Law school can be expensive, especially if you plan to attend a private school. On average, you can expect to pay $53,034 annually on tuition and fees alone, according to U.S. News data. Public schools are cheaper, but even with in-state tuition, the average cost is $29,610. Understanding the best ways to pay for law school, especially with student loans, is key to minimizing your costs after graduation.
Find the Best Student Loans for You
Sallie Mae is a publicly traded consumer bank that offers private student loans to pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, among other educational needs. Congress started Sallie Mae in 1972 as a government-sponsored entity that serviced student loans. The lender went private in 2004 and today provides a range of student loan products. Additionally, Sallie Mae Bank offers savings products and other tools to help families plan and pay for college, including a credit card that earns bonus cash back to help you pay off any student loan.
College Ave exclusively offers student loans. Founded in 2014 and based in Wilmington, Delaware, College Ave offers undergraduate, graduate and parent loans for students enrolled at schools affiliated with College Ave in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. College Ave’s advantage is speed, with applications that take a few minutes to complete and instant decisions.
Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to college and graduate students, as well as student loan refinancing. The company was founded in 2013. Borrowers can choose their own loan terms to fund up to the full cost of their education.
SoFi is an online lender founded by Stanford business school students in 2011. Originally focused on student loan refinancing, the San Francisco-based company added private student loans in 2019. Choose from undergraduate, graduate, law or MBA, health profession, or parent loans with no fees.
Ascent Funding is an online lender offering undergraduate and graduate student loans for those with or without a co-signer at more than 2,200 eligible schools nationwide. Students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents or those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status – aka “Dreamers” – may apply for an Ascent loan. Ascent Funding was founded in 2015 and is based in San Diego.
LendKey’s digital platform connects borrowers who need private student loans or refinancing loans with credit unions and community banks. Since 2009, LendKey has helped more than 135,000 people by funding $5 billion in loans. The company offers fixed- and variable-rate loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
Citizens Bank was founded in the late 1800s in Rhode Island. Today, it’s one of the largest commercial banks in the U.S. Branches are concentrated in the New England, mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.
PNC offers student loans in all 50 states for students at all stages of postsecondary education, including professional training loans and refinancing. The bank is also engaged in a number of community efforts, including financial literacy programs and PNC Grow Up Great, which supports early childhood education. For eligible undergraduate students, PNC offers opportunities to win $2,000 scholarships toward education expenses.
Founded in 2014, Purefy is a student loan refinance rate comparison site, and it also originates refinanced student and parent loans via a partnership with Pentagon Federal Credit Union. As a rate comparison tool, Purefy shares interest rates and terms from lending partners, including Earnest, ISL Education Lending and College Ave. This lender review will focus on the loan refinancing options Purefy and PenFed offer together.
Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a student loan program offered by Tennessee-based SouthEast Bank since 2015. The company provides private student loans and refinancing options for private and federal student loans.
Law school loans are available to help you pay for your education for a career in law. They offer higher loan amounts than undergraduate loans but also typically charge higher interest rates. Some lenders even offer loans that you can use to prepare for your state’s bar exam.
There are a handful of different types of student loans you can get to pay for law school. Understanding each one will give you a better chance of getting the right loan features based on your needs.
Direct PLUS Loans
There is no set limit to how much you can borrow with federal Direct PLUS loans, making them worth considering if you’re planning to attend an expensive school. They also provide all the same benefits as other federal loans, including access to loan forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans.
However, Direct PLUS loans charge the highest interest rate among all federal student loans. You’ll also pay an upfront loan fee and undergo a credit check. The credit check won’t affect your interest rate.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
This federal loan program limits the amount you can borrow every year and in total. Like Direct PLUS loans, you’ll get access to all the benefits federal loans provide. But these loans come with a lower interest rate and loan fee than the Direct PLUS loan program.
It’s often best to start with these loans and then consider other options once you reach your limit.
Private Law School Loans
Some private lenders offer student loans specifically tailored for law school students. Others may just offer a generic graduate school loan. Private student loan terms can vary depending on the lender, but they usually don’t charge upfront fees like federal loans.
You can also expect to undergo a credit check to determine whether you qualify and what your interest rate will be. These loans can be worth considering if you can qualify for a lower interest rate than what the federal loan programs offer and don’t anticipate needing any federal loan benefits.
However, it’s impossible to predict the future, so getting federal loans first may be a safer bet, says Erika Kullberg, an attorney who paid off over $225,000 in law school loans in under two years. “If you have the choice between private and federal student loans, I always recommend going for federal student loans.”
- You don’t have to start repaying your student loan until after you graduate and presumably are earning an income.
- Paying off student loans helps build your credit.
- Your law school loan is likely adding to the debt you already have from your undergraduate student loans.
- If you default on your student loans, your credit score will take a major hit.
- Paying off student loans means you might have to put off life goals such as buying a home or having children.
Applying for student loans for law school is a relatively simple process, but it’s important to take these steps seriously and early. Even if you’re sure you want to apply only for federal or private student loans, it’s a good idea to take both steps.
