amount of debt
  • Important to plan out a payment strategy
  • Consolidate all debts for one easy payment

Nurses are constantly lauded as heroes during the global health crisis—a label that belies the struggles they face both in and out of the hospital.

More light is being shed on the mental health issues that nurses are facing today, with many of them experiencing severe bouts of depression, burnout, and fear as a result of fighting on the front lines.

These are patterns we’re seeing with nurses all over the world, but when it comes to the United States a lot of nurses are struggling with another invisible monster: debt.

It looks like this health crisis isn’t letting up any time soon, which means that we have to look after our nurses in order to help them to look after us. Unfortunately, their struggle with debt is often brushed aside or disregarded entirely. Here is a quick look into the current financial state of nurses, as well as some ways that nurses can overcome their debt.

The financial state of nurses:

It takes a lot of education to become a health care professional, so it’s no surprise that student debt remains high among nurses and other medical professionals alike. A report by NBC News estimates the average student debt for nurses is around $40,000 to $50,000. Lakeshia Hardy, a North Carolina-based nurse, still has more than $60,000 in debt, which she pays off monthly in $800 increments. There are programs to help federal employees (including nurses and doctors) ease their student debt, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program which was established in 2007. However, the program is largely considered to be too mired in paperwork and confusing rules to actually be of any help.

The issues surrounding the cost of education spell trouble for the nursing profession in general, as it can end up dissuading those from low-income or under-represented groups to pursue this career path. But those who are able to get the adequate education and training aren’t necessarily better off, as they’re now risking their lives on a daily basis while still having to manage the financial burden of paying off their debt.

How nurses can overcome debt:

We’re only just starting to see the cracks in our health care system, which means any institutional changes have a long way to go. The problem is that this issue needs to be dealt with now and waiting for these changes to come isn’t an option for nurses who are struggling with debt.

Here are a few ways that nurses can overcome their debt or at least make it more manageable.

Figure out your preferred payment strategy early on:

There is plenty of advice when it comes to paying off your debt, but at the end of the day you’ll need to find the strategy that works best for you. As a general rule, you can either choose to start off by paying debts with the highest rate and work your way down, or do the opposite by starting small and then working your way up. Chances are that even by simply reading this you’ve found yourself gravitating toward a particular strategy.

Make small payments when you can:

Monthly payments help you keep track of your budgeting goals, but it’s important to remember that you’re not stuck to that schedule. If you find yourself with extra money or a bonus from work, put that directly toward paying off your debt. Even if you don’t get a bonus, you’re bound to have a month or two where you end up having more savings than you expect, so these can go into paying off your debt as well. These small steps add up over time, and also help you feel more proactive toward tackling this seemingly insurmountable problem.

Consolidate your debt:

If you’ve taken out multiple loans, dealing with several monthly payments at varying interest rates can be a headache. To make things easier, consider taking out a personal loan to consolidate your debt. This way, you’ll have fewer interest rates to pay and less monthly payments to think about. If you have a good credit score, you might qualify for even lower interest rates, which can be discussed with your chosen bank. In the long run, this will save you money while also making it easier for you to set your budget according to just one lump sum that you’re working to pay off.

Save your credit as much as possible:

Credit cards are a convenient way to pay for your expenses, but holding off from spending your credit can work to your advantage. By underutilizing your credit and going way beyond what you are allowed to spend, your credit score improves. This makes you more trustworthy to banks, which in turn makes it easier for you to ask for lower interest rates or more flexible payment schedules. Of course, it’s also just a good rule of thumb to live beneath your means as a way to save money.

Apply for government aid:

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is not the only avenue that’s available to you. Nurses who work in communities with critical needs are eligible to apply for the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment program, which can pay up to 60 percent of outstanding student debt loans. Some states also offer repayment assistance programs, so it’s worth looking into both federal and local options that are available. Although some loan programs have application deadlines you might have missed, keep a running list of them so that you can apply during the next cycle.

Nurses are a lot of things at once: caregivers, medical professionals, sources of support, and emergency responders. These varied roles are what make nursing such a rewarding field, but unfortunately the threat of long-time debt dissuades many from choosing this route. Understanding the problem of nursing debt is crucial to creating institutional change that solves this problem, but it’s also important that nurses know the concrete steps they can start taking today to help manage their debt.

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Article prepared by: Chloe Anders, Exclusively for