Federal and private student loans, plus forgiveness and assistance programs for future lawyers.
The average cost of attending a private law school in 2018 was $47,112 a year, according to US News and World Report. Some schools even top $67,000 in annual tuition. Chances are, you might need some extra help covering those upfront costs. Luckily, you have several options when it comes to paying for law school.
Law school loans
The majority of law students graduate with well over $100,000 in student debt, according to a study by the American Bar Association. And 90% of law students take out some kind of student loan.
There are two types of student loans that you might want to consider: federal and private. Federal loans come from the Department of Education and are often the most competitive options out there. However, there are limits of how much you can borrow and what types of loans you can use for law school.
Private student loans are designed to pick up the slack when federal loans fall short. They’re sometimes more expensive and don’t come with nearly as many benefits or perks. But as a law student, you might need to use a combination of both.
Federal loans for law school
Federal student loans should be the first place you look when applying for a law school loan. Congress sets the interest rates, and they come with a wide range of flexible repayment plans that allow you to pay off your student debt without altering your career path. In fact, some of these plans will forgive your federal student loans after 20 or 25 years of repayments.
If you’re planning on going into public service, you’ll want to take a close look at these — Direct Unsubsidized Loans are eligible for forgiveness if you work for a government agency or eligible nonprofit for at least 10 years. Law students have a limited selection to choose from when it comes to federal loans, however. Typically, law students can either qualify for Direct Unsubsidized Loans or PLUS Loans.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
- Annual limit: $20,500 per year
- Lifetime limit: $138,500
- Interest rate: 6.6%
- Loan fee: 1.062%, deducted from the loan before your school gets the funds
Direct Unsubsidized Loans are the most straightforward federal loan option for law students. There’s no credit check, and everyone gets the same rate and maximum loan amount. However, it likely won’t cover the full annual cost of tuition at a private law school.
Direct PLUS Loans
- Borrowing limit: Cost of attendance
- Interest rate: 7.6%
- Loan fee: 4.248%, deducted from the loan before your school gets the funds
Direct PLUS Loans are only available to graduate or professional students with good credit. It’s the only loan that requires a credit check, so you might not qualify on your own if you’re going to law school directly from college.
But it can cover your total cost of attendance after you’ve received other financial aid. You also have access to the most federal loan repayment plans and forgiveness programs.
Still, if you have really strong credit — or a willing cosigner — you might consider looking into private student loan options. That’s because you might find private financing with lower rates and fees.
Three best private loans for law school
There are several lenders that specialize in law school financing for borrowers who weren’t able to pay for classes with federal loans alone. These tend to have more limited repayment plans — some start as soon as your school gets its funds.
If you’re interested in entering public service, look for a lender that offers repayments you can afford with the salary you expect to make after graduation.
Discover Law School Loan
- Loan amounts: $1,000 to the cost of attendance
- Variable APR: 3.99% to 9.99% with discounts
- Fixed APR: 5.99% to 11.34% with discounts
- Terms: Up to 20 years
- Eligibility: Enrolled at least half-time at an eligible law school, seeking a degree, making satisfactory academic progress, pass a credit check, be at least 16 years old, US citizen or permanent resident — or apply with a cosigner as an international student
Rates accurate as of October 2018
Discover Law School Loans could be a good option for strong students — you can get a 1% cash reward each time you borrow if your GPA is 3.0 or higher. There are no fees to apply, and the application only takes about 15 minutes to fill out.
- Interest only. Make payments on your interest while you’re still in school and during your grace period. Signing up for this option makes you eligible for a 0.35% discount on your rate.
- Fixed. Make a payment of at least $25 each month while you’re still enrolled and during your grace period.
- Deferred. Don’t make any repayments until nine months after you graduate or drop below half time.
If you choose one of the last two options, any interest that accrues while you’re in school and during your grace period is added to your total loan amount, making it more expensive.
