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How Much Do Nurses Have in Debt?

The nursing industry is an attractive industry for many due to great starting salaries, growing demands for registered nurses, and opportunities for professional development. While nursing as a career is seen as a stable career with great salaries, many nurses do have to take student loans and graduate with a lot of debt.

Check out our student debt guide for nurses:

Here’s an overview of the financial situation nurses face

Starting Salary

Starting salaries for nurses are much higher than in other entry level jobs due to the constant demand for registered nurses, RNs, who can expect to make at least $65,000 per year. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median national annual salary for a registered nurse is $68,450.

Becoming a registered nurse requires additional schooling, and many wonder whether or not the cost of tuition will bring extra value to their nursing careers. If we compare salaries of RNs to a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), it is clear that the RN license can allow you to earn significantly more and gives you plenty of room for career growth as well. Compared to a median RN salary of $68,450, the median salary of a LPN and LVN is about $42,500 and $44,000 respectively.

One important thing to note is that salaries can still vary greatly depending on specializations, years of experience, location, and other factors. For example, California has a very high cost of living, and actually is the state with the highest average annual salary for nurses at $102,700 a year. Other states with high average salaries ranging from $88,000 to $100,000 include Hawaii, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Oregon. On the lower end, states such as Mississippi and Alabama have an average annual salary of about $57,000.

Average Debt

With the nursing industry being an attractive career choice for young professionals, it has led to increasing pressure for RNs to earn a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which can be very costly. Although employers often offer tuition assistance to help earn a BSN degree, many students end up taking on loans and graduate with college debt. In fact, about 70% of all graduated nurses have student debt, with a median debt of $40,000 to $54,999. This debt is slightly higher than the average debt of undergraduate students, which is generally is about $30,000.

Student Loan Forgiveness

Taking on student debt is inevitable for many students who choose to pursue a nursing career. Thankfully, there are many career paths that have great programs for loan forgiveness. There are also many resources to help out nurses who are ready to start tackling their debt. Eligible nursing careers depend on the requirements of the loan forgiveness program.

There are several programs designed for federal loan forgiveness. To be in good standing, you must make qualifying payments on your loans, which means that you make each payment on time and in full. These options differ from the standard repayment plan where borrows have 10 years to pay off their loans at a fixed amount each month and instead base payments off of a percentage of your monthly income. Below is a breakdown of specific forgiveness programs and the years of qualifying payments needed before forgiveness.

Federal Student Loans Eligible for Forgiveness

The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program is the largest federal student loan program. In this program, there are four types of Direct Loans, in which the U.S. Department of Education is the lender.

  1. Direct Subsidized Loans: for eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help cover the costs of higher education at a college or career school.
  2. Direct Unsubsidized Loans: for eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional students, however, students are not required to demonstrate financial need.
  3. Direct PLUS Loans: for graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid.
  4. Direct Consolidation Loans: allow you to combine all of your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer

The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a school-based loan program for both undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need, in which the school is the lender.

The Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program is now discontinued. It arranged loans that were made by banks or other financial institutions. These loans are no longer issued as of July 1, 2010, but are still eligible for loan forgiveness.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan

This is for the Direct Loan Program borrowers. Monthly payments will be 10 percent of your discretionary income. If you are married, then you and your spouse’s loan debt will be considered as well. To qualify, you must make 20 to 25 years of qualifying payments before loan forgiveness.

Pay As You Earn Repayment (PAYE) Plan

In order to qualify for this plan, you must be a Direct Loan borrower who either took out a loan on or after October 1, 2007 or has received a disbursement of a Direct Loan on or after October 1, 2011, and has a required payment amount that is initially below the 10 year Standard Repayment Plan. Your maximum monthly payments will be 10 percent of your discretionary income. Your spouse’s loan debt will also be considered if you have filed a joint tax return. Before forgiveness, individuals on this plan must make qualifying payments for 20 years.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan

This plan is for either Direct Loan or FEEL program borrowers who have a required payment amount that is initially below the 10 year Standard Repayment Plan. The monthly payments range from 10 to 15 percent of your discretionary income, and if you are married, your spouse’s loan debt will also be considered if you have filed a joint tax return. One qualifier is that you have a high debt to income ratio. For loan forgiveness, qualifying payments must be made for 20 to 25 years.

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan

This plan is for Direct Loan borrowers. Your payments will be either 20 percent of your discretionary income or the amount you would pay on your repayment plan with a fixed payment plan for 12 years adjusted for your income, whichever is less. For loan forgiveness, qualifying payments must be made for 20 years.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program

This plan is by far one of the best programs for nurses who owe more than their salary as a nurse. To qualify for this program, you must be working full-time for a cumulative total of 10 years at a not for profit or government employer, which many hospital systems qualify under.


CNA Scholarship- Free training

“CNA Free Training” provides free training materials for those preparing to take the CNA exam, which is a requirement in order to become a licensed CNA. We have free practice tests for each section of the CNA exam, as well as supplemental training materials that can be used while taking CNA classes – all of which are free. The amount awarded for this scholarship is $500.

The deadline to apply for the CNA Free Training scholarship is April 2, 2021. Click here to apply.

CNA Scholarship- Classes

“CNA Classes Near Me” helps those interested in becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) find training programs. Many of these programs are free as they are funded by the U.S. Department of Labor or state equivalent agencies. Our site has a state by state pages that list out all training locations in a given state as well as their contact information. The amount awarded for this scholarship is $500.

The deadline to apply for the CNA Classes Near Me scholarship is on August 21, 2021. Click here to apply.

Nurse Demographics

The vast majority of RNs are women, although over the past decade the percentage of male nurses has increased to above 10% since 2014. Roughly 70% of all nurses are non-Hispanic whites, but the percentage of minorities among nurses, which includes African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics, has been increasing in the past decade as well.

In the United States, the Pacific region has the highest percentage of minority nurses, with about 30% of nurses identifying as a minority. In the Pacific, the predominant minority nurse population is Asian, making up 16% of the nursing workforce. In other areas of the United States, such as the Middle Atlantic and West South Central areas, Asians are also more likely to be be a part of the nurse population.Meanwhile, African American nurses tend to be concentrated in the South Atlantic, and South Central area whereas Hispanic or Latino nurses are concentrated in West South Central, Pacific, and Mountain areas.

In terms of age, male nurses tend to be older than female nurses. The median age for male nurses who became licensed in 2000 or later was 35, while for female nurses the average age was 31.

Best Cities for Nurses to Live

Like any other career, there are many important considerations you must consider before deciding what location best fits you. Job opportunities, nursing salaries, cost of living and even culture are just a few things that you may want to think about.

Here are 5 great cities for nursing:

1. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is a hot spot for top-ranking hospitals and medical centers, making it a great place for a nurse to start a career. Alongside the multitude of opportunities, Boston also is a great city when considering salaries, cost of living, as well as the demand for nurses. If you’re looking for your next career move, Boston’s opportunities guarantee that you’ll be able to find one that best fits your situation.

2. Des Moines, Iowa

Forbes has named Des Moines as a great city for young professionals. The state capital of Iowa, the city has a lot more job opportunities than the typical city. With 1 big business for every 568 residents, there’s a lot of opportunity to find a great workplace for you. Besides the strong job prospects in Des Moines, the city is known to be very lively with many festivals held throughout the year.

3. El Paso, Texas

One of the safest metro areas in the United States, El Paso is a great city for those who enjoy warm weather year-round. The city also hosts a diverse population as well as a wide range of recreational activities that caters to several crowds. The city’s economy is thriving and there are tons of job opportunities within healthcare.

4. Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City is known for its great schools and low crime rate. The demand for nurses in the city have also grown considerably, and is a great place to move if you enjoy both the city life and countryside. A bonus is that Kansas City is one of the best places to live in terms of keeping the greatest percentage of your income in your pocket.

5. Seattle, Washington

A low employment rate, booming healthcare industry, and lower-than-average crime rate, Seattle entices young professionals from all around to transition their career to Washington. While Seattle’s cost of living is definitely higher than some of the cities on this list, it does have better employment prospects and salaries than most other big cities.

You can check out the full list of best cities and what makes them unique here.

Best Cities for Nurses with Big Student Debt

1. Santa Barbara, California

Median RN earnings of around $99,000 means that you have the opportunity to make six figures. The city has an older population, providing job security for nurses. Even with an older population, the city is still lively with the UC Santa Barbara and a diverse student population.

2. Medford, Oregon

This small city’s economy is highly focused on healthcare. Two of the biggest employers in the region are Providence Medford and Asante Rogue health systems. It is also a popular retirement destination, so the growing older population means job security for nurses. Median RN earnings in Medford sits at $83,600. You’ll be able to put a lot of your income into loan repayments as housing costs are much lower than most West Coast cities.

3. Reno, Nevada

Reno’s economy is rapidly expanding into the healthcare space. The average salary for RNs is $78,000, and the top 10 percent make over six figures. As an RN, you could work at the Reno, VA or the Reno Regional Medical Center. A plus is that there are tons of entertainment options in town.

4. Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska, has a high median RN salary of $85,000 annually. Plus, there’s no state income tax. A couple big employers include the Providence Alaska Medical Center and the Alaska Native Medical Center, with offices all over the state.

5. Richland, Washington

A few hours south of Seattle, Richland is booming with several healthcare employers, with Kadlec Regional Medical Center being the largest. There is also the Seattle Children’s clinic and Lourdes Health. Median RN incomes of $72,000 is very high, considering the city has very affordable housing.

For a full student debt guide for nurses, click here:

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