These Bar Loans Can Offer Law Students Financial Help for Exams

 May 11, 2020
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Preparing for and taking the bar exam can be an expensive undertaking for prospective lawyers. The University of California, Irvine, School of Law says candidates should set aside $5,800 for the California bar exam.

That figure doesn’t even include living expenses at a time when studying could be your full-time job.

If you’re concerned about your financial situation as you prepare for the bar exam, there are bar loans available to help you cover your costs. Here’s what you need to know about bar study loans and how to qualify for one.

What are bar loans?
3 best bar exam loans from private lenders
Which bar loan is right for you?

What are bar loans?

Bar loans are private student loans you can apply for to help cover the costs of preparing for and taking the bar exam — and prevent you from living off rice and beans in your parents’ basement the meantime.

Bar study loan interest rates and fees might be higher than the rates and fees for traditional federal and private student loans. That makes bar loans a last resort after you’ve exhausted other options, including:

  • Applying for scholarships specific to bar study, perhaps via your alma mater.
  • Tapping job earnings or savings.
  • Seeking financial aid from your employer, perhaps in the form of an education reimbursement.
  • Exploring your eligibility for federal student loans (if you haven’t yet graduated from law school) or using your leftover student loan money (if you have graduated).

If applying for a bar study loan becomes your best option, keep in mind that you’ll need decent credit to get approved or at least a cosigner who has good credit — 48% of prospective bar loan borrowers qualify on their own, according to Sallie Mae. (If you can’t qualify for a bar loan, a secured personal loan could be a useful alternative.)

Either way, it’s critical that you apply early to avoid any issues with the deadlines associated with your bar exam.

3 best bar exam loans from private lenders

Few private student loan companies offer bar loans, so it can be difficult to find one unless you know where to look.

In choosing the lenders we thought offered the best bar exam loans, we looked at those offering the best interest rates and then considered any features that made that lender stand out. Here are the four that we liked best — have a look to see if any would be the best for you.

Top lenders of bar loans Key feature
1. Sallie Mae Industry-best cosigner release program
2. PNC Especially low fixed and variable interest rates
3. Citizens Bank Shorter repayment term option

1. Sallie Mae Bar Study Loan

Sallie Mae, one of the largest providers of private student loans, offers bar loans from $1,000 to $15,000. The lender offers fixed and variable interest rates. As of May 2020, those rates, which included 0.25% rate reduction for enrolling in automatic payments (autopay), were:

  • Fixed: 75% to 12.68%
  • Variable:27% to 10.21%

Here are some more highlights:

  • You don’t have to start making payments until nine months after you leave school, which you need to attend at least half-time.
  • You can opt for interest-only payments for the first two or four years as you’re establishing yourself financially.
  • There’s no origination fee or prepayment penalty for paying off the loan early.
  • If you have a cosigner, you can apply to release that cosigner if you meet certain credit requirements and make on-time payments for 12 months.

To be eligible for the loan, you have to meet the following requirements:

  • Be enrolled at least half-time in your final year of study at a participating law school or have graduated in the last 12 months.
  • Take the bar exam within 12 months of graduation.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident or apply with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and meets Sallie Mae’s credit requirements.

2. PNC Solution Loan for Bar Study

PNC is a full-service bank that offers several financial products, and one of them is the PNC Solution Loan for Bar Exam and Law Students. You can borrow up to $15,000, but your loan can be limited by the bank’s aggregate debt limit of $225,000 from all federal and private student loans.

PNC offers fixed and variable interest rates. Here are the ranges as of May 2020:

  • Fixed: 4.49% to 11.49%
  • Variable:4.41% to 11.41%

These advertised APRs include an interest rate reduction of 0.50% if you set up autopay. That’s double what many of the best private student loans offer.

Here are more details about the loan:

  • You’ll pay no application or origination fees.
  • You’ll get a six-month grace period you leave school, after which you’ll have up to 15 years to repay the loan.
  • If you have a cosigner, you can apply for cosigner release after 48 months of consecutive on-time payments.
  • There’s no minimum income requirement.

To qualify for the PNC Solution Loan for Bar Study, you must:

  • Apply during your final six months of study at a PNC-approved law school or within six months after graduation.
  • Plan to sit for the bar exam no later than six months after graduation.
  • Have good credit and proof of income or employment history.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who’s lived in the U.S. for the previous two years.

3. Citizens Bank Bar Study Loans

If unavoidable living expenses make your bar study especially costly, Citizens Bank could be another lender worth considering. Its Bar Study Loan allows you to receive up to $16,000 to ensure you can afford — and ace — the all-important exam.

Citizen Bank’s fixed and variable rate ranges, as of May 2020, were as follows:

  • Fixed: 7.39% to 12.82%
  • Variable:4.79% to 9.86%

To qualify for the basement rates in these ranges, you (or your cosigner) would need to have an excellent credit history. You’d also need to enroll in autopay and open a Citizens Bank account to access a 0.50% rate reduction.

Here are more details about the loan:

  • No origination, application or disbursement fees.
  • Make interest-only or full payments — or defer repayment — until six months after leaving school.
  • Choose a repayment term of five or 10 years.

To qualify for the Citizens Bank Bar Study Loan, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or apply with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident cosigner.
  • Have graduated within the last six months or plan to graduate within the next six months from a degree-granting law school.
  • Provide income and debt information and have a strong credit history.

Which bar loan is right for you?

While we’ve listed the best private student loans to help you study for the bar exam, there’s no one best option for everyone.

For example, if you plan to find a cosigner, Sallie Mae offers a better cosigner release program than the other lenders. But if you want a fixed interest rate or a lower interest rate in general, PNC might be a better option.

Regardless of which lender you choose, bar loans can help you invest in your law career without worrying about your finances. The best private student loans can offer the financial breathing room you need to focus on passing your bar exam and becoming a full-fledged practicing lawyer.

Andrew Pentis and Emily Guy Birken contributed to this report.

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