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Finding a way to pay for your nurse practitioner program is one of the most challenging parts of planning out your education. Though financing with student loans may be necessary, borrowing too much can really limit what you’re able to do with your nurse practitioner salary after graduation. Specifically, it can make it difficult for you to build wealth and have a solid financial future. You might even find yourself in a situation wherein you can’t repay your student loans at all. So how much should you borrow towards your NP education without getting into hot water with your future finances?

Here are four hard questions to ask yourself before signing the dotted line.

Am I taking the easy way out?

If you’ve already begun looking into ways to pay for your education, you probably found out pretty quickly that as compared to applying for financial aid and the many scholarships and grants out there, the loan application process is much simpler. Before you begin firing off the applications for student loans, ask yourself if whether you’ve truly exhausted every other financial resource available or if you’re taking the easy way out; are you skipping over the other options because they’re too hard to find and time consuming to apply for?  

Though it does take a considerable amount of effort, with the hundreds of scholarships and grants out there, odds are that you’ll qualify for at least one, if not more. To ensure you’re not taking on too much debt, apply for as much free money as you can, especially those that are specifically available for nurses and healthcare providers. If you’re already a registered nurse or work in another healthcare profession, don’t be afraid to talk with your employer as well to see if they would be willing to help you advance your education in exchange for an employment commitment from you after graduation.

If they don’t, seek out other healthcare facilities that either participate in a loan repayment program, provide tuition reimbursements or offer a career ladder program wherein they will reward you with a nursing school scholarship and a job at their facility once you graduate. And even if you know you likely will not qualify, apply for the Pell Grant in the Spring; doing so starts the federal student loan application process, so there’s really no harm in at least trying.

Do I really need to take the full amount?

Bear in mind that even though you qualify for a certain loan amount with a creditor, it does mean you have to take all of it; you have the option to only borrow a portion of what the lender is willing to give you. Student loans are not free money and you will have to pay back every penny you finance plus interest once you graduate, so it’s important to borrow as modestly as possible and take only what you need.

Before you pursue a loan, prepare a monthly budget for yourself and an estimation for how much the total cost of your education will be. Keeping in mind that most loans will cover the cost for room and board, be as realistic as possible with your expectations for your budget; don’t cut things too closely so you barely scrape by, but don’t live beyond your means either.

When estimating what the total cost for your NP program will be, the college or university you plan to attend can provide you with its own figures, however, these are typically on the higher end and are a general estimation. Many students find they can live on a much lesser amount than the proposed costs provided by the school, so take some time to research and truly understand what your individualized cost will be. Be sure to include not only the tuition in your figures but the cost for textbooks, lab fees, etc.

Next, multiply your budget by the number of months that you’ll be in your NP program. Then, if you know you’ll be receiving funding from scholarships or grants, subtract that amount from the cost of your program. The amount left over is what you’ll need to come up with out of pocket.

Can I continue to work?

Depending on your circumstances, such as whether you’re attending school full-time, part-time, online etc., you may not be able to continue working at the same pace you begin your NP program; but continuing to work in some fashion is a great way to reduce the amount you need to borrow in order to pay for your education and supplement you additional expenses. You can also simply use the extra income to build up your savings. At the very least, you can pick up shifts working as a PRN during semester breaks. Every student’s situation is unique but if you’re trying to avoid taking on too much debt, you shouldn’t consider this as an opportune time to take a sabbatical from work. Work when you can, if you can.

Will I be able to repay these loans after graduation?

Financial institutions provide prospective borrowers with loan calculators to show how much the anticipated monthly payments will be in the future, so use this to your advantage to determine whether or not you can feasibly manage these payments over the next ten years or so. Experts recommend that in order to make payments manageable, they should not exceed more than 10% of your anticipated income, so research earnestly what your annual salary will likely be as a new grad NP and see how the numbers add up.  

How much you actually need to borrow for your NP education will depend greatly on your individual circumstances. Although student loans are ultimately an investment in your future, it’s important that you weigh the pros and cons before jumping the gun. If it seems that you may be biting off more than you can chew at the moment, you may need to reevaluate whether now is the right time to pursue an advanced practice nursing degree, and if whether you might be able to attend a less expensive program in-state.

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