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Student Loans

Best Dental School Loans

Updated Sep 21, 2023   |   12-min read

Dentistry can be a terrific, rewarding career path … but the education required to become a dentist is not cheap. The average student loan debt for dental school graduates in 2020 was $304,824, according to the American Student Dental Association. This includes federal and private student loans.

All students, including dental students, should maximize their available federal student loans before turning to private student loans because compared to private loans, federal loans offer a variety of added loan protections and features.

This guide will help you compare dental school loans as well as give you some tips on finding the best options for you.

In this guide:

Best dental school loans

When shopping for the best dental school loans, it’s important to look for funding options that meet your specific needs. You may want federal student loans so you have access to income-driven repayment. But if you reach your federal loan limits, you may need private loans to cover the remainder of your tuition expenses.

The chart below can help you compare various federal and private student loan options.

Loan/companyRates (APR)Repayment terms
Direct Unsubsidized Loan*6.54%10 to 25 years
Grad PLUS Loan*6.28%10 to 25 years
HRSA Student Loan*Not disclosedNot disclosed
College Ave Dental Loan1.99%11.46%5, 8, 10, 15, or 20 years
Earnest Graduate Loan0.94%10.99%5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
Sallie Mae Dental Loan2.62%11.98%Up to 20 years
Ascent Dental Loan1.78%14.96%7, 10, 12, 15, or 20 years

*This is a federal student loan

Federal student loans for dental school

It bears repeating: You should always take out federal student loans from the Department of Education before obtaining any private student loans. Federal loans have low fixed interest rates and provide much more flexibility in terms of deferment and forbearance options and repayment plans, and even offer the opportunity for loan forgiveness.

There are three different types of federal loans you may be able to borrow for dental school. Some offer better terms and features than others. Here’s a look at which federal loans to consider and in which order.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both undergraduates and graduate/professional students, regardless of financial need. The amount available to borrow is determined based on your school’s certified cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you are eligible to receive. There are also annual and lifetime maximums to be aware of.

Here are some of the key features of Direct Unsubsidized Loans:

  • Independent graduate or professional students can borrow a maximum of $20,500 per year.
  • In total, they can borrow up to $138,500 in combined Subsidized and Unsubsidized federal student loans.
  • The current interest rate on Direct Unsubsidized Loans for graduate and professional students is 6.54%.
  • Current loan fees are 1.057% for Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • You won’t have to begin repayment until six months after you graduate, withdraw from school, or your enrollment drops to below half-time.

Federal Grad PLUS loans

Federal PLUS Loans for graduate and professional students are direct loans made to the student (rather than a parent). Even though these loans are federal, they are not subsidized. This means that they will accrue interest charges while you are in school, which will increase your total out-of-pocket costs.

These loans are available to graduate students who do not have an adverse credit history. You must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school.

Some of the key things to know about Grad PLUS Loans include the following:

  • The maximum PLUS loan amount you can borrow is the school-certified cost of attendance as determined by your school minus any other financial aid available to you.
  • The current fixed interest rate on Direct PLUS Loans is 6.28%.
  • The current loan fee is 4.228%.
  • You won’t have to start making payments until six months after you graduate, withdraw from school or drop below half-time enrollment.

HRSA loans

These loans come from the Health Resources & Services Administration. HRSA offers two different kinds of loans that could be used to pay for dental school:

  • Loans for Disadvantaged Students
  • Health Professions Student Loans

Both of these loans are low-interest loans available to students from a disadvantaged or low-income background who are enrolled at least half-time in a qualifying dentistry program. These loans are offered by schools, and the eligibility requirements vary.

Best private dental school loans

If you’ve exhausted federal student loan options, private student lenders can provide additional funding.

While you won’t get the same protections and benefits federal loans provide and will likely pay higher interest rates, these loans can still make it possible to get the degree you need to start your dentistry career. You will need a good credit score or a creditworthy cosigner to be eligible for most of these loans.

College Ave

Editorial Selection: Best Overall

  • Choose between 20 different repayment schedules
  • Payments are deferred during residency
  • 12-month grace period

College Ave is an online lender that specializes in providing student loans. The College Ave Dental School Loan was designed specifically for students enrolled in a DDS or DMD program. Here is some important information to know about this loan:

  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.99%11.46%
  • Variable rates (APR): 1.99%10.45%
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – $150,000
  • Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, 15, or 20 years
  • In-school repayment options: Deferment, full principal and interest payment, interest-only payment, or flat payment
  • Grace period: 12 months
  • Cosigner release: Eligible after half of the repayment term is completed

What stands out about College Ave’s dental school loan

College Ave has a dental-specific private loan option, with competitive interest rates and a wide variety of repayment terms. It also offers a longer grace period than many other private lenders, giving dental students more time before they have to start repaying their debt.

Who’s eligible for College Ave’s dental school loan

College Ave loans are available to students enrolled in a DDS or DMD program at an eligible school. While College Ave does not disclose a minimum FICO credit score requirement, creditworthy borrowers will be able to take out up to 100% of their educational costs.

International students are also eligible for College Ave loans as long as they have a valid U.S. social security number and a cosigner.


Editorial Selection: Best for Skipping a Payment

  • Skip a payment once per year, if needed
  • No fees
  • Check your rate without impacting your credit

Earnest is an online lender offering student loans and personal loans to those in need of financing. Earnest’s graduate student loan can be used to cover dental school costs. Here are some of the key things to know about an Earnest loan:

  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.24%10.99%
  • Variable rates (APR): 0.94%9.89%
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
  • In-school repayment options: Deferment (availability depends on your home state), interest-only payments, $25 monthly payments, or full payments
  • Grace period: 9 months
  • Cosigner release: None

What stands out about Earnest’s dental school loan

Cosigners are not required for dental school borrowers, as long as the student meets the eligibility requirements on their own. However, many borrowers will still need (or want) to add a cosigner in order to access the best possible loan terms.

