Everyone has their own strategy to get to FI. For us dentists, the cost of education is always top-of-mind. I would have been over $400,000 in debt from dental school alone not counting my undergraduate education, not to mention my wife’s grad and undergrad education (grand total would have been well over half a million dollars of debt!). My strategy was to combat this HUGE amount of debt asap by doing HPSP (Health Professional Scholarship Program) with the Army. I will probably have to do a post on each item below just for more details. Below are some benefits to doing the program when I did it. Programs can always change so keep in mind there may be differences in the future. I am not a recruiter and these views are my own btw 😉

DENTAL SCHOOL

  • 100% of dental school costs paid for (including books and tuition) during school
  • $2000 / month stipend for living expenses during school
  • $3000 Orascoptic customized loupes and light ($1500 each) after graduation

HOUSING

  • VA Home Loan – exclusive access to 0% down home loan (possibly the BIGGEST opportunity to jump-start FIRE by getting a 2-4 unit investment property. Can be used during or after service). can be used more than once if loan is paid off or if you get assigned a new station.
  • On-post housing is free.
  • Off-post housing depends on location. I get about $2,000 a month in housing allowance, and my rent is $1725, so I pocket the difference ($275).

EDUCATION

  • GI Bill – Up to 36 months of education expenses (tuition, fees, housing, and $1,000/year supplies & books). In-state public institutions are 100% covered, while private and international schools are covered up to $25,162 per year (as of now until July 2021). GI bill benefits can be used as early as 90 days of active service, but you only get 50% of the coverage, while 3 years of active duty service start results in 100%. GI bill can be used for lots of different things including entrepreneurship training, Some dental CE’s, flight training, on the job training, vocational school, undergrad and graduate degrees, independent learning, correspondence training, etc. This could also cover the cost of a dental specialty residency. I have tried to use it to pay for a big ortho CE but it got denied (maybe other CE’s would work if at a university). The GI bill can be given to your kids or spouse, but you have to commit to 10 years of service (serve 6, sign up for another 4).
  • Residencies – The military has pretty much every residency available. Chances of admission are higher mostly because the programs are for military only so there is less competition. Some programs are very small / soon to be non-existent if they aren’t already like Peds because there are so few pediatric patients seen on-post. There is a great opportunity to get the residency you want and some amazing people involved. Doing a residency does incur additional service obligation, but some are neutral years (ie 1 year aegd does not require a 1 year pay-back).

INVESTING & RETIREMENT

  • TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) – up to 5% base pay match on contributions to your tsp (essentially like an IRA). Roth TSP and TSP available. Roth TSP maximum contribution limit is $19,500 /year NOT INCLUDING your standard Roth IRA ($6,000 /year limit), meaning you can contribute $25,500 /year to a Roth! Lots of civilian investors wish they could have such a high Roth limit. Many different funds available including the “LF” or Lifecycle Funds, which automatically re-balance themselves so you have higher risk earlier in your life and lower risk later in life (basically moves from high risk stock indices early in your life to low risk bonds later in your life). You can roll over your TSP accounts to civilian equivalents when you exit the military.
  • 20 years of service allows you to retire with 40% of your base pay (2% x #serviceyears). Stay in for 30 years, you get 60% of your base pay averaged from your highest 3 years of pay. Assuming you graduated from dental school at age 27, you could be guaranteed retired at 47 with nothing else, BUT be sure to look at base pay charts posted online. Your retirement base pay will likely be a little above $7,000 as a Lieutenant Colonel and 40% of that a month is $2,800. Investing is still a good idea to supplement income during retirement.
  • Credit Cards – Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express Platinum have no annual fees for active duty service members. I love the Sapphire Reserve because it allows me to save a ton of travel points as well as a $300 travel credit and other bonuses (I will have to make a post just about that. Actually I’ll probably need to do that for a lot of things on this list).

Family & Free Time

  • 2.5 days of leave per month (30 days / year with a maximum bankable amount of 60 days. Can also be saved and used at the end of service to exit early. I might exit 2 months earlier than expected).
  • Birth – 21 days of paternity leave for men (42 for mothers). All costs associated with your family’s childbirth is covered including hospital stays, additional treatments, support groups, etc.
  • Daycare – Army tax credit lowers cost of daycare down to the cost you would be paying on-post if there were any open spots (I did daycare off-post because everything was full). I would have payed $1,600 /month in daycare, but only end up spending about $800 /month
  • Family time – Posts often have a ton of trails, parks, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and groups that host events.
  • Dental – Dependents can get Tricare dental insurance for about $11 /month.

BANKING

  • Access to use USAA (can have incredibly competitive loans, but also offers pretty much everything else to service members. Bank built for active duty or veterans by veterans) I use them for home owner’s insurance, and the more products to buy from them, the better the cost.
  • Access to use Navy Federal Credit Union (can have incredibly competitive loans). I use them for my car loans at 1.75% for 5 years. Immediate family members are also allowed to use NFCU.

HEALTH

  • Access to free on-post gyms
  • Access to free on-post pools
  • RMR: Some posts offer Resting Metabolic Rate testing (I had mine done so I know exactly how many calories I expend by just existing)
  • Bod Pod: Some posts have Bod Pods that will accurately tell you your exact body fat percentage and fitness professionals can help you track and guide you. I do these every 2 months.

MISC.

  • Rank of Captain.
  • Lower total pay than average civilian dentist (roughly 25th percentile by Bureau of Labor Statistics Standards), but healthcare, dental, vision, hearing, psych, fitness, etc are all covered in addition to everything else listed here.
  • Deployment / being assigned to a field unit (and then gifted to a dental clinic for most your work) is possible. While this sounds scary, most people actually enjoy it.

POSSIBLE DRAWBACKS

  • You might not get the station you want (but the assignment officers actually try to get you the location you want if possible. You get to submit a ranking tier list like 1.) Germany 2.) Ft. Drum New York, etc).
  • You might not get to always do the dental procedures you want to do (you fit the needs of the military, and if that means do a ton of exams, or only fillings, or if people are overdue for cleanings you might need to do that. The stereotype of military as amalgam lines are not accurate because I very very rarely do amalgams. Clinics generally have more than every material you’d want. Also doing a CE to do certain procedures does not necessarily permit you to do that procedure since there is a military credentialing system you have to get approved by first).
  • You might not get to always travel when / where you want (there is a healthy amount of leave, but things can always come up, and you will have to ask for permission to go places especially if it’s outside the couple hundred mile radius of the base).
  • You might be assigned to a field unit, then gifted to the dental unit to work. This means if your unit deploys or does field training exercises, you go with them.
  • You have to maintain some level of physical fitness to pass the fitness tests. These normally occur every 6 months. There is a new test that involves 6 events: 2 mile run, 3 rep dead lift, standing power throw, sprint drag carry, push-up, and leg tuck. search online for the acft minimum scores to pass if you are concerned. I never did sports or exercise when I was younger, but even I could pass with a little practice.
  • You might not be able to work a side hustle or weekend clinic moonlighting (some places limit your ability to do dental work at civilian offices on weekends to 15 hours a week).

CONCLUSION

  • The military might not be for everyone, but for those who want to try to try a dental road less traveled and get a good chunk of debt forgiven, it could be perfect. I was willing to go through anything to pay for school, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it enjoyable, and I can see why people stay in career. I did not know what I exactly wanted to do in dentistry so it gave me the time to center myself and prioritize everything. Military is a valid way to hit FI by getting a guaranteed pension at retirement in 20 years, so it may be something to consider. I personally will leave after 4 years to pursue practice ownership.

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