Going to medical school is expensive, especially in New York City. For 26-year-old Alexandra Capellini, who is currently on a research year between her third and fourth years at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, every dollar counts.
Capellini expects to graduate with more than $400,000 in student debt, including $130,000 from undergrad. And she predicts it will take "decades" to pay off, even if she gets to the point where she earns more than $200,000 a year as a pediatric oncologist, she tells CNBC Make It.
With that in mind, Capellini is careful to live within her means. Normally, she lives entirely off of her loans, and pre-loads money for living expenses onto a debit card. Currently, she's earning a $28,000 stipend, giving her a little bit of money to spend each week. Additionally, because she isn't taking out additional loans this year, her parents are helping her stretch her stipend by covering her $650 monthly rent.
Although she's already facing the prospect of making loan payments into her 40s and beyond, Capellini is hesitant to open a credit card and potentially take on more debt, even if it would make her life easier in the short term.
"[My parents] basically told me 'you can open up a credit card when you have a stable, consistent income and you can pay it off in full every single month without needing to lean on us,'" Capellini says. "And I haven't been in that place yet."
She says that getting a credit card is "one of the biggest things I'm looking forward to when I actually start making a salary in residency."
In addition to being able to start collecting credit card points from money spent on travel and groceries, Capellini has another reason for wanting to switch her spending from debit to credit: peace of mind.
"Mentally, it would be nice to not need to be so hyper-aware of the exact dollar amount that I have on hand in the bank right now," she says. It will also be easier to pay her bill at the end of the month rather than having the money deducted from her account with each purchase.
But until she has a salary, Capellini says she will stay committed to her tight, debit-centric budget.
"I'm not counting pennies, but I'm very hesitant to even think about adding credit card debt," she says. "I'm not even in a place to tackle what I already have."
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