On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, Jenna Kantor guests hosts and interviews Dr. Lex Lancaster on student loan debt. Dr. Lex Lancaster is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a passion for performance, pelvic, and pediatric PT. Lex Lancaster also designs websites for health and wellness practitioners.
In this episode, we discuss:
-Lex’s experience navigating loan repayment as a new graduate
-Considerations for pre-DPT students when applying to schools
-Helpful tips to start tackling your student loan debt
-And so much more!
A big thank you to Net Health for sponsoring this episode! Learn more about Four Ways That Outpatient Therapy Providers Can Increase Patient Engagement in 2020!
For more information on Lex:
Alexis Lancaster is the graphic designer on the Healthy Wealthy and Smart podcast. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, a Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Advocacy and Navigation, and graduated with her Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Utica College in Utica, NY. Lex would love to begin her career as a traveling physical therapist and hopes to eventually settle down in New Hampshire, where she aspires to open her own gym-based clinic and become a professor at a local college. She loves working with the pediatric population and has a passion for prevention and wellness across the lifespan. Lex also enjoys hiking, CrossFit, photography, traveling, and spending time with her close family and friends. She recently started her own graphic design business and would love to work with you if you have any design needs. Visit www.lexlancaster.com to connect with Lex.
For more information on Jenna:
Jenna Kantor (co-founder) is a bubbly and energetic girl who was born and raised in Petaluma, California. Growing up, she trained and performed ballet throughout the United States. After earning a BA in Dance and Drama at the University of California, Irvine, she worked professionally in musical theatre for 15+ years with tours, regional theatres, & overseas (www.jennakantor.com) until she found herself ready to move onto a new chapter in her life – a career in Physical Therapy. Jenna is currently in her 3rd year at Columbia University’s Physical Therapy Program. She is also a co-founder of the podcast, “Physiotherapy Performance Perspectives,” has an evidence-based monthly youtube series titled “Injury Prevention for Dancers,” is a NY SSIG Co-Founder, NYPTA Student Conclave 2017 Development Team, works with the NYPTA Greater New York Legislative Task Force and is the NYPTA Public Policy Committee Student Liaison. Jenna aspires to be a physical therapist for amateur and professional performers to help ensure long, healthy careers. To learn more, please check out her website: www.jennafkantor.wixsite.com/jkpt
Read the full transcript below:
Jenna Kantor (00:00):
Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Jenna Kantor with Healthy, Wealthy and Smart. Really excited to be coming on and interviewing Dr. Lex. And what’s really exciting is she is in the middle of this like name change possibility, so it may be Lancaster in the future or Brunel, her married name, we don’t know. So you’re getting an insight interview during the gray zone. Anyhow, want to thank you. First of all, thank you for coming on Lex for this interview. So for those who don’t know, she actually works behind the scenes with Karen Litzy on this podcast and other things. She created the amazing logo for the women in PT summit and she’s just kind of like really amazing on social media. For those who don’t know, she’s also a new grad who is dealing with loans. L. O. A. N. S. give me an L , give me an O, give me, ask him.
Jenna Kantor (00:57):
And that’s right. That’s what we are talking about. The fun, joyous roller coaster of student loans. Now before this. All right, before we go into details, right before we go into details of all your journey, if you were to compare the journey of loans, is it more the feeling that you get when you’re going up the roller coaster and it’s getting really, really high? You’re like, Oh my gosh, am I going to live? Or is it that drop feeling like, Oh that first drop. So which one would you compare it to?
It’s more like, I would say it’s more like the drop, but that drop happens like halfway through your third year of PT school and then you’re like, crap. Oh my God. I guess that’s if you’re lucky. Cause sometimes you don’t think about loans until after you graduate and then the rollercoaster happens. Then I will say though that after that initial drop and you really freak out, it gets better.
Jenna Kantor (02:01):
You remind me of Oscar in the office where he’s talking to an imaginary child or person saying it gets better, it gets better, it gets better. Well, I wanted to reach out to, Lex, when I reached out to her because she had done a post on social media about loans and that’s what inspired this in the first place. And I thought, of course there’s great experts out there like Joseph Bryan who is a wonderful resource for loans. But I wanted to get a student perspective on this from beginning to end. So what were the first steps you did before you even graduated for your loans?
