February 01, 2012


 Dreams deferred as bills loom large

Posted  Jan. 15, 2012

Drs. Nate and Jamie Kotschwar understood early on they would have a heavy student debt burden once they graduated from veterinary college, but that hasn't made the debt any easier to digest.

Combined, the two carry about $325,000 in outstanding student loans. About half the couple's loans are on a 10-year plan, with the rest on a 30-year plan. Their goal is, once the 10-year payments have been made, to focus on paying off the others early. 

The Kotschwar family
Drs. Nate and Jamie Kotschwar, with their children, Sierra, 7, and
Aspen, 2, say they are happy to live near their families in Nebraska.
(Courtesy of Dr. Jamie Kotschwar)

"It hit us hard right away, especially when I had to do out-of-state (tuition); that's when the realization came that this was going to hurt, and then my senior year, you panic right away. (I thought) 'How are we ever going to afford this and pay off without defaulting on our debt?'" Nate said.

Originally from McCook, Neb., Nate was led to veterinary medicine early on when his parents took him to the local clinic run by Dr. Thomas W. Watkins.

"He was a true mentor all the way. Dr. Watkins took a lot of extra time teaching me and explaining things to me and how they should be done," Nate said.

He went to the local campus of a state college in preparation for veterinary college. That's where he met Jamie. They married during their junior year and had a baby girl soon after.

They both applied to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University. That's when the state of Nebraska and K-State had a reciprocal tuition program. Jaimie got in. Nate got wait listed. It so happened that when he was accepted a year later, Nebraska and Kansas had canceled their reciprocal program, in effect doubling Nate's costs to attend veterinary college.

The two were careful about their expenses throughout college. They spent most of their free time working at a research facility at K-State taking care of the animals and doing after-hours work as needed.

Nate and Jamie lived in a trailer home more or less for free, in return for working at the university, and their extra hours at the facility earned them an added stipend for gas and food.

"We lived pretty humbly. We didn't have cable or Internet. We tried to eat out at least once a month but cooked all our meals. We walked to school for most of it and cut corners where we could," Nate said. "There are people graduating now with $250,000 (debt) by themselves, and I didn't want to be like that."

Once both had graduated, together they interviewed for four to five positions mostly in Midwestern locations to be close to family.

The combination of student loan payments, day care, and living expenses canceled out a few job prospects for the pair, because they didn't offer enough income.

They settled for a short time at a mixed animal practice in Holdrege, Neb., before their "dream job" opened in Nate's hometown at Dr. Watkins' clinic.

Dr. Watkins pays them well, he said, but things are still tight in the Kotschwar household. Paying the minimum monthly amount on their loans alone takes a sizeable chunk out of their salaries.

"The loan part is still scary. You look at what you pay: it's all interest and the principal is going nowhere. I don't look at it because I'll have a panic attack," Nate said. "Jamie's much better about it than I am. She's more levelheaded in financial aspects and better with money than me."

Meanwhile, the two try to plan for retirement and their kids' future while dealing with other life expenses.

The Kotschwars have goals of owning a home soon and, eventually, taking over ownership of the practice. But that will take many more years, Nate said.