Physical Therapist Salary vs. Student Debt: Is It Worth It?January 20, 2022
Physical therapy is an essential profession. It helps people dealing with illness, chronic conditions, or recovering from injuries regain their mobility and improve their quality of life. By carefully designing a rehabilitation program and monitoring the patient’s progress, a physical therapist can help people reduce their pain and even restore physical function.
But how much do physical therapists make? With the high cost of doctoral programs, is becoming a physical therapist worth it? Continue reading to find out the answers to these questions and more.
Average Physical Therapy Student Loan Debt
Becoming a physical therapist requires a substantial amount of education. Not only do you have to earn a bachelor’s degree, but you also have to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. After graduation, you have to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination and get licensed within your state.
All that education can mean accumulating student loan debt. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, 90% of physical therapists have education-related loans:
- Average physical therapy student loan debt: $116,183
- Average total education debt for physical therapists: $142,489 including undergraduate debt
In addition, the loans you take out to pay for your DPT degree may have high-interest rates. Loans for graduate and doctoral programs — including federal Direct unsubsidized loans and Grad PLUS Loans — have higher rates than undergraduate student loans, causing your balance to grow over time.
How Much Do Physical Therapists Make?
While the cost of earning a DPT degree can be high, physical therapists have impressive earning potential. Just how much do physical therapists make? As of 2020, the median wage for physical therapists was $91,010 — 61% higher than the median wage for all occupations in the U.S.
Your earning potential as a physical therapist is largely determined by the type of employer you choose. For example, a physical therapist working in the home health care services industry earns an average of $98,430. By contrast, physical therapists working in the offices of other healthcare practitioners earn just $87,170 per year.
Is Becoming a Physical Therapist Worth It? 3 Other Factors to Consider
When deciding whether or not to pursue a DPT degree, there are some other factors to keep in mind besides the typical physical therapist salary:
If you’re looking for a field with job security, physical therapy could be a good option. Between 2020 and 2030, the job outlook for physical therapists is expected to grow by 21%, significantly faster than other occupations. Over 15,600 openings are expected each year, meaning there will be a substantial demand for licensed therapists.
Location has a significant impact on the typical physical therapist salary. For example, the average physical therapist salary in South Dakota is just $78,850. While that’s still higher than the median wage for all occupations, it’s significantly less than what physical therapists can earn elsewhere. The top-paying states for physical therapists are as follows:
|State||Annual Mean Wage|
The lowest-paying states for physical therapists include Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont.
In general, physical therapists are scheduled to work during normal business hours. Depending on your employer, that generally means between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Physical therapists usually only work during the workweek, but some may offer evening or weekend appointments.
Compared to some other jobs in healthcare, which require shifts of 12 hours or more and often cover holidays and weekends, physical therapists generally have more predictable and regular schedules.
Student Loan Repayment Options for Physical Therapists
With the amount of student loan debt you may have to take on to earn your DPT degree, you may be wondering, “is becoming a physical therapist worth it?” However, there are programs and repayment options that can make repaying your loans more manageable:
1. Repayment Assistance Programs
Federal and state programs exist that will repay a portion of your loans in exchange for your commitment to work in a high-need area for a specific amount of time. For example:
- Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program: Clinicians that work at qualifying Indian Health Service facilities can qualify for up to $40,000 in student loan repayment assistance in return for a two-year service commitment.
- New Mexico: The Allied Health Loan-for-Service Program in New Mexico can receive up to $12,000 per year in forgivable loans. For each year of service in a designated shortage area, a portion of the loan is forgiven, up to a maximum of 100%.
If you’re a member of the American Physical Therapist Association, you can find a list of available repayment assistance programs on its website.
2. Loan Forgiveness Programs
While the average physical therapy student loan debt amount is relatively high, some borrowers may qualify for loan forgiveness. If you have federal student loans, you may be eligible for one of the following programs:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): If you work for a non-profit hospital or government agency full-time and have federal loans, you can qualify for PSLF after completing 10 years of employment and making 120 monthly payments.
- Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Loan Forgiveness: IDR plans extend your repayment terms and lower your payments based on your income. If you still have a balance at the end of your repayment term — 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan — the remaining balance will be forgiven.
3. Student Loan Refinancing
If you have high-interest student loans, keep in mind that student loan refinancing could be a useful way to tackle your debt. You may be eligible for a lower interest rate or a different repayment term, helping you save thousands of dollars over the life of your loans.
For example: Susan had $116,000 in student loans at 6.5% interest and a 10-year repayment term. Susan applied for student loan refinancing and, thanks to her good credit, qualified for a 10-year loan at just 4.75% interest. Her monthly payment dropped, but she still saved over $12,000 over the life of your repayment term, thanks to refinancing.
|Loan at 6.5%||Refinanced Loan at 4.75%|