So my first and second year, and really the first part of my third year, I didn’t even think about loans. I kind of thought in the realm of it’s just another drop in the bucket at this point. You know, I just didn’t think like money. It’s not that money wasn’t factor.
Lex Lancaster (03:00):
It’s that I had to pay for things. So it’s not like I said, well, I can’t really afford tuition, so I’ll see you later. So it was just a drop in the bucket. And you know, I got to the point where $1,000, $2,000 books, whatever it ended up being, was just that drop in the bucket and halfway through my third year, aye, what to say? I saw a fitBux post about student loans and I think I actually got a bill from one of my loan companies and they had said, you owe money halfway through my third year of PT school. And I was like, Whoa, that is not okay. So I ended up contacting them and it was just a, you know, mistake on their end because we have that forgiveness for six months after we graduate or the deferment. However, at that point I was like, wow, this is what my monthly payment is going to be.
Lex Lancaster (03:56):
And that’s what I had seen. And that was only one company. So at that point I kind of, I want to say it was January because I was on my last clinical and I reached out to fit bux and I just basically said, Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s all I said. And Joe was extremely helpful. I ended up setting up a class, an online class, because the third year, most programs, you’re off campus. So with our program we were all on clinical and I figured my entire class was struggling the same way I was. So we set up a seminar, an online seminar with Joe and he went through, or Joseph, he went through every single aspect of student loans, what to expect, how to choose your plan, what works best, what doesn’t work. And you know, for the students that attended, it was super helpful.
Lex Lancaster (04:44):
So we left that little online webinar with him with understanding definitions of the financial world. Because at that point in time, I had no idea what any of the terms meant, Mmm, you know, it’s extended prepay, blah blah, blah, blah, blah. All of the things that they talk about that you need to understand before you choose your plan, make your payments and really get going on student loans. So at that point I felt okay. I was like, all right, we’re good. We’ve got a plan and we understand the layout plan. And then what happened was I had to register for the NPTE, buy my study materials and for lack of better terms, wait around to get a job. So in that period of studying, cause I finished clinical in March, I took the test in July. So luckily for me, I had my online business to kind of keep me afloat to make a little bit of money within that period.
Lex Lancaster (05:49):
But without that, I mean I still took out, I put my NPTE on a credit card, I put my study books on a credit card and it was an interest free credit card. So I knew that I would be able to pay that off once I got a job. But I was still struggling because throughout college I did not save money. I had a job, I was a graduate assistant, you know, I had jobs, I just wasn’t smart about it. I didn’t save money throughout the entire process and that kind of put me in a position after I finished clinical. So while I was studying for the NPTE kind of saved some money, what I could save paid what I had to, but I did not pay on my loans. So I left my loan to start paying until the six months after I graduated.
Lex Lancaster (06:33):
And for lack of better terms, I cannot remember what it’s called. But we have that six month period after we graduate that you don’t have to pay on them. And then when six months hits you have to start. So I started at six months. But anyway, long story short, I met with Joe probably four more times. Just I think it was four times we went through every possible scenario after I got a job so that we could decide what, how much money I should be paying each month. And we went through the technology on the Fitbux website. That helps you decide what payment plan is best for you. So really fit bux helped me the most. I did not, there’s a lot of podcasts out there that you can listen to, but I stuck with fit bux because it was one, it was free to talk to them and to Joseph pretty much, you know, he found time for me to talk and I really appreciated that.
Lex Lancaster (07:29):
So I guess like I said, it was the roller coaster. The drop of the roller coaster was when I got that bill and then it continued dropping until about November when I made my first payment. And now at this point I don’t even think about it. I don’t see the money, the money that I pay toward my student loans, I don’t even see it. It just goes into an account. My student loans pay by themselves and I don’t do anything. I’m on automatic payments. So now I’m kind of at that coasting I guess. So, yeah. Well and you post what, what? I forgot what your post was. It was a good one that was very pointed. I’m trying to like look it up literally during the podcast interview cause that’s the way to go. Well. So discover sent me an email cause I have a credit card with discover, that’s who I took out my interest rate credit card with last spring. And they sent me an email and I just said, are you paying too much in student loans? And I got the email and I just kind of chuckled and I was like, how’d you know? So I posted on my story. Mmm. Basically, how are you a mind reader discover? And then I’ve said, you know, I do pay, I pay $1,400 a month right now for student loans. Mmm. And I basically said that my payment is semi aggressive. It’s aggressive by any means. If that was the case, I’d be paying close to two.