Sallie Mae Law School Loan
- Loan amount: $1,000 to the cost of attendance
- Variable APR: 4.25% to 9.05%
- Fixed APR: 6.24% to 8.93%
- Terms: Up to 15 years
- Eligibility: Attend a degree-granting school in the US or an eligible study abroad program, US citizen or permanent resident — or applying with a creditworthy cosigner as an international student
Rates accurate as of October 2018
Sallie Mae Law School Loans might be useful for students who want to go into public service or aren’t sure which direction their legal career will take. Borrowers can apply for up to 48 months of deferment during a clerkship or fellowship. Eligible borrowers can also apply to make up to 12 months of interest-only repayments if they fall on tough times.
- Interest-only. Make payments on the interest that adds up while you’re in school and during the nine-month grace period. This option comes with a rate discount of 0.5% compared to deferred repayment.
- Fixed. Make minimum monthly payments of $25 until nine months after you graduate or drop below half-time.
- Deferred. Hold off on repaying your loan until nine months after you graduate or drop below half-time.
For the last two options, all unpaid interest is added to your total loan amount, making your loan more expensive.
Citizens Bank Law Student Loans
- Loan amounts: Up to $225,000
- Variable APR: 4.19% to 10.86% with discounts
- Fixed APR: 5.3% to 10.95% with discounts
- Terms: 5, 10 or 15 years
- Eligibility: Enrolled in a degree-granting program at least half-time, age of majority in your state, meet credit requirements, US citizen or permanent resident — or apply with a creditworthy cosigner as an international student
Rates accurate as of October 2018
Citizens Bank is one of the few personal loan providers that allows you to fund your entire degree with one application. International students aren’t eligible for multi-year approval, however. And if you have an eligible Citizens Bank account, you could get a rate discount of up to 0.5%. It claims that borrowers can save around $948 over the life of the loan compared to Direct PLUS Loans for graduate students.
- Immediate. Start making full repayments as soon as the school receives the funds.
- Interest-only. Only pay the interest that adds up while you’re still enrolled and during your six-month grace period.
- Deferred. Defer your loans for up to eight years while you’re enrolled as a student. Full repayments begin six months after you leave school. Any interest that accrues during this time is added to your total loan amount.
Compare private student loan options for law school
Other sources of financial aid
Student loans might be unavoidable for most law students. But that doesn’t mean you need to go into debt to cover your entire degree. You might want to look into these three options in addition to student loans.
- FAFSA. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) makes you eligible for student grants, scholarships and work-study programs — as well as federal loans. It’s a bit involved, so you might want to follow our step-by-step guide on how to fill out the FAFSA.
- CSS Profile. The CSS Profile is a form widely used by law schools to help students connect with nonfederal financial aid. Some schools even require students to complete this form as part of the application.
- Other scholarships. Law firms and your state bar association are good places to look for scholarship opportunities outside of your school. You might be eligible for a scholarship based on where you’re from, your area of interest or your background.
Bar exam financing
You’re not a lawyer until you take the bar. Problem is, you can’t apply for federal aid to pay for the bar exam alone — though you can use leftover funds. Some private lenders like Discover and Sallie Mae offer financing specifically for the cost of bar study courses and fees, which can easily top several thousand dollars.
Student loan forgiveness and assistance for lawyers
One of the advantages of borrowing to cover your law school degree is that lawyers typically have more forgiveness options and assistance programs than you’d find with other professions.
- Public service forgiveness. Lawyers who work for the government or a nonprofit for 10 years while paying off their student loans are eligible to have their entire federal student debt load forgiven.
- Income-based repayment. Income-based repayment plans are available on federal loans based on your annual salary. After 20 to 25 years, the government forgives the remaining debt.
- Loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs). Both law schools and local governments offer repayment assistance programs to young lawyers. These aren’t limited to federal loans, though they might have certain income requirements. The American Bar Association publishes a list of state-sponsored LRAPs and Equal Justice Works has a list of school-sponsored LRAPs.
- Employer-sponsored repayment assistance. Some law firms also offer student loan repayment assistance as a benefit.
Law school’s expensive, and few lawyers graduate without taking on at least some debt. Federal loans offer competitive rates and more forgiveness and flexible repayment options. However, there’s a chance you could get a better deal with private lenders if a Direct PLUS Loan is your only option.
Visit our student loans guide to learn more about how it works and compare more providers.
Frequently asked questions