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Bar exam loans

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Where and how to get financing to cover bar study costs.

With bar study courses easily topping $4,000 — not to mention the exam costs themselves — recent law school graduates likely don’t have the cash to cover these expenses. And you won’t find help through student loans — most don’t cover postgraduate costs. Instead, there are bar exam loans.
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    Top 5 providers for bar exam loans

    LenderAmountsRepayment termsEligibility
    Discover$1,000– $16,000Up to 20 yearsMust be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school with satisfactory academic progress and seeking a degree. Must be a US citizen, permanent resident or international student.
    PNC BankUp to $15,000Up to 15 yearsMust have graduated from an eligible law school within the past 6 months or be set to graduate within the next 6 months. Must have good credit and a low debt-to-income ratio.
    Wells FargoUp to $120,000Up to 7 yearsYou must have good to excellent credit Or cosigner who meets the credit and income requirements. You should be at least 18 years old. You should be an American citizen or a permanent resident of the US.
    Sallie Mae$1,000 – $15,00015 yearsYou must be a US citizen or permanent resident. You must attend an eligible school. You must be the legal age to borrow in your state.
    LendingTreeVaries by lenderVaries by lenderMust be a US citizen. Must have eligible expenses from an accredited school. Must have good to excellent credit or apply with a co-signer.

    How do bar exam loans work?

    Bar exam loans are a type of student loan specifically designed to help cover the cost of preparing for and taking the bar exam. Some lenders also refer to them as bar study loans.

    How much can I borrow?

    You can typically apply for a bar exam loan during your final year of law school or within six months to a year after you graduated. Most lenders offer funding between $1,000 and at least $15,000. How much you can qualify for depends on how much student debt you’re carrying. Most lenders have an aggregate student loan limit of around $180,000.

    How much will it cost?

    Like other student loans, most bar exam loans don’t come with application or origination fees, so the interest is the main cost to pay attention to.

    Interest rates are usually higher than other student loans, typically ranging from 5% to 12%. Many lenders offer rate discounts of 0.25% for signing up for automatic payments. Some banks also offer an additional 0.25% discount for members.

    You typically have the choice between a fixed and variable rate. Fixed rates stay the same over the life of your loan and give you more predictable repayments. Variable rates have the potential to change over time according to the market. This could save you money if the rate is lower than the fixed rate — but could cost a lot more if it’s higher.

    How long are the terms?

    You usually have around 15 years to pay back your bar study loan, and most lenders don’t charge prepayment penalties if you want to pay it back early to save on interest. Most bar study loans come with a grace period — or deferment period — between six and nine months after you receive your funds before you need to start making repayments.

    Who’s eligible?

    Generally, you need to either be a recent graduate or enrolled at least half time in your final year of study at an ABA-accredited law school to be eligible for a bar study loan. You’ll likely need to be a US citizen or permanent resident to apply on your own. International students might qualify if they apply with a creditworthy cosigner, however, as long as they have documentation proving their legal status.

    Lenders take your credit score and history into consideration, but you can usually apply with a cosigner if you can’t meet your lender’s credit score cutoff.

    Where can I get a bar study loan?

    Luckily, you have lots of options when it comes to finding a bar study loan. Start your search in one of the following places:

    Your law school

    Some law schools offer bar study financing directly or through a credit union. Consider stopping by your university’s financial aid office to get more details on what they offer.

    Keep in mind that not all student loans that are used for bar exam expenses are called bar study loans. For example, Harvard Credit Union offers a “postgraduate transition loan” that law students can use to cover bar study expenses.

    Private student loan providers

    Unfortunately, you can’t get a federal loan to pay for bar study costs, so private student loan providers like Sallie Mae, Discover and PNC Bank could be the next best choice. Typically, they offer loans specifically designed for bar study or postgraduate expenses.

    Depending on which lender you choose, you can typically apply online, over the phone or in person. And rather than sending the funds to your school, your lender will either transfer the funds to your personal bank account or write you a check.

