Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.
In June 2023, the Supreme Court announced its decision to reject the Biden-Harris Administration’s Student Debt Relief Program on the grounds that it required Congressional approval. Additionally, the debt ceiling bill officially ended the payment pause, requiring interest accrual to resume Sept. 1 and payments to resume Oct 1.
Fortunately, there are still some forgiveness and repayment options available to law school debt holders. Here’s what’s available.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
A Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) is one type of financial assistance provided to law school graduates in government and lower paying legal fields. LRAPs may be run by the state, state bar, federal government, or individual law schools.
In many cases, funds are provided via a forgivable loan that is canceled when the recipient’s service obligation is completed. These loans are structured in a way that they are not taxable income, unlike grants. If you receive loan repayment assistance, it’s important to find out if your funds are taxable. (Learn how to find your student loan tax form.)
An LRAP shouldn’t be confused with the repayment plan borrowers agree to when they first sign for their loans. Most people with federal student loans are on the Standard Repayment Plan, meaning they pay a fixed amount every month for up to 10 years.
💡 Quick Tip: Get flexible terms and competitive rates when you refinance your student loan with SoFi.
5 Law School Loan Forgiveness and Repayment Programs
Below are the five most widely used law school student loan forgiveness and repayment programs. If you’re already receiving one or more of these benefits, remember that you may have to reapply each year.
You may apply to as many law school debt forgiveness programs as you qualify for. In some cases, you may even accept more than one grant or loan at a time, but check the fine print on your program applications.
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Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Best for: Lawyers who plan to work for the government or in the nonprofit sector.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program may be the most well-known option in terms of loan forgiveness for lawyers. The premise is simple: If you work in a qualifying public service field, then the remainder of your direct student loans can be forgiven after you make 120 consecutive qualifying monthly payments over 10 years. However, many people attempting to meet those requirements can find the process confusing and difficult.
The first step to qualifying for public service loan forgiveness is filling out the employment certification form.
In order to earn loan forgiveness, you must work for a qualifying government organization or tax-exempt non-profit organization, and you must be enrolled in a qualifying repayment plan — generally a federal income-driven repayment plan.
The next step is to make your monthly loan payments promptly. If you meet all those requirements and payments, then at the end of 10 years, the remainder of your debt could be forgiven.
Obviously, if you put all that time and money in and then it doesn’t pay off, it could cost you. Since the original Public Service Loan Forgiveness program went into effect in 2007, the first students eligible were set to have their loans discharged in October 2017.
However, the PSLF program was overhauled in Oct. 2021, and since then, $42 billion was approved for more than 615,000 borrowers. Additionally, borrowers who are still awaiting approval can now track their application’s status under the My Activity section of their StudentAid.gov account. This recently implemented feature can allow borrowers to see if their employers digitally signed their PSLF form and view when it was actually processed
Income-driven Repayment Plans (IDR)
Best for: Lawyers with low incomes.
An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment based on your income and family size. Most federal student loans are eligible for at least one income-driven repayment plan. If your income is low enough, your payment could be $0 per month. There are four income-driven repayment plans:
• Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE Plan)
• Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)
• Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan)
• Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)
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State Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Best for: Lawyers who qualify for their state’s program.
Most states have LRAPs providing a type of law school loan forgiveness if you work in that state — often in the public sector, for a qualifying nonprofit, or in underserved communities. Repayment assistance varies, so check the guidelines for your state. For instance, the District of Columbia offers one-year interest-free forgivable loans up to $12,000; in New York, forgivable loans of up to $10,000 per year are available for a maximum of three years or $30,000.
Law School-Based Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Best for: Lawyers with low incomes or those who work in high-need areas.
Many schools offer their own LRAPs for lawyers. Applicants for the 2023 funding cycle must have had at least $75,000 in eligible law school loans and a maximum income of $62,500 in most states.
The specifics of the loan repayment assistance programs vary from school to school, so you’ll have to check with your law school’s financial aid office. Here is a comprehensive list of law schools with LRAPs.
Up to $5,600 each is awarded to each of around 125 attorneys annually through an application process that opens in August.
Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
Best for: Lawyers who work for the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment program is a type of law school loan forgiveness aimed at encouraging newly minted attorneys to work for the Department of Justice. Applications for the program open in the spring (typically on March 1).
In return, you can receive up to $6,000 per year (for a maximum of $60,000 total) paid toward your student loans. It’s not exactly law school loan forgiveness, but it is law school loan repayment.
The fine print: You must commit to three years of full-time employment for the Department of Justice, and if you don’t fulfill your commitment then you could be on the hook for any loan payments made on your behalf. You must have at least $10,000 in eligible student loans, which includes Stafford Loans, PLUS loans, Perkins Loans, and a few other types of student loans. (All criteria information is available on the Department of Justice’s program website.)
Payments are made directly to the loan servicer and all loan repayments made by the Department of Justice ASLRP are considered taxable income. It’s also a highly competitive program, but if you’re looking at a career working for the DOJ, then it could be a great way to get your start and wipe out some debt.
Law school loan forgiveness sounds great, but it can cost you money in the long run if you end up paying higher interest rates or don’t pursue the career you want in the hope of securing loan forgiveness. Consolidating federal student loans is an option, but it can be complicated. Through the Direct Loan Consolidation program, your new interest rate is the weighted average of your existing loans’ rates.
Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.
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