Study Finds New PTs Owe Twice Their Salary in Student Loans

February 4th, 2020
By: Content Staff

Entry-level physical therapists typically owe about twice as much in student loans as they make in a year on the job, a higher debt-to-income ratio than new family-medicine doctors and veterinarians, according to a small survey of Florida Physical Therapy Association members.

Though the findings are based on responses from only 86 professionals, they raise the question of whether the financial burden facing new PTs is impacting their choice of practice setting, according to PT in Motion, a publication of the American Physical Therapy Association. All survey respondents were members of the FPTA’s Early Professional Special Interest Group and had less than five years of experience as practicing PTs in Florida.

The study found that the average entry-level PT has a whopping 197% debt-to-income ratio, compared with ratios of 80% to 90% for new family-medicine physicians and 160% to 180% for new veterinarians, PT in Motion reported.

Respondents had an average salary of $69,328, ranging from $55,000 in a school setting to $82,659 in a home-health setting. Most respondents said they owed between $100,000 and $124,999 in student loans, which accounted for almost all of their personal debt, according to PT in Motion.

Respondents were spending an average of about 22% of their monthly income to repay their loans, if you exclude those professionals who hadn’t begun paying off their loans or reported 0% repayment based on income-based repayment. When that figure is 20% or greater, young professionals tend to delay marriage and other important personal decisions because of their debt, according to study author Dr. Steven Ambler, who spoke with PT in Motion.

When all survey respondents were included, they were spending an average of 10% of their monthly income on loan repayment, PT in Motion reported.

More than half of respondents – 57% – said student-loan debt had affected their choice of where to practice, and the more respondents owed, the more likely they were to cite their debt as a factor. For 28% of respondents, debt was a barrier to practicing in the setting of their choice, PT in Motion reported.

The APTA said the cost of PT education is a potential barrier to achieving greater diversity in the profession and is a contributing factor to burnout and attrition.

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