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Doctors Free of Student Loans: Dr. D

I can’t believe it’s my turn already.  I’ve been waiting to fill out this interview myself, but now that it’s time, it seems too soon!  But hey, I’m not complaining.  This is awesome!  As you know, my family just paid off my student loans, amounting to more than $208k.  I’m thrilled to join the company of Jimmy from The Physician Philospher, Dr. M Tran, and Dr. James S.

Let's Get Started!

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Disha from The Frugal Physican.  I graduated from residency 4 years ago, in 2015.  I initially worked full time as a hospitalist for a private company.  I then switched to doing outpatient-only primary care a year ago. I’m married to a wonderful man named Josh, and have two toddler boys, aged two and three years old.  

I’m the one that had student loans.  Josh did ROTC and then four years of active duty in the army to pay for college. Then, the army paid for his masters, as well, through VA benefits.   Thankfully, I didn’t have any from undergrad. All of mine were from medical school.  

Do your kids have any educational expenses?

My two toddlers go to daycare. For the last year and a half, they have been going for a varying amount of days. They were full time for a while… that cost about $2400 a month! Currently, they’re part time at daycare and part time with their wonderful grandparents.

What are your hobbies and your passions other than medicine?

I love being a mom.  I think I could be very happy as a stay at home parent (but it would be difficult!).  Other than being a goofball with my boys, I have a passion for music- specifically, jazz.  If you have never been to a live jazz show in an intimate jazz club, I highly recommend you experience it once.  You’ll be surprised how just notes played by horns can resonate within you and speak volumes.  I also love being outside and hiking.   Upstate New York is really good for that.  Working out is a religion to me.  I also love cooking.  Basically, I would have no trouble passing the time in retirement.  

Dr. D'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?

We paid off $208,918.53 in 17 months.  I didn’t pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness because when I finished residency, I realized I hadn’t filed the right paperwork the whole time.  And honestly, I didn’t want to be stuck with the loans for 10 years and biting my fingernails anytime some politician got up on a mic and said something about the program. 

I refinanced the loans from 6-8% interest with Fed Loans down to 3.87% and went at them head on. 

The first couple of years out of residency, we were paying $4k a month, which was already more than the required amount (around $2.5k).  My loan balance started out at around $238k when I graduated. 17 months ago, when I refinanced, the balance had come down to $208k.

(If you notice- 4 x 24= 96k but the loan balance only fell 30k… the rest of the 66k went to interest… barf). 

Needless to say, we were very aware of how much interest we were paying and  we were done with it.    We decided to kick up our monthly payments up to $7-10k/month about 17 months ago.

How did you do it?

The first couple of years out of residency, we were trying to do it all.  We had a nice house on an island in the south. We had a couple of tiny babies and my husband stayed home to take care of them.  We were trying to pay extra toward loans, max out retirement, and save a 3 – 6 month emergency fund all at the same time. We were doing all of that on my internal medicine salary, which was diminished by two unpaid maternity leaves.  

Trying to do it all and have it all was stretching me thin. I wanted and needed to spend more time with my babies but I was too worried about money. So, we decided something had to give.

When it came time to move for a new job, we decided the big house wasn’t important to us.  We decided to downsize and rent. I’ve outlined the initial changes in this article: How we paid $100k to student loans in 6 months.  We also decided our debt was an emergency and put two thirds of our emergency fund towards the loans.

Did you invest for retirement during debt payoff?  

For the last 17 months, instead of trying to do it all, we decided to focus all our efforts on the student loans and knock them out.  

We decided to do a modified Dave Ramsey method, let’s call it The TFP Method – Instead of a baby emergency fund of $1000, we decided on $10,000.  Instead of not investing for retirement at all, we invested enough to get the employer match.

For high income professionals, I think a $10k baby emergency fund is perfectly doable and safer than $1k, especially in the world of high deductible health plans.  Also, because of our long training path, we can’t afford to not save for retirement at all during debt payoff.  

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give yourself during medical school?

I went to an in-state school in a town with a low cost of living.  I really could have taken out less loans, but it just seemed like play money then.  And everyone told me, “Don’t worry about it.  You’ll be a doctor.  You can pay it off.”  And it’s true, I did pay it off. But, that was not without struggle. I would advise myself to take out the bare minimum necessary to get through and be more frugal during med school.

What advice would you give yourself during residency?

I would tell myself to be on a PSLF qualifying payment plan and file the paperwork every year, just so I had the option in case I wanted to stay academic or do a fellowship.   I’d also tell myself to pay as much extra towards interest as I could, just in case I changed my mind about PSLF.   Maybe, if there was money available, I’d tell myself to invest in a Roth IRA.

What advice would you give yourself during your first few years as attending?

Don’t live like an attending!  Live like a resident for a couple of more years and knock the student loans out.

Student Debt Free Living

How does it feel?

Good.  Freeing.  I feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulders.  Now, I feel more able to design my life and my schedule around what is important to me.  

What are your plans for the extra money in your budget now that your loans are paid off?

Well Josh and I will both be starting an actual fun fund equalling 10% of our average monthly payments- We will be utilizing The Physician Philosopher’s 10% rule.

So basically, we’ll get $350 each per month to do whatever we want.  We have basic needs taken care of in our normal budget, so this will just be fun money.  

With the rest of our savings, we will build our emergency fund back up to 3-6 months of expenses and max out the 401k’s, backdoor Roths, and HSA.  We’ll also start 529’s for the kids. After that, I guess we’ll need to buy a house here in New York.  We’re not quite yet ready emotionally… Maybe in the next year or so. We own a rental property in Tennessee, so that gives us enough real estate tax benefits, as far as I’m concerned.  We’ll probably focus on paying that off next.

Any parting words?

I’m here to encourage you and show you examples of others doing the same!   It feels great on the other side of student debt!!

Stay Frugal, ya’ll!

Dr. D

Standard Disclaimer: Not meant as individualized financial advice.  Photos by Mia Kani Photography.  


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