Jenna Kantor (09:00):
Lex Lancaster (09:01):
But then I had said, did you know that income based repayment is not guaranteed? Your forgiveness after 2025 years is not guaranteed. The interest rate on that can go up. Mmm. Or the tax rate on that can go up. Excuse me. And you have no idea what that tax rate can be. And when you forgive your loans, you have to pay that tax right then and there. So the way that I just look at it and everyone always says to me, well why are you paying so much on your student loans? They always question it. They’re like, well you don’t have to do that. But in reality, you know, I’m just like, yeah I am paying a lot my student loans, but I have to do it. Cause if I didn’t do it, I’d be putting the same amount of money in a savings account to pay the taxes 25 years later. So I was frustrated at that. I think that day I was semi frustrated just because I had gotten an email and I was like, how’d you know?
Jenna Kantor (09:58):
Yeah, I am paying a lot. This is your post. It was sad realizations of being an adult on a high deductible plan. I pay greater than 500 a month for health insurance. I still need to pay 6,000 out of pocket before my insurance will help me. What a broken system. And I don’t have a suggested solution because this is me right now. And you showed your brain like, Oh yeah, that was, that was my one about health insurance. Oh, that was health insurance. Oh my gosh. That’s my health insurance. But I gotta pull up my story. I have it somewhere. Well that one’s, that’s another one. Another, another thing. If you want to reach out to her, that was a sidebar. It was smooth and yet totally off topic. It was so good. I’m glad you brought it up. It just felt so good to go there. So would you say you’re out of that stress zone, you’re out of that stress zone. Now that you have that plan going for you with your loans, you’re just like, we’re good.
Lex Lancaster (10:59):
You know? Yes and no. Yes, because I don’t see the money come out. I know it’s being paid. I know I pay a little bit over what I need to pay, so I’m paying it off a little bit more aggressive than I need to. And I’m on a 20 year plan right now, but my goal is to pay it off in about seven or eight years. I would say that because I’m transitioning from travel PT to permanent I’m back on the nervous train because with travel PT you make more money. You do pay more because you have a Oh, a tax home and you have a, you know, you duplicate your living expenses, so you do pay more in rent, et cetera, but you make more money because you don’t have that permanent home and you’re away from home. So I used my travel salary, most of the, I think I was putting close to 50%
Lex Lancaster (11:53):
Toward loans in the beginning. But then as soon as I found out that I was not going to be a travel PT anymore, I stopped. So I backed off. I took my monthly payment and my required payments and I decided to pay about $250 extra for both companies each month. So that’s not even close to what I was paying. So I’m like I said, I’m back on that. I’m a little bit nervous. I don’t know how I’m going to afford living. I don’t know. You know, because I have a mortgage for a loan payment and my fiance Kyle also has a mortgage for a loan payment. He’s also a PT. So we’re both just kind of at the point where we’re paying our required payment, paying a little bit over, and then we’re going to see how it goes. Well, like I said, I don’t see that.
Lex Lancaster (12:44):
I don’t physically pay it every month, so I feel like mentally it makes me feel better. I’m not watching the money go out of my account more or less. It’s already paid. I don’t have to worry about it. It’s paid on by the due date and then that’s that. Mmm. So yeah, I would say talk to me in about two months and we’ll see how I’m feeling when everything changes and I transitioned to a permanent.
Jenna Kantor (13:36):
That’s hard too because when you are graduating, I did see this with a lot of my fellow classmates. Everyone had this, Oh, I’m going to go for this, this, I’m talking about niches. You know what they want to treat, and I saw a lot of people just start working for anyone and I think that’s because when they see that number, those loans you owe, it’s just you get, it’s like, I need a job right now. I need a job right now. I don’t talk to me. I just need a job I need. And it’s really unfortunate and you’re experiencing that now you’re going, okay, now I want to go for what I’m dreaming of, like my dreams and doing that. You’re seeing how that’s causing that anxiety again about the financial situation, which is just, it just sucks what we owe in school. It’s just horrible. And then even with what we get reimbursed for us physical therapists for most of us get paid on the low end as new grads, which I think that’s just, I think those words are just an excuse for employers to offer lower pay. That’s it. They were like, Oh, new grad. Cool. I can only afford to hire new grads right now. Right. So that’s bad. That’s bad. That’s feeding into a really bad system there. That’s my opinion. But that being said, it just, and so then you’re just barely surviving with that. But then if you want to go off and do your own thing, if you are really going to be listen to your loans, you want to do it for 20 years. Exactly. More different 20 years cause you’re like, Oh I need that.
