Here’s How Lawyers Really Tackled Their Law School Loans
If the most exciting part of finally graduating from law school is getting your bar card in the mail, the least exciting part may well be making the first payment on your student loans. The average young lawyer now carries well over $100,000 in student debt, and figuring out how to set up a loan repayment plan can be daunting. Finishing law school already comes with a lot of responsibility: you might be moving, starting a new job, or just adjusting to the new responsibility of giving legal advice. On top of that, starting to pay off your student loans can feel like a challenge—but it is a challenge you can rise to, especially with the help of lawyers who have been in your shoes.
The good news is that you’ve chosen a profession where even your starting salary likely puts you well above the median American income of $55,775. Young lawyers have a median income of $118,160, and have more loan repayment options than ever. Whether you’re a legal services attorney or a first-year associate, one step on your road to career fulfillment is making a plan to tackle your student debt. Luckily, five lawyers stepped up to give you their best advice on paying off student loans so you can thrive as a new lawyer.
Take advantage of your law school’s loan repayment program
“My biggest advice is to focus on what kind of loan assistance your law school offers. I went to Columbia, which has a very generous loan repayment program, so I have been able to take lower-paying public interest jobs while still making significant progress on repaying my loans. Make sure to pay attention to the terms that your school puts on their assistance—for example, Columbia pays on a 10-year term, where other schools require you to be on an income-based repayment plan. Being on a 10-year repayment plan means that I am making a significant dent in my loans each and every year, not just paying interest and a little on the principle.”
– Brian Jacobi, Columbia Law School, paying back $200,000
Look into federal forgiveness programs
“When I graduated from law school, I applied for a fellowship that would provide help with my loan payments. Since I work in public interest, I don’t have the high corporate salary that would help offset high loan payments, so having loan assistance from my fellowship program is a huge help. Additionally, I am working toward federal loan forgiveness by staying in the nonprofit sector. My biggest advice is to tailor your repayment plans around your own circumstances. If you know that you’re going to go into public interest, look for loan forgiveness, loan assistance, and deferral programs that let you minimize your loan payments. Don’t forget to consider all the various requirements of these programs and ensure that your ideal job meets those requirements.”
– Jackie Kelley-Jones, Northeastern University School of Law, paying back $85,000
Consider consolidating or refinancing your loan
“When I graduated, I consolidated all my loans, which helped me qualify for repayment assistance from Northeastern. My income has gone up recently, and now I’m looking into refinancing at a lower interest rate. My biggest advice is not to treat your repayment plan as static—your repayment plan may need to change as other parts of your finances change.”
– Amanda Bradley, Northeastern University School of Law, paying back $60,000
Reallocate your debt (if possible)
“There are many ways to service student loan debt, but none of them will help if you don’t take the time to research and understand them. For example, a buddy of mine from law school bought a house a few years after he started making decent money. A few years later (less than 10 years into his loan) he was able to borrow enough money from the equity in his house to pay off his student loan, and pay down the equity line with a much lower interest rate.”
– Robert Bale, University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, paying back $75,000
And the most common advice: Throw some extra money at your loans when you can
“If you have extra loan money left over at the end of the semester, pay it back into your loans to avoid compounding interest.”
– Tony Filosa, University of New Mexico Law School, paying back $90,000
“If you have a couple of good years, pay that loan off ASAP. It is a drag on your credit and your net income that you don’t need.”
– Robert Bale
“When you get a raise, consider putting that money directly toward your loans instead of letting it disappear into new lifestyle upgrades.”
– Amanda Bradley
If you’re ready to get ahead and tackle your debt from law school, SoFi is here for you. Refinancing with SoFi can even save you money in the long run.