There is no option for cosigner release, so you will have to refinance your loan(s) if you ever want to remove your cosigner’s obligation to your debt.

Who’s eligible for Earnest’s dental school loan

Students attending an eligible institution in all states except Nevada can apply for a private loan through Earnest. Either the student or their cosigner must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and cosigners are required to have a FICO score of 650 as well as an annual income of at least $35,000.

Sallie Mae

Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners

  • Cosigner release is available after 12 on-time payments
  • Defer payments for 48 months during your residency and fellowship
  • Offers a Dental Residency and Relocation Loan that can cover travel and relocation costs

Sallie Mae is one of the biggest private student lenders in the country. It offers dental school loans to students of all dental specialties with no borrowing maximum.

Here are the key features of Sallie Mae dental school loans:

  • Fixed rates (APR): 4.75%11.98%
  • Variable rates (APR): 2.62%11.98%
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – 100% of education-related expenses (with no aggregate limit)
  • Repayment terms: Up to 20 years
  • In-school repayment options: Full deferment, $25 monthly payments, interest-only repayment
  • Cosigner release: After 12 months of consecutive, on-time payments

What stands out about Sallie Mae’s dental school loan

Sallie Mae loans are available to dental school students in all 50 states. They can be used to cover up to 100% of students’ educational expenses with no aggregate limit for all years of dental school. You can borrow up to $300,000 for dental residency programs and relocation travel expenses. Cosigners, while often required, can be released after just 12 months of timely payments.

Who’s eligible for Sallie Mae’s dental school loan

Student borrowers can be enrolled less than half-time and still qualify for Sallie Mae dental school loans. This lender doesn’t specify a minimum FICO credit score requirement, but borrowers will need to be creditworthy U.S. citizens or permanent residents (or apply with a creditworthy co-borrower who is).


Editorial Selection: Best for Eligibility

  • Get a 1% cash back reward after graduating
  • No application or origination fees
  • Check your rate without impacting your credit

Ascent is an online lender that offers student loans for undergraduates and graduates. The Ascent Dental Student Loan is available to graduate students for dental school. Here are some key points to know about this loan:

  • Fixed rates (APR): 5.19%14.96%
  • Variable rates (APR): 1.78%11.12%
  • Loan amounts: $2,001 – $400,000
  • Repayment terms: 7, 10, 12, 15, or 20 years
  • In-school repayment options: Interest-only payments, $25 monthly payments, or full deferment
  • Grace period: 12 months

What stands out about Ascent’s dental school loan

Ascent offers a 1% cash back reward for student borrowers, paid out at the time of graduation. It also offers outcomes-based loans to students who can’t (or don’t want to) add a qualified co-borrower to their debt. These loans take into account other factors for eligibility, such as GPA and graduation date.

Who’s eligible for Ascent’s dental school loan

Loans are available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as DACA status students and U.S. temporary residents (with a co-borrower). Cosigned borrowers need to be enrolled half-time or more at an eligible institution; outcomes-based (non-cosigned) borrowers will need to be enrolled in school full-time. Students and/or their co-borrowers must meet debt-to-income (DTI) requirements and have an annual income of at least $24,000.

How to get loans for dental school

If you need help paying for dental school, there are many loan options to consider. Both federal and private student loans can give you the funding you need to pay for tuition, fees, housing, books, labs, and even school supplies (like a new laptop).

Long before you start shopping around for loans, you’ll want to begin the qualification process.

  1. Fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, will take into account factors such as your household income when determining your aid eligibility. This form is the key to qualifying for federal student loans and must be submitted several months ahead of the school start date every year.
  2. Utilize federal loans first. After your scholarships, grants, college savings, and other funding options have been exhausted, you should start with the federal student loans available to you. The government will pay the accrued interest on your subsidized loans while you’re still in school, while unsubsidized loans will accrue interest that you’ll ultimately be required to pay.
  3. Consider private loan options. Once you’ve applied all other forms of financial aid and payment, you can begin shopping for a private student loan. These loans are generally very flexible but can cost borrowers more money in the end. They also don’t offer the same protections and features as federal loans.

Frequently asked questions about dental school loans

Which dental school loan is the best?

The best dental school loan is the one that offers you (and your cosigner, if applicable) the lowest possible interest rate, the best repayment terms, and a large enough loan to cover all of your necessary expenses. Federal loans are a wise place to start in your student loan search, as they offer a range of features and protections that private loans do not.

Do I need a cosigner for dental school loans?

By the time you reach dental school, you may have established a credit history and score that could qualify you for a student loan without a cosigner. However, as a full-time student, you probably won’t meet the income requirements, especially if you need to borrow a lot. For this reason, many students need a cosigner when taking out dental school loans.

Do dental school loans cover living expenses?

Most lenders allow dental students to borrow up to 100% of their school-certified educational expenses. Students opting for campus-sponsored housing can generally use any of their loans to pay for these living expenses; students with off-campus housing may be able to borrow private loans for these costs, but it will depend on the lender and their aggregate loan limit.

How much can I borrow with dental student loans?

Each lender sets its own dental student loan limits. With most private lenders—and even federal PLUS loans—students can borrow up to 100% of their educational expenses. Aggregate (total) loan limits may apply, depending on the lender.

When does repayment on dental school loans start?

Dental school loans typically have a grace period of six to 12 months. This means that you won’t need to start repaying your dental school debt until that period ends. If your loans are not federally subsidized, interest will continue to accrue during this grace period and can increase the overall cost of your educational debt. If your budget allows, it’s wise to make interest payments on your unsubsidized loans to minimize your debt when you must begin repayment.