Lex Lancaster (14:51):
Mean I think a lot of people do that. It’s scary. Right? But then we get burned out.
Karen Litzy (15:05):
And on that note we’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor net health. This episode is brought to you by net health net health outpatient EMR and billing software. Redoc powered by X fit provides an all in one software solution with guided documentation workflows to make it easy for therapists to use and streamline billing processes to help speed billing and improve reimbursement. You could check out net hell’s new tip sheet to learn four ways that outpatient therapy providers can increase patient engagement in 2020 at go.nethealth.com/patientEngagement2020
Lex Lancaster (15:39):
No I never see this money, but I hate my life. And that’s, and that’s the thing. It’s like, you know, Kyle and I are starting a cash based PT on the side. Our side hustle. We are going to start that because we just want to, we want to treat how we want to treat and not be dictated by insurance, but that’s a talk for another day. Mmm. And you know, that’s, it’s great for us. And you know, to be honest, we would, we would burn the ships and just do our cash business right now and just do that and not have a full time job. But we can’t because we need to have money to pay our loans because the last thing we need to do is default. And you know, I guess our method of payment was based on travel PT, not based on permanent and a cash business.
Lex Lancaster (16:22):
So when we moved our loans from federal to private, we have to pay that payment. Now income-based isn’t a thing. So we’re required to wait. We need to wait because we need to have guaranteed income in order to not default on our loans. But like I said, as soon as you put out a budget, the loans are 1400 rent is 1800 and then you add food and you know, a little bit, you have to have fun money, a little bit of fun money. And that’s almost 85% of our new salary. Yeah. So I don’t, I don’t really know how yet to fix that because what is your option? You know, you can’t just make things, you can’t make rent less expensive, you can’t make your loans less expensive and they’re not going anywhere. So unfortunately, I think that this is a scenario that a lot of people face out of school if they don’t choose trouble. And that’s why income-based is the most feasible. That makes sense because how else do you live on that? You know, I was just a grad student income. Right, right. You know, how else do you live? You don’t have money to pay on those loans. And some States don’t let you pay. Don’t let you practice on that temporary license. Like New York state, a lot. A couple of my friends practice on temp licenses, so they were able to, you know, build up some
Lex Lancaster (17:50):
Money. But if you’re not part of those States that allow you to do that, you can’t practice until you pass your NPTE. So it’s hard to build up that savings account. So that’s one recommendation I have for anybody that’s in school who’s listening to this. Make sure you’re saving money, whether it’s 10 bucks a week, five bucks a week, it doesn’t really matter throughout school. Save money and just put it somewhere and don’t touch it because eventually you’re going to need it. Even if you don’t think you will neet it. And even if you think it’s completely out of this world that you’ll ever have a situation where you need a little bit of extra cash but save that money. Mmm. And for lack of better terms, I would not use it until you absolutely need to start the savings account now and don’t wait until you have a job.
Jenna Kantor (18:37):
There’s no reason why you can’t save five bucks a week. Yeah, yeah, no, that, that does make perfect sense. And that’s definitely been something that I’ve leaned on is having a savings account myself. So I get what you’re saying. Yeah. And for anyone listening, I mean, if you might find yourself going, Oh, but where’s the answer? It’s the whole process of this interview itself is not necessarily to give you all the straight up answers. I really would like to just resort to the fact that it’s good to know you’re not alone. Yeah. And it’s okay to talk about this with people. It’s okay to be frustrated with your pay. It’s okay to be freaking out about your loans. It’s okay to feel burnt out because you’re working somewhere you don’t like just to get escape those loans. All of that’s okay. I mean, this is unfortunately a very common struggle amongst new grads and something that the APTA is working, really trying to figure out how they can address this issue.
Jenna Kantor (19:34):
Cause really at the end of the day, it’s the schools that are choosing to charge you guys as much. It’s the Dean and it’s not just the PT, it’s the entire school that’s saying, okay, let’s increase the amount so we can make a new building or whatever they’re going to use the money for. So with that increase in cost, it’s all by school. That’s where you need to look first in my opinion. Yeah. You need to look first. The APTA it’s like how we treat patients. You know, we sit there and we’re treating the symptoms, you know, or do you look at what caused it all along? So same idea. And if you, I want to just focus on your own plate right now on what to do for yourself. Absolutely. If you really want to make a larger difference, it’s talking to your institution and become the voice which works.