Fill Out Your FAFSA Information
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required if you want federal student loans. The FAFSA asks about yourself, your finances and, depending on your situation, your parents’ financial information.
Once you submit the application, your school will put together a financial aid award letter, which spells out how much you can borrow and what the terms will be.
Look Into Private Loan Lenders
Private student loan companies require you to formally apply to get a binding offer. But some also allow you to get rate quotes through a prequalification process. This process only requires a soft credit check, which won’t change your credit score.
The result will give you a good idea of the terms you’ll qualify for if you submit an official application. With this information, you’ll be able to compare loan options among private lenders, as well as with federal student loans.
“Be sure to evaluate the interest rate you actually qualify for and not the lowest rate they offer,” says Ashley Norwood-Struppa, program specialist for the U.S. Department of Education and former U.S. News contributor. “This can make a big difference in your overall payment amount. You should also consider the flexibility of the repayment options and how long the repayment options offered are.”
It can be challenging to decide which type of law school loan you should choose, so it’s important to know the difference between a federal and a private loan.
- Federal loans are accessible with or without a credit history.
- Private loans require a credit check, and lenders will deny you or charge you a high rate if your credit score is less than stellar.
- Private lenders can offer lower interest rates than the Department of Education.
- There’s no such thing as private student loan forgiveness; there’s also no way to pay a lower monthly payment based on your income if you end up struggling financially after graduating.
As such, you should take the time to research all of your options so you understand both the benefits and the drawbacks. Then use that information to decide the best path forward for you.
Student loans can be an easy and effective way to get the money you need for law school, but other methods don’t involve borrowing, which can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Depending on your school, you may be able to get a scholarship to help you pay your tuition. You can also search for scholarships from private organizations on websites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb.
Law School Grants
Some colleges offer grants to law students based on their financial needs. Check with your school to find out if grants are available to help you.
Work-Study Programs or Part-Time Jobs
Working while you’re in law school isn’t always the best decision because of the rigors of the program.
“Many law schools will encourage students against working, especially during their first year of law school if attending full time,” says Norwood-Struppa. “Law students can work during the summer and breaks to help lower the amount needed to borrow to cover their cost of attending law school.”
The work-study program is a needs-based federal program, so you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA to see if you qualify. During the summer, you can work as a summer associate at a law firm or get an internship.
Repaying law school loans works similarly to other types of student loans. If you get federal loans, payments are automatically deferred until you’re out of school. With private lenders, you may have more options.
For example, you can choose to defer your payments as with federal student loans. Alternatively, you may be able to start making full payments from the start or even just interest-only payments while you’re in school. You might also be able to consolidate your loans once you graduate.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how you should pay back your law school loans. It’s important to consider your current financial situation and goals to make the best decision for you.
Kullberg also suggests preparing yourself now for when you’ll need to start making payments. “Focusing on forming good money habits during law school will make it easier to pay off your student loans after you graduate,” she says. For instance, learn how to budget and track expenses. “Find a budgeting system that works well for you.”
Borrowing money is often necessary to start a legal career, but there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. Taking out a student loan is a highly personal decision based on your financial situation. Before you take out the loan, make sure you know what’s to come next and if you’re prepared.
Sparrow, founded in 2020, is an online marketplace where students and parents can fill out a single application to see whether they qualify for loan offers from a variety of lenders. Although Sparrow is not a lender, the free service allows you to compare rates across lending partners. Sparrow is also available to international students.
MPower Financing offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students within two years of earning a degree or starting a one- or two-year program at an eligible U.S. or Canadian school. The lender specializes in working with international students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.
Credible is a loan comparison marketplace that allows would-be borrowers to shop around for loans that meet their needs – including mortgages, mortgage refinancing, student loans, student loan refinancing and personal loans. The company was founded in 2013 in San Francisco as a tool to empower borrowers to shop rates and products.
Best for fixed APR
The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority is a nonprofit quasi-state authority that provides college financing to students and parents. The lender specializes in providing loans to Rhode Island residents and students, though not all loans have residency requirements.
Best for no fees
Discover Bank has been operating for more than 100 years, and since 2010, it has offered private student loans to students attending more than 2,400 colleges and universities. Loans of up to 100% of education costs with fixed or variable rates are available.
Best for co-borrowers
The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority is a state-chartered nonprofit established in 1982 to offer low-cost financing options to college students and their families. You can live anywhere in the U.S. and access Boston-based MEFA’s private student loans, including undergraduate, graduate or refinancing options.
Best for small loan amounts
EDvestinU is the nonprofit student loan lending and refinancing organization of the New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corp. Undergraduate and graduate loans and student loan consolidation are available to borrowers with both fixed and variable rates available in select states and Puerto Rico.
Best for online service
London-based Prodigy Finance offers postgraduate student loans for qualified borrowers from about 150 countries who plan to study as international students at one of more than 850 schools across 18 countries. Students from the United Kingdom can also get loans from Prodigy Finance to study domestically. Since its founding in 2007, Prodigy Finance has provided funding to more than 20,000 students.
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