Being a lawyer is often associated with having a high salary — and even higher student loan debt. Unfortunately, studying law is not a promised path to gainful employment or six figures.
More lawyers today are facing unemployment along with burdensome law school loans, with the employment rate for Class of 2013 law school graduates falling for the sixth consecutive year, according to the National Association for Law Placement.
Luckily, there are student loan assistance programs out there to help with that lingering debt from college — and even more for those who dedicate their lives to public service. Here’s the complete guide to repayment options and student loan forgiveness for lawyers.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers
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.
Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
The Department of Justice offers an Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP) in an effort to recruit and retain lawyers in the field. Each spring, the agency opens up applications to current employees for the assistance program. To be eligible, employees of the Department of Justice must have at least $10,000 in federal student loans.
Eligible loans include:
- Stafford Loans
- Supplemental Loans
- Federal Consolidation Loans
- Defense Loans (made before July 1, 1972)
- National Direct Student Loans (made between 7/1/72 and 7/1/87)
- William D. Ford Direct Student Loans
- Perkins Loans
- The Nursing Student Loan Program loans
- The Health Profession Student Loan Program loans
- The Health Education Assistance Loan Program loans
Eligible candidates can receive up to $6,000 per calendar year, with a maximum of $60,000 in assistance. Your payment will be sent to your loan servicer and not you directly. In order to accept the award, candidates need to commit to a three-year service with the Department of Justice.
Note that assistance provided through this program is considered taxable income, which is subject to additional withholdings. While this program may be a good option for those working for the Department of Justice, it can be highly competitive.
John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
Are you looking to work in the public sector? You’re in luck! 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.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) By School
Newly graduated lawyers who are saddled with student loans and are deterred from taking positions in the public sector also have options. Many law schools have come up with Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) to ease the financial burden and attract attorneys to the public sector.
Typically, these programs have salary requirements, such as earning $75,000 or less per year. The actual amount you receive as part of your assistance depends on your law school.
Check out this comprehensive list to see if your school is included.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) By State
In addition to LRAPs by school, there are numerous programs offered by certain states:
The Joyce Holsey’s ALL (Arizona’s Legal Legacy) – Loan Repayment Assistance Program aims to create statewide assistance for law school graduates employed in certain programs working with underserved communities. Applicants must have passed the State Bar of Arizona and have an income that does not exceed $65,000 annually. A maximum of $10,000 will be awarded to eligible candidates each year. (Learn more)
District of Columbia
If you live in the D.C. area, you may be able to qualify for up to $12,000 per year in repayment assistance.
The District of Columbia Bar Foundation Loan Repayment Assistance Program seeks lawyers working with low-income individuals. Eligible candidates must be in good standing with the D.C. Bar, employed by a qualified organization, and work at least 17 hours per week. In addition, applicants’ gross income must be less than $81,954.53 in 2016. (Learn more)
The Florida Bar Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program that awards up to $5,000 per year to lawyers who work at legal aid or legal services organizations. Eligible candidates must work full-time or part-time for 12 months at a foundation-supported organization. (Learn more)
The Chicago Bar Foundation offers assistance through the Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship to outstanding law school graduates working with qualified public interest organizations.
Eligible candidates can receive up to $20,000 over the period of five years. Applicants must have at least $40,000 in educational debt and commit to working in public service. (Learn more)
The Indiana Bar Foundation offers assistance through the Justice Richard M. Givan Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which is geared toward law school graduates working in the nonprofit sector. The program is specifically designed for law school graduates who have incurred significant educational debt.
Eligible candidates must not make more than $50,000 annually. The program awards $5,000 per year to eligible candidates. (Learn more)
The Iowa State Bar Association Loan Repayment Assistance Program aims to help law school graduates working in the public sector. Eligible candidates need to be licensed in Iowa and be employed full-time by a public interest organization. Salary cannot exceed $50,000 per year.
The program awards up to $2,000 per year. The number of years you are eligible for funding depends on the specific program. (Learn more)
The Louisiana Bar Foundation has an assistance program that offers up to $5,000 per year to lawyers working at an organization that is supported by the Foundation. Applicants must be employed full-time and have a gross salary of $50,000 or less. In addition, they must reapply each year to be considered for funding. (Learn more)
The Maine Bar Foundation offers loan assistance to lawyers working for a qualified nonprofit — most of which provide legal aid to the elderly and low-income. Eligible candidates can receive a maximum benefit of $5,000 annually. (Learn more)
Maryland residents working as attorneys in the public sector with low-income or underserved residents might be eligible for assistance through the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program.
Eligible candidates must have received their degree from a college in Maryland and be employed full-time, making $60,000 or less. The award amount is between $1,500 and $10,000 per year, depending on your debt load. (Learn more)
The Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota offers assistance to graduates from a Minnesota law school, working at a qualified nonprofit serving low-income communities. The gross income requirement depends on your years of service.
For example, if you’ve worked at a qualifying nonprofit for one to two years, your income cannot exceed $51,500. That number increases to $65,000 if you have worked at the nonprofit for nine to 15 years.
Awards are based on your years of employment and calculated individually for each applicant. Eligible candidates can have 80 to 95 percent of their payments covered. (Learn more)
The Montana Justice Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program for legal aid lawyers working with underserved communities.
A maximum of $2,500 may be awarded to eligible candidates. Applicants must work full-time. If the number of applicants exceeds the amount of resources, the Board of Directors will decide how the funds should be used. (Learn more)
The New Hampshire Bar Foundation has a Law School Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help attorneys working with qualified public agencies within underserved communities in New Hampshire.
Attorneys can work full-time or part-time at a qualifying agency, such as the Disabilities Rights Center. The total award amount is a percentage of your income, based on a variety of factors including how much assistance you may have received from other sources. (Learn more)
The New Mexico Public Service Law Loan Repayment Assistance Program offers educational assistance for attorneys working in the public or nonprofit sector.
Eligible candidates must earn a salary of $55,000 or less. Candidates must be working for a qualified employment site and commit to three years. The maximum award is $7,200 per year. (Learn more)
In New York, the District Attorney and Indigent Legal Services Attorney Loan Forgiveness Program offers assistance to attorneys that are employed as District Attorneys, Assistant District Attorneys, or Indigent Legal Services Attorneys.
Applicants must be residents of New York State and have a year of full-time, qualified service under their belts. This is one of the more generous programs, with a maximum total award of $20,400, with annual disbursements amounting to $3,400. (Learn more)
The North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation helps recruit and retain public interest attorneys by offering repayment assistance. The bad news? At this time, there is no application cycle for 2016. If you’re in North Carolina, you may want to check back periodically to see if anything has changed. (Learn more)
The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help recruit and retain attorneys working with Ohio’s poor and underserved communities. Applicants that are employed full-time by a qualified agency are eligible for up