    Bar exam courses

    Some bar exam courses offer financing through a partner lender. These are closer to a personal loan than a student loan — shorter terms, wider range of rates and possibly more fees.

    For example, BarBri offers financing for its bar exam courses through online lender Affirm. You have between 3, 6 and 12 months to pay back your loan at APRs from 0% to 30%, depending on your creditworthiness. You can only use this type of financing to pay for your bar exam courses.

    Leftover student loan funds

    Still in law school and haven’t reached your student loan limit? You might want to apply for additional funds for your last year of law school to cover your bar exam expenses. That way, you won’t have to take out an additional loan and can take advantage of the lower rates — especially if you’re getting federal funding.

    Personal loans

    You can also use a personal loan as a way to pay for your bar exam costs, but you might want to apply with a lender that allows you to bring on a cosigner. That’s because most lenders aren’t willing to work with you if you’re unemployed — even if you’ve got a six-figure job lined up.

    You might want to reach out to your lender to make sure bar exam costs aren’t restricted, since many don’t allow you to use the funds for educational expenses.

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    Rates last updated December 11th, 2018

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    34% to 155% (Varies by state) (fixed)
    SoFi Personal Loan Fixed Rate (with Autopay)
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    OneMain Financial Personal and Auto Loans
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    Why can't I just take out a regular student loan?

    Because you’re no longer a student, simply put. Student loans are meant to cover expenses related to getting a degree, and bar exam preparation has no effect on whether or not you graduate.

    The application process is slightly different, too. When you apply for a student loan, your lender bases it on your school’s educational expenses and sends the funds to its financial aid office. With a bar loan, you receive the funds yourself since you’re using it to cover additional costs. So, while you can use leftover funds from a student loan, taking out a student loan to cover a bar exam isn’t an option.

    What costs can I cover with a bar study loan?

    You can use your bar study loan to cover any expense related to the bar exam. These are some of the most common costs to cover.

    Bar review courses

    Bar exam courses have become a necessity and are likely the main expense you’ll need your loan for. That’s because they can easily set you back at least a thousand dollars. Here are the average costs you can expect with some common bar review courses:

    • Barmax: $949
    • Kaplan: $1,999
    • Themis Bar Review: $2,095
    • BarBri: $3,695 to $3,995

    Exam fees

    How much it costs to take the bar exam varies by state and whether or not it’s your first time. If you live in a state that accepts the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), that can set you back anywhere from $250 to $1,250 to take the exam for the first time, and an additional $250 to $1,250 to transfer the score to your state depending on where you live. Second-timers generally get a slight discount, but it’s often still costly.

    State exams come with a similar range of costs — though they can get as high as $1,450 in Illinois.

    The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), which most states require in addition to the bar exam, costs $95 if you register by the deadline and $190 after.

    Additional fees

    Depending on where you live, you might have to pay the following fees, which you can typically cover with your bar exam loan:

    • Filing fee
    • Laptop fee
    • Application for determination of moral character fee
    • Admission certificate fee
    • Law license fee

    3 alternatives to bar study loans

    Don’t want to take on more student debt — or can’t? Consider these alternatives.

    1. Bar exam preparation scholarships. The ABA and local law firms offer scholarships for taking the bar exam, though many aim to increase diversity by promoting minorities, women and future lawyers from economically disadvantaged areas.
    2. Ask your employer. Some law firms are willing to cover the costs related to the bar exam to bring in fresh talent.
    3. Reach out to friends and family. If you’ve got a strong social media presence, you might want to set up a crowdfunding campaign. Or you can just reach out to friends and relatives who may be willing to pitch in to help you realize your dream of becoming a lawyer.

    Bottom line

    You might not be able to take out a new student loan to cover bar exam costs, but you still have financing options. And since most bar exam loans don’t come with prepayment penalties, you might be able to avoid paying too much in interest by paying off your loan with your first few paychecks.

    Curious about more financing options? Check out our guide to student loans.

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    Anna Serio

    Anna Serio is a staff writer untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.

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