Industry Expertise · July 20, 2020

Supporting Your Staff With Their Vet School Cost Shows You Care

Higher education is expensive, and for those who hope to work with animals, vet school cost is particularly high. Students often accrue large amounts of debt during their schooling, which can make their first few years after graduation a difficult time. Total vet school debt amounts of around $150,000 are common, while some students leave with as much as $400,000 in debt.

As an owner or operator of a vet clinic, it's important to learn about employer-provided student debt assistance. Then you can create strategies to help your employees manage their vet school costs and debt—and by showing them you care about their financial well-being, you can boost employee happiness and retention.

Debt assistance programs

Student debt assistance programs for veterinarians come in various forms, including loan forgiveness programs and income-driven loan repayment plans.

Loan forgiveness programs eliminate some or all of a student's loan. So this means their loan payments will either shrink or disappear. Generally, to be eligible for these, you need to be doing qualified public service work, which includes working for a nonprofit. If your clinic has nonprofit status, your employees may be eligible for this benefit.

Income-driven repayment operates differently. These programs create loan repayment terms based on the student's income and family size.

While average salaries for veterinarians hover around $90,000 to $100,000, it may take a while for new vets to build up that earning power. This lower income, combined with a high average student loan debt from veterinary school, could qualify new veterinarians for an income-driven repayment program.

Two popular federal income-driven loan repayment programs that could help the veterinarians in your clinic include the Pay As You Earn program as well as the Revised Pay As You Earn program.

Educate your staff about these initiatives so they know what's available. Consider pairing them with a financial advisor in your area to help them evaluate their options and choose the right path for them. Also, think about organizing webinars or lunch-and-learn events with financial professionals to promote ongoing employee education.

Options for small vet clinics

If you operate a smaller vet clinic but still want to help your employees manage their student debt, look into programs they can apply for as individuals, such as regional or state incentives for veterinarians.

Does your state offer a loan forgiveness program that could help alleviate some of your staff's vet school cost? Like the federal loan forgiveness programs, state or regional programs mean qualified applicants wouldn't have to repay the money they borrowed to attend vet college.

Some states offer loan forgiveness for graduates who meet specific requirements. Keep in mind that these programs could be restricted to graduates of state college programs or those who work within specific state regions. They could also depend on the type of veterinary service provided, such as large-animal practices only.

Another option is the USDA Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, or VLMRP. Under the VLMRP, approved applicants receive $25,000 per year to help repay their vet school costs. In return, they commit to a 3-year term practicing in an area with a veterinary shortage. However, it's important to note that this repayment assistance is taxable.

Other ways to support employees

Not all new graduates might need or qualify for federal or state veterinary student loan debt assistance programs. However, they may still be able to refinance their current loans in a way that better suits their budget.

As an employer, reach out to your bank to ask about possible refinance programs available to your staff. Depending on their credit history and debt-to-income ratios, your lender might be able to help.

You can also look into setting up a benefits program where you actually match a percentage of your employees' monthly payments toward their student loans. You could choose a percentage that's appropriate for your business—even 10% or 20% could be a huge help for your team members. Some companies also set a cap on total monthly contributions—for example, you might match 15% of your employee's student loan payments with a maximum monthly contribution of $150.

Show your veterinary team employees that you're invested in their financial well-being by supporting their student debt management. This helps them understand that you value them as individuals and not just workers. Showing this level of empathy and investment can improve employee engagement, satisfaction and retention by fostering a positive workplace culture and trust in you as an employer.


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