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How to pay off law school debt
4 loan repayment assistance programs to tackle your $100K debt load.
Lawyers may not be struggling to pay back as much student debt as doctors, but it still ain’t cheap. Fortunately, there are a few loan repayment assistance programs that could help offset the costs. But you’ll likely need to work for a qualifying employer for at least three years to be eligible.
Average law school debt
In 2016, the average law student graduated from a public university with around $96,000 in student debt, according to a 2016 Law School Transparency report. Meanwhile, those that attended private universities graduated with nearly $134,500 in student loans. However, these figures don’t account for increasing tuition costs and capitalized interest. This means by the time you graduate, your debt will likely be higher.
What’s the average cost of law school?
The average cost of law school varies depending on whether you’re attending a public or private university as an in-state or out-of-state resident. Here’s how it breaks down in 2018:
- In-state tuition at a public university: $27,160
- Out-of-state tuition at a public university: $40,100
- Tuition at a private university: $47,750
These figures are based off tuition costs collected by Law School Transparency and don’t include living expenses, books, supplies and other costs of attendance.
4 repayment assistance programs for law school
Although there are likely many repayment assistance programs for lawyers, these are the top four options you might want to look into.
1. John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
2. Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (DoJ ASLRP)
3. Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP)
4. Judge Advocate General’s Corps Student Loan Repayment Program (JA-SLRP)
5 tips to pay back law school debt
Worried about paying back that law degree? Here are a few ways to make repayments a bit more manageable:
- Know your employment prospects before you graduate. If you haven’t taken the bar exam, it may be worth relocating to a city with a greater job demand or higher starting salary to better handle your monthly repayments.
- Opt for an income-driven repayment plan. Fresh out of college and working at a low-paying job? Take advantage of the federal government’s income-driven repayment plans to make repayments more affordable while you’re just starting out.
- Enroll in Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). If you start toward a path of public service, you may qualify for PSLF after completing 10 years of repayments while working at a qualified employer.
- Put 15% of your income toward repayments — once you can. Finally score that six-figure job with a deluxe signing bonus? Try to commit at least 15% of your monthly income toward your repayments to cut down on interest and get out of debt sooner.
- Refinance with a private lender. If your credit score or income have increased since first taking out student loans, you could score a lower rate or better terms by refinancing your debt with a private lender. Just be aware you’ll lose deferment, forbearance and other repayment benefits by refinancing your federal loans.
Ask an expert
- Kevin Ha
- Attorney and personal finance expert
- Financial Panther
What advice would you give to others trying to pay off law school debt?
I paid off $87,000 worth of student loans in two-and-a-half years. The primary way I was able to do this was to avoid lifestyle inflation and focus all of my income toward paying off my student loans.
Once I did this, I was able to take a $50,000 pay cut as I moved toward other lower-paying jobs in order to find a better work-life balance.
In 2019, I was able to quit my job and pursue a full-time career as a writer and blogger because of the flexibility I had after I paid off my student loans.
Here are three tips I recommend to anyone paying off debt:
- Avoid lifestyle inflation. This is something that happens to a lot of people once they start working and earning more money. If you can avoid this trap, you can really do a lot of damage to your loans.
- Earn more income. Every extra dollar you earn is presumably a dollar that you don’t need — which means you can use all of it toward paying off debt. If you can figure out how to make extra money, you can dramatically shorten the life of your loans.
- Motivate yourself. One way I did this was by calculating how much interest my loans accrued per day. Each time I paid my loans down, the amount of interest I owed per day went down as well. It helped motivate me as I saw that daily interest amount go down each time I made a payment.
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How long does it take to pay back law school debt?
It can take years to pay off student debt, and getting a law degree is no exception.
While federal loans come with standard terms of 10 years, they can go as high as 20 or 25 years depending on the repayment plan you choose. What you qualify for depends on your income, how much debt you owe and your other living expenses. Private student loans come with their own repayment terms that can last anywhere from five to 25 years.
If you pay everything on schedule and don’t go into forbearance, you should expect to have your law school debt paid off in a couple of decades.
Is law school worth the debt?
It depends on your financial goals and the type of law you choose to get into. Some lawyers, like patent attorneys, rank on the 2017 list of most lucrative careers. Others may find it takes time to pay off such a large amount of student debt, especially if they work in a field that doesn’t have a high base salary.
But if law is your passion, it may be worth it. Even law school graduates in the lowest-paying fields made an average of $83,000 a year in 2017, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Top 5 states for highest law salaries
The following five states had the highest mean income for lawyers in 2017, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
|State||Annual mean salary in 2017|
Law school may be expensive, but there are a few loan repayment assistance programs out there to help you get out of debt faster. But you’ll likely need to agree to a three-year service commitment in a lower-paying field to qualify.
New to law school and exploring your financing options? Check out our guide to student loans to learn more.
Already took out student loans? Get more tips for paying off debt from your professional degree.
Frequently asked questions
For more information about how to pay off law school debt by reading these answers to common questions.
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