Lex Lancaster (20:28):
But if that’s something you just made up right now that speaks to you? Well it makes sense because I have, I have people that I know that literally they graduated PT school with less than 70 grand of loans and that was putting everything on within a loan that was not paying for part of school out of pocket. They literally graduated with that much because their school cost that little bit of money. And when I heard those numbers and I’m, meanwhile I graduated after undergrad and graduate school. I was at about $220,000 is where I’m at. I don’t know where I’m at today because I haven’t looked at it to be completely honest cause it’s like I’m just paying one month at a time. But I just, I was baffled. How did you get out of school with that little of loans?
Lex Lancaster (21:24):
Like how did you do that? And they basically said that when they chose a PT school, they chose a cheaper school and you know, I, I loved my school, absolutely loved my school. I would have not wanted to go anywhere else. That program alone has, you know, changed me as a person. I love Utica college. So I’m not saying that I would choose to go somewhere else. However, I was so baffled that the tuition is so different. I had no idea. I literally had no idea that different DPT schools have different such drastically different costs and that particular person almost has her loans paid off and she’s, I think, Hmm. Five or six years out of school and she barely had to pay anything. Yeah. So I guess so what you’re saying is so true. You know, we have to talk to the right people.
Lex Lancaster (22:22):
You know, why is this and it’s an increased by, what is it like one or 2% for a year? It goes up. I have not kept up on that, but I do know that what our parents paid alone was significantly less than what we paid. Yes. So it’s just, yeah, it’s a really vicious, right now it’s bad. It’s bad. So, I mean, you could, you could sit there and think it’s the loan company to get back. I’m like, no, it’s your school. It’s just school. They’re the ones who said you need to pay this much. We don’t get reimbursed that much to be able to pay that in a reasonable amount of time to live our lives. Yeah. That’s very sad. It is very sad. And when our degree went up to the doctorate level, our reimbursement didn’t increase. So it made it when we required more school. Yeah. Our reimbursement is actually now going down propose anyways, that 8% correct. That it’s, that’s for specific situations and it’s not for sure yet. I say this now, but it’s still being fought. We’re not doing well in fighting it, but I believe it’s not set in stone yet. Like I said, I don’t know when they go out, so I’m curious.
Lex Lancaster (23:46):
The state of things will affairs will be at that point then. Yeah. The reimbursement doesn’t reflect, we’re just not paid enough reimbursement wise. So employers don’t really have a choice. Yeah, it’s, yeah, it stinks. It’s a shame. It is a shame.
Jenna Kantor (24:06):
Well, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it. Do you have any last words you would like to give just regarding loans and the stress of it that you would like to give to anybody listening? It’s just really feeling helpless right now.
Lex Lancaster (24:20):
Mmm. My biggest piece of advice, well, I’ll say two things. The first thing is, like I said before, start saving money. Now. Don’t wait. And my second thing is reach out to the people who know what they’re talking about. Don’t try to solve problems yourself because you’re going to waste time and you might even waste money. Mmm. Fit bux is completely free and it’s a shameless pitch because of how much they’ve helped me. They are free to talk to. If you have questions please reach out to them. Joseph is incredible and his teammates are incredible and I still do not know what I’m doing down to the T. I use their program to decide what I’m doing. Reach out to those people. Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out yourself and
Lex Lancaster (25:12):
Understand that it does get better. As awful as it seems when you first start out, it does get better and you start to figure out a plan and everything just kind of goes from there. Don’t feel like you’re stuck. Reach out to people. Twitter is amazing. You’re not alone. A lot of people are going through this, probably every single PT in existence. So just reach out. Don’t feel like you’re alone ever. And yeah, I think that’s it.
Jenna Kantor (25:41):
I love it. Thank you for coming on. How can people find you on social media or email?
Lex Lancaster (25:47):
So my email right now is AlexisLancasterpt@gmail.com and on social media. I am @LexLancaster_ So you can reach out to me there.
Jenna Kantor (25:57):
I love. Good underscore is nothing like a quality underscore. Well, on that note, thank you so much for coming on. Thank you everyone for tuning in and have a wonderful day.
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