Paying back your loans and managing your student debt

If you’re in law school, chances are that you have taken out loans to be here. If you’re taking out loans, you’re hopefully thinking ahead to how you can pay back those loans and live debt free as soon as possible. This blog post offers several tips for creating your debt free strategy.

Get into as little debt as possible while you are in law school

It seems obvious but it is worth stating that the first step to wiping our your student debt is to acquire as little debt as you can possibly can to begin with. Beyond making a budget and living frugally, there are a few options you can look into to further this goal:

  • As an Assistant Rector, you get a free furnished room on campus, a meal plan, and a stipend every semester.
  • Be a Notre Dame debate coach. The undergraduate Notre Dame Debate Team perennially hires a rising 2L as its Assistant Coach. The position is paid and the time commitment is just 2-4 hours a week (plus a handful of weekends throughout the year). During the week the Assistant Coach helps run a debate and public speaking class and takes turns with the Head Coach attending tournaments with the team on certain weekends.
  • If you are working in an unpaid position over the summer, you can get Federal Work Study funding.
  • Be open to unconventional and often unexplored routes for securing additional funding such as essay competitions and outside scholarships. The University of Richmond law school maintains a legal essay contest catalog that you can explore here. The ABA also maintains a scholarship database that you can find here.

Get debt counseling and consume AccessLex as much as possible

Notre Dame has contracted with AccessLex, which has a program called AccessConnex that offers one-on-one counseling with a trained financial counselor. This service is free and available to all students, even after graduation. The website with more information is HERE.  You can schedule an appointment with Theresa Popp Braun, who is the representative that works with NDLS specifically. You can sign up for an appointment with her online HERE.  

Take advantage of Notre Dame Loan Repayment Assistance (LRAP)

Any J.D. graduate of Notre Dame Law School who expects to earn an LRAP Adjusted Salary under $70,000 can apply for LRAP assistance for the following calendar year. Your LRAP Adjusted Salary is your gross salary less adjustments for children and non-law school educational loan payments. If a graduate’s LRAP Adjusted Salary is $55,000 or less, the Law School will provide the graduate with a loan to cover 100% of the graduate’s actual payments on eligible J.D. loans.

Consider careers with organizations that offer loan repayment assistance

Some organizations offer their own internal loan repayment assistance to employees. One example is the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps’ Student Loan Repayment Program (JA-SLRP). Under this program, eligible JAGs can apply for up to $65,000 toward student loan repayment. You can read more about the Air Force loan repayment assistance program here.

The Department of Justice also offers an Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program, which awards attorneys up to $6,000 per year for their student loans. You can read more about the DOJ’s program here.

The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides assistance for lawyers working as public defenders. Eligible candidates can receive up to $10,000 per year, with a maximum award of $60,000.

Each state is provided with funding for this particular program, so you’ll want to contact the Governor-Designated State Agencies to learn how to apply within your specific state. Candidates must be employed as a public defender for at least three years.

The Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program

This assistance program uses a lottery system to offer awards to qualified attorneys. The attorney must be employed by one of the program’s grantees and have outstanding student loan debt of at least $75,000. This program awards up to $5,600 to roughly 70 attorneys each year.

Live a frugal lifestyle and make a budget

When choosing where to build your career, consider living in a low cost of living area. Money goes a lot further in Wilmington, Delaware than it does in New York and you will be able to pay off your debt way faster if you aren’t throwing half the money you make toward rent.

Even if you’re working in biglaw and making good money, you won’t make a big dent in your loans by accident. You need to plan to pay off your loans. I interviewed several practicing attorneys about paying off loans while working in big law. You can read that blog post here. Don’t let your high salary box you into a fancy lifestyle. Instead of eating tons of fancy dinners, living in an expensive apartment, and buying new clothes every week, if you want to pay off your loans, you need to put that extra money toward your debt. Several online tools exist that can help you make a personal budget.

Plan to take advantage of ten-year Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives your remaining federal loans after working for a qualified employer and making 120 payments. Eligible employment includes positions in the government and nonprofit sectors. Candidates must work full-time and make consecutive payments If you plan to take advantage of PSLF, you need to be your own best advocate. Many applications for PSLF have been denied so you need to know the program inside and out and be consistently calling your loan servicer to make sure you are on track.

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