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Student Loans Student Loan Repayment

Refinance Dental School Loans: A Step-By-Step Guide

Updated Dec 06, 2023   |   10-min read

You’ve invested years and hard work to become a dental professional, but you might be part of a startling statistic: The average dental school graduate has a massive $293,900 in student debt. So what’s the next move? 

Refinancing dental school loans can offer relief by potentially lowering your interest rates and helping you pay off your loans faster. You can do this during residency or after you’ve settled into your career. But be cautious: If you hold federal student loans, you could lose out on federal protections and benefits by refinancing them privately.

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll find valuable information on top lenders for refinancing dental school loans and tips to help you decide whether and when it’s the right move for you.

In this guide:

Understand dental school refinancing

When you’re looking at your dental school debt, you’ll generally encounter two types of loans: private and federal. Understanding the differences between these loan types is crucial: It affects your options for consolidation or refinancing.

  • Consolidation: This option is available only for federal student loans. When you consolidate, all your federal loans merge into one Direct Consolidation Loan. Your new interest rate? It’s a weighted average of all the rates from your existing loans.
  • Refinancing: You can refinance federal and private loans. It involves taking out a new loan to pay off one or more of the loans you took out while in dental school, ideally with better terms—for example, a lower interest rate.

If you have federal student loans, consider consolidation through a Direct Consolidation Loan. This maintains your eligibility for programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-based repayment plans. While some private lenders offer repayment assistance benefits, when you refinance a federal loan into a private one, you lose access to those federal benefits.

For those with private student loans, refinancing can offer notable advantages. You can hunt for lower interest rates, ease your monthly payment burden, and streamline multiple payments into a single, manageable one.

Considering refinancing your federal dental school loans with a private lender?

Andrew Steger


The pros of refinancing could be lower interest rates, simplified repayment, flexible loan terms, and the possible release of a cosigner.The cons include the loss of federal benefits, variable rates, credit qualifications, and the loss of loan forgiveness programs. Refinancing medical debt is complex, so I recommend consulting a student loan expert or financial planner to help everyone’s unique situation. 


Don’t know whether you have federal or private student loans? Check All the loans listed are federal. If you don’t see your loan listed, it’s private.

Top refinance lenders for dental school student loans

After rigorous research, our top picks for dental school student loan refinancing lenders are here. Each lender has its own set of features, advantages, and limitations. Knowing these details can help you decide which lender best suits your needs.

“Do your homework—not all private lenders are created equally. Not spending time researching can be expensive in terms of interest costs or the loss of a helpful benefit.”

Andrew Steger


SoFi: Best online lender

  • Editorial rating: 4.9
  • Highest-rated online lender
  • Special features: $100 monthly payments during residency, personalized financial guidance, and 0.125% rate discount on an additional SoFi loan

SoFi is a top-tier online lender, popular among medical and dental school graduates. It offers a specialized refinancing program for these professions. 

What’s notable is the flexibility you get during residency. You have an option to make $100 monthly payments. However, these payments may not cover all the accrued interest, which is capitalized—or added to your loan balance—at the end of your residency.

SoFi allows you to prequalify without affecting your credit score. Plus, it adds a personal touch by offering access to a student debt coach. This could make all the difference when navigating the often confusing world of loan refinancing.

  • Loan amounts: $10,000 – Total outstanding loan balance
  • Term lengths: 5, 7, 10, 15, or 20 years
  • Fixed rates (APR): 6.39%9.84% with autopay
  • Autopay rate reduction: 0.25%
  • Fees: None

Credible: Best marketplace

Powered by Credible

  • Editorial rating: 4.8
  • Highest-rated marketplace
  • Special features: Compare rates from up to 9 lenders with one application, checking rates won’t affect credit score, and no cost to use the service

Credible sets itself apart as a high-quality marketplace for dental school loan refinancing. Credible’s lender partners include RISLA, Nelnet Bank, Citizens Bank, and ELFI. 

It’s a one-stop shop for comparing multiple loan terms, interest rates, and other features without the hassle of visiting each lender’s site. Once you find the right fit, Credible directs you to the lender’s website to complete the application.

Checking rates on Credible won’t ding your credit score. Plus, using Credible’s service comes at zero cost to you, making it a budget-friendly choice for comparing before committing.

  • Loan amounts: $5,000 – Total outstanding loan balance (depend on lender)
  • Term lengths: 5 – 20 years (depend on lender)
  • Rates: 4.40%14.25% APR
  • Autopay rate reduction: Depends on lender
  • Fees: Depend on lender

Earnest: Best skip-a-payment benefit

  • Editorial rating: 4.8
  • Only lender to allow for a skipped payment once per year
  • Special features: Biweekly automatic payments, rate match guarantee with a $100 bonus, and adjust your term to the day

With an impressive 4.8 editorial rating, Earnest offers a unique perk—skipping a payment once a year without penalty. This feature can help dental professionals who might encounter unexpected financial hurdles and need breathing room.

Alongside this skip-a-payment benefit, Earnest provides flexibility in other areas. For example, you can sign up for biweekly automatic payments, speeding up your loan payoff. It lets you adjust your term to the day to dial in your perfect monthly payment.

  • Loan amounts: $5,000 – Total outstanding loan balance
  • Term lengths: 5 – 20 years
  • Rates: Starting at 4.96% APR
  • Autopay rate reduction: 0.25%
  • Fees: None

ELFI: Best personalized support

  • Editorial rating: 4.8
  • Assigns applicants a Student Loan Advisor to assist throughout the process
  • Special features: $400 referral program, Parent PLUS loan transfer options, and prequalification without a credit check

ELFI earns its editorial rating of 4.8 largely because of its commitment to personalized support. Each applicant is assigned a dedicated Student Loan Advisor. Borrowers appreciate this personalized touch, as reflected in high customer reviews that often highlight advisors’ valuable guidance.

The lender offers additional perks and options, including a $400 referral program and the option for parents to transfer Parent PLUS loans to their child. You can start the process by prequalifying without a credit check, taking some stress out of the initial step.

  • Loan amounts: Starting at $10,000
  • Term lengths: 5, 7, 10, 15, or 20 years
  • Rates: Starting at 5.08% APR
  • Autopay rate reduction: Reflected in your approved APR
  • Fees: No upfront fees (Late fee and returned payment fee might apply)

RISLA: Best hardship protections

Powered by Credible

  • Editorial rating: 4.4
  • Offers income-based repayment plan, military benefits, unfortunate incident benefit, and payment forbearance
  • Special features: Nationwide lending, nonprofit status, and in-school refinance options with deferred repayment

RISLA extends its lending services nationwide and offers a variety of hardship protections. Its income-based repayment plan is a temporary benefit that calculates payments based on a percentage of the borrower’s income and includes a forgiveness program. 

If the payments don’t cover the interest, the interest won’t capitalize during the plan’s term. In addition, RISLA provides benefits for military members and coverage for unfortunate incidents. 

As a nonprofit agency, RISLA offers college planning services, low-cost student loans, scholarships, and refinancing options. RISLA provides an in-school refinance option with deferred repayment for borrowers still in school.

  • Loan amounts: $7,500 – $250,000
  • Term lengths: 5, 10, or 15 years
  • Rates: 5.79%8.24% APR
  • Autopay rate reduction: 0.25%
  • Fees: No upfront fees

Nelnet Bank: Best term lengths

Powered by Credible

  • Editorial rating: 4.2
  • Offers the most term lengths to choose from among individual lenders
  • Special features: Wide range of term lengths, high loan amounts for health professionals, multiple repayment assistance options

Nelnet Bank stands apart for its flexibility in term length. With six options ranging from five to 25 years, you can choose a term that aligns with your financial goals and payment capacity.

The lender has more to offer, especially for those in the health professions, who can refinance up to  $500,000. Nelnet Bank also provides various repayment assistance options.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – $500,000
  • Term lengths: 5 – 25 years
  • Rates: 5.34%14.25%
  • Autopay rate reduction: 0.25%
  • Fees: No upfront fees

To read more about these lenders and our top picks overall for student loan refinancing, check out our list of the best student loan refinancing lenders.

How to choose a dental school loan refinancing lender

So you’re ready to refinance your dental school loans. Where do you start? Here’s a streamlined guide to help you navigate this important decision.

  1. Assess your needs: First, figure out the specifics of your financial situation. Know the types of loans you have, your credit score, and what kind of monthly payment you can afford.
  2. Get multiple quotes: Once you know where you stand, start shopping around. Collect quotes from a variety of lenders. This is where you can find the interest rate and loan terms that work best for you.
  3. Consider extra features: After you’ve gathered your quotes, delve into the details. Take note of any perks a lender offers, such as flexible repayment plans or career coaching. These could tip the scales in a lender’s favor.
  4. Read reviews and seek recommendations: Do your homework. Check out reviews and ask for recommendations. It can offer invaluable insights into the lender’s customer service and reliability.

Dive deeper with our refinancing student loans article to get all the details.

When to refinance

Deciding the right time to refinance your dental school loans is crucial. Many lenders will allow you refinance during or after residency. The right time is based on your circumstances and needs.

Consider refinancing during residency if:

  • You have high interest rates: If you’re dealing with high-interest private loans, consider refinancing to lower these rates. If interest rates drop after you refinance, there’s no limit to how many times you can refinance to lower your rate even more.
  • You need lower monthly payments: Some lenders allow reduced payments during residency, offering temporary financial relief.

If these points resonate with you, you might choose to refinance during residency.

“It is important to remember that refinancing during residency could preclude you from taking advantage of Public Student Loan Forgiveness and other federal benefits.”

Andrew Steger


Consider refinancing after residency if:

  • You have stable income: Once you’ve secured a stable income, you’re more likely to qualify for the lowest rates.
  • You want more loan variety: The pool of available lenders also widens when you’ve secured a stable income after residency, offering more competitive options.

If you’ve completed your residency, we recommend shopping around for the best refinancing options.

Alternatives to refinancing dental school loans

If refinancing doesn’t seem like the best fit, consider these alternatives:

Income-driven repayment plans

Income-driven repayment plans tie your monthly payments to your income, making repayments more manageable based on your earnings. They’re primarily for federal loans, so they may not be an option if you have private loans.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

If you work in public service, including nonprofit or government organizations, PSLF offers loan forgiveness after you make 120 qualifying payments.


A Direct Consolidation Loan lets you merge multiple federal student loans into one loan, simplifying repayment and retaining federal benefits.

Loan repayment assistance programs

Beyond the federal options, other loan repayment programs cater to dentists and health care professionals:


Can I refinance my dental school loans during residency?

Yes, some lenders allow you to refinance during residency, offering low monthly payments until you complete your training.

Is it better to refinance after residency?

It depends on your financial situation and goals. After residency, you may qualify for lower interest rates, but you also lose federal benefits if you refinance federal loans.

What happens to my federal benefits if I refinance?

Refinancing federal loans with a private lender means losing federal benefits, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans.

Can I refinance just my high-interest loans?

Absolutely. You can refinance only the loans with high interest rates, allowing you to save money where it counts.

Do I need a cosigner to refinance my dental school loans?

Not necessarily. A cosigner can help you get a lower interest rate, but many lenders offer options for individuals based on their creditworthiness.

How do I know whether I’m eligible for refinancing?

Eligibility varies by lender. Generally, you’ll need a strong credit score, a stable income, and a history of on-time loan payments.