Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans

Best Dental School Loans

Dentistry can be a rewarding career path, but dental school is anything but cheap. In 2023, budding dentists carried just under $297,000 in average dental school debt, according to the American Dental Education Association.

You can minimize dental school debt by maximizing federal student loans first. If you need further funding, private student loans can help bridge the gap.

Use this guide to compare dental school loans, both federal and private. We’ll also share tips on how to prioritize each and find the best loan options for you.

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.

When you compare federal and private student loans, you’ll see that private loans won’t afford the same protections and benefits federal loans provide. You’ll likely pay higher interest rates, too.

That said, 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 private student loans.

Best overall: College Ave

LendEDU rating: 5 out of 5

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

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.

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.

Best for no fees: Earnest

LendEDU rating: 4.7 out of 5

  • Skip a payment once per year, if needed
  • 100% Rate Match Guarantee
  • Not available in Nevada

Earnest is a standout private student loan pick thanks to its fee-free lending. When you borrow from Earnest, you won’t pay origination fees, prepayment fees, or late fees.

To qualify for an Earnest student loan, either you or your cosigner must have a FICO score of 650, two months of savings, and an annual income of at least $35,000. Cosigners aren’t required, as long as you meet the eligibility requirements on your own.

However, many borrowers will still need (or want) to add a cosigner in order to access the best possible loan terms. Earnest doesn’t offer cosigner release, so you will have to refinance your loan(s) if you ever want to remove your cosigner’s obligation to your debt.

Best for cosigners: Sallie Mae

LendEDU rating: 4.8 out of 5

  • 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 offers dental school loans that are available to students of all dental specialties, in all 50 states. You can borrow up to 100% of your cost of attendance during dental school, plus up to $30,000 to cover residency and relocation expenses.

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.

Most Sallie Mae borrowers apply with a cosigner to get approved, but cosigners can be released after just 12 months of timely payments.

Best for eligibility: Ascent

LendEDU rating: 4.3 out of 5

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

Ascent doesn’t just offer dental school loans, it also offers a 1% cash back reward for student borrowers, paid out at the time of graduation. With Ascent, you can enjoy up to 48 months of deferred payments while enrolled at least half-time.

Ascent student loans are accessible to a wider range of borrowers than loans offered by other lenders: Both U.S. citizens and select noncitizens—including DACA recipients and international students—are eligible to apply.

Students and/or their co-borrowers must meet debt-to-income (DTI) requirements and have an annual income of at least $24,000 to qualify for an Ascent dental school loan.

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.