Student loan debt among physical therapists in the US

How much is the average student loan debt for physical therapists? How many physical therapists graduate with student debt? We'll answer these questions and more in this post.
The Highway Team
The Highway Team
Updated
Published
January 31, 2024

Post Summary

  • On average, physical therapists graduate with around $142,489 in total student debt, ~80% of which is attributable to PT-specific education.
  • Depending on the types of loans, it can take a physical therapy borrower anywhere from 7-30 years to pay back all their student loans.
  • PTs might pay off their student loans faster including pursuing available loan forgiveness options, prepaying their loan principal, or working for an employer that offers extra student loan repayment as a benefit.   
  • Employers offering this benefit can contribute up to $5,250 tax-free annually to each therapist’s student loans. These contributions help physical therapists save thousands of dollars in principal & interest payments and, when made on top of employee payments and applied towards loan principal, can help them pay off their loans faster.  

How much is the average student loan debt for physical therapists? How many physical therapists graduate with student debt? How long do physical therapists spend paying back their student loans? How can they pay off their loans more quickly? How would an employer student loan repayments benefit help? We'll dive into all this and more below.

How much student loan debt do physical therapists have?

On average, physical therapists graduate with around $142,489 in total student debt, ~80% of which is attributable to PT-specific education. 

On average, physical therapists graduate with around $142,489 in total student debt, ~80% of which is attributable to PT-specific education.

In 2020, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) found that recently minted Physical Therapists with student debt owed an average of $142,489 upon graduation.

According to a 2021 study by Jonathan Berry PT, DPT, PhD (published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Education), Physical Therapists who had attended public institutions owed an average total student loan balance of $103,482 and those who had attended private institutions owed $138,361 upon graduation.

Both studies found that ~80% of the balance owed was due to debt taken out for the Physical Therapist education and degrees specifically. Berry’s study found that the average amount of loans taken out for a DPT program in 2019 were $83,087  and $112,207 for public and private programs respectively. The APTA found a similar ratio, estimated the average student debt amount owed for PT-specific education was $116,183.

How many physical therapists have student debt? 

Surprisingly, the vast majority of physical therapists have student debt. According to both the 2020 and 2021 study, ~90-91% of physical therapists graduate with some amount of student debt! 

~90-91% of physical therapists graduate with some amount of student debt

How long does it take a physical therapist to pay back student loans?

Depending on the types of loans, it can take a physical therapy borrower anywhere from 7-30 years to pay back all their student loans.

Physical therapists with federal loans have the option of paying back their loans on a standard, graduated, or extended repayment plan. With standard and graduated term repayment plans, they’ll pay off an individual loan within 10 years. Extended repayment plans have a repayment term of 25 years. Those on an IDR may pay their loans off within 20-25 years.   

Physical therapists with private loans could have a payback period between 7-10 years long, although some private student loan services may allow for an extended repayment period of up to 30 years. 

Of course, this assumes a borrower is able to make continuous payments on their student loans. Periods of forbearance or deferment could stretch this payback period out longer.    

How can physical therapists pay off their student loans faster?

There are a few ways PTs might pay off their student loans faster including pursuing available loan forgiveness options, prepaying their loan principal, or working for an employer that offers extra student loan repayment as a benefit.   

Loan forgiveness programs

There are a few loan forgiveness options available to Physical Therapists with federal loans who are hoping to shorten their overall repayment time. Two popular options are Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and forgiveness via income-driven repayment plans. 

Physical Therapists who work for qualifying employers, such as the government, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, or other qualifying nonprofits, for 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments on their student loan, can take advantage of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. One of the major benefits of PSLF is that borrowers will not owe taxes on any balance forgiven at the end of the repayment period.

PTs who don’t qualify for PSLF may still see some of their loans forgiven at the end of their repayment period if they’re on an income-driven repayment plan. However, in this case, PTs should be aware that they will owe taxes on any amount forgiven at the end of their repayment term.

Pay more than the minimum monthly payment 

Borrowers with private loans or borrowers with federal student loans who don’t qualify for income-driven repayment or forgiveness programs, may consider paying more than their minimum monthly payment each month and ensure the extra payments go towards the loan principal. Extra payments applied directly to the loan principal help reduce the balance on which interest accrues, not only helping borrowers pay down loans faster, but also saving them money in extra interest over time. 

(Check out Highway’s student loan pay off calculator to see how much time and money extra payments could save). 

Student loan repayment benefits

One last option for physical therapists to quickly repay their student loans, is to work for an employer that offers tax-free student loan repayments as a benefit.  Employers offering this benefit can contribute up to $5,250 tax-free annually to each therapist’s student loans. These contributions help physical therapists save thousands of dollars in principal & interest payments and, when made on top of employee payments and applied towards loan principal, can help them pay off their loans faster.  

An employer student loan repayment benefit is a powerful, prescriptive tool that physical therapy clinics, practices, and networks can leverage to attract and retain top talent, while simultaneously tackling one of the biggest sources of financial stress for therapists’ with student debt.


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Interested in learning more about employer student loan repayment benefits? Speak with a member of our team today.

The Highway Team

The Highway Team is on a mission to spread knowledge about student loans, the state of the student debt crisis, and impactful benefits like employer student loan repayments. We're here as a helpful resources so drop us a line anytime. Find us on all the major channels as @highwaybenefits

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