Doctors Free of Student Loans: Dr. Alan Sing
Today, I’d like to welcome another doctor who has freed himself of student loans. I hope you find his story and advice as inspirational as I do!
Welcome Dr. Sing!
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Alan Sing and I am a pediatric cardiologist. I was born and raised in the Midwest and lived there until I went to the East Coast for college. After graduating, I worked for a year at a major children’s hospital as a pulmonary technician (PFTs, sweat tests, etc) before moving to New Jersey for medical school.
My next move was to Philadelphia, where I completed my pediatrics residency and pediatric cardiology fellowship. I then moved to Texas, where I joined a private practice pediatric cardiology group that soon after became affiliated with the main children’s academic hospital in the region.
My wife is a communications professional who currently works for a major consulting firm. She went to a private university for undergraduate studies and subsequently obtained a dual masters in Journalism and International Affairs. She had student loans from undergraduate and graduate schools when we got married.
Do you have kids? Do they have any educational expenses?
We have two children and they are both in daycare/preschool. Monthly expense for both of them combined is ~$2k per month.
I feel your pain with those daycare costs! But, a 100% worth it.
What are your hobbies and your passions other than medicine and your family?
I’m a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan but am also passionate about personal finance and travel hacking!
Dr. Sing's Student Loan Story
How much student debt did you pay off? How long did it take you? Did you get PSLF? If you paid off early, what made you decide to do that? Did you refinance your loans?
Combined, my wife and I had around $160k total.
We took the snowball method and paid off her loans first. Eventually, we were able to pay off the rest of the loans at the 3 year and 2 week mark after finishing my fellowship training.
I refinanced both of our loans the first year out with DRB (later on known as Laurel Road) and subsequently refinanced with them again one year later after presenting a competing offer from Citizens Bank that dropped the interest rate by 0.5%. We decided we didn’t want to be saddled with student debt and aggressively began paying it off!
On top of the student loans, we bought our first house straight out of fellowship, which was a risky but intentional and calculated move based on the region we were moving to that has ended up working out for us. While owning a home has been very expensive (although we are not house poor!) and eye-opening, we think it was the right choice for us.
My parents also graciously gave us an interest free loan of $35k to be paid back over a 3 year time period to help with our down payment.
While we could have made the minimum payments on that given the “free money”, we didn’t want to owe money to family so we ended up aggressively paying that back within 1.5 years.
We therefore paid off almost $200k if you add that to the $160k student loan balance in 3 years!
That’s amazing! Congratulations!
So, tell a little about how you did it.
We created a budget and would put in 2-3 times the loan amount every month.
Every bonus, monthly surplus, tax refund, etc would go to paying the loan down. At first, when we would make extra $1000 payments, it would seem inconsequential given the sum of the debt but over time, those payments added up!
The “B” word… works every time! Did you invest for retirement during debt payoff? If yes, what percent of your salary and why?
We maxed out my 403b, non-governmental 457b, my wife’s 401k, and Backdoor Roths for both of us.
We also saved money for an emergency fund and set aside a significant portion of our earnings to donate to our local church and other nonprofit organizations.
Total savings rate was about ~20%. We decided to save now because we want the power of compound interest to work in our favor!
A job well done.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give yourself during medical school?
Stop messing around with high-cost funds in a taxable account. Stop listening to buy/sell recommendations from online newsletters (I didn’t start getting into personal finance until fellowship!)
What advice would you give yourself during residency?
Don’t put your loans into forbearance! All that interest is accumulating and compounding!
What advice would you give yourself during your first few years as attending?
Great job in rejecting the financial advisors coming out of the woodworks trying to sell you whole life insurance. You did a good job in not inflating lifestyle too much, although it is very easy to see how lifestyle creep becomes a thing, especially when living in a wealthy suburb!
I love that you praised yourself here. Sometimes, we get down on ourselves too much about finances. Good job avoiding the “Keeping up with the Jones’s” game.
Life After Student Loans
How does it feel?
It feels amazing – unfortunately, my wife and I haven’t had a chance to celebrate yet but we will think of something great to do!
What are your plans for the extra money in your budget now that your loans are paid off?
Mixture of rebuilding up the emergency fund, paying off a 1.99% car loan, and making extra mortgage payments. Once the emergency fund and car loan are done, we will focus more on taxable and other streams of revenue like real estate syndications.
Any parting words?
Five years ago, I knew nothing about personal finance. My parents, as first generation immigrants, instilled within me a sense of frugality but beyond that, I was essentially financially illiterate.
Since then, we have learned so much and now feel empowered to know we are in control of our financial future. While we are still early in our financial journey, the principles and tips we have accumulated over the past few years will serve us well as time goes on.
Please don’t be discouraged if you feel you have made financial mistakes like me. I haven’t listed all of them here but I cringe when I think about some of the poor financial choices I have made in the past.
All it takes is a thirst for self-improvement, discipline to adhere to a financial plan, and the self-confidence to know you don’t have to compete with your coworkers or your neighbors.
As many have said, the only competition in personal finance is you versus your goals – you don’t need to look at the success/failure of others to make yourself feel better or worse!
The only competition in personal finance is you versus your goals.
Love that. Either way, you win! Thanks so much for being here and sharing your story, Dr. Sing!
Stay Frugal, TFP Tribe!
Till next week.
Standard Disclaimer: Not meant as individualized financial advice.
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