The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program can be a great opportunity to pay back your student loans. I was very excited to apply for the program and was even more excited when I was accepted. Unfortunately, in the end, I chose to turn down the NHSC loan repayment. In this post I will discuss the application process and why I declined the money.
What is the application process?
Before you start your application, you need to make sure your site is already approved for the program or determine if it would be and get your site to apply (this is a big extra step and can be a pain). Luckily for me, my workplace was already approved. Once your program is approved it will be assigned a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) score. The higher the score, the better your chance of receiving an award. You can look up your site here.
The application process opens twice a year, typically in March and November (dates vary, it was on 3/22/21 for me), and you have a month to apply. You will need to submit your loan information so make sure you have this ready from your loan servicer.
Awards are typically given out 4-5 months after the application closes (July for me). At that point, you must decide if you are going to accept. Once you do, things need to get signed on the NHSC side. There is usually some delay here before your 2-year commitment starts. Mine was towards the end of August. Even if you decide to accept the money, you still have 60-days to change your mind. The money gets transferred to your bank account in a lump sum approximately 90-days after you start your commitment.
So, I just did all that work to get into the program. Why did I then turn it down?
Once that money is in your account, you are committed for two years. You are limited in the number of days off you can take off each year and are required to meet hourly requirements per week. Even if you work full time but only three days a week, you only qualify as part-time with the NHSC. 3-12 hour shifts don’t count as full-time. This was a big hit for me as part-time status halved the amount of payback I was getting. I am also not a fan of limited vacations and required work hours, so this was definitely a deterrent.
Well two years doesn’t seem like a long time, I had already been at my job for a year before my commitment was set to start. By that time, the honeymoon period had worn off and COVID-19 surges were in full swing. The feeling of being trapped another two years was daunting and $25,000 wasn’t enough to pay off that feeling (especially after I knocked $53,000 off my loans in just one year).
Alright, well if I can’t make it two years I can always just leave, right?
This is what sealed the deal for me. I calculated what I would owe if I left after one year…~$60,000 back. WHAT?! The penalties for not completing your commitment are suffocating. Life changes fast and I didn’t want to be stuck with a massive bill if I needed to make a change. I understand that the program wants people to honor their commitments, but the penalties are next level!
Do I regret my decision?
Nope. Freedom to make changes in my life is extremely important to me. Though being debt-free is paramount to that freedom, $25,000 wasn’t enough to change my mind. The NHSC is a great program with a great mission. It just wasn’t right for me at this point in my career. I would encourage anyone who is interested to apply, just make sure you understand what you are committing to and it is something you can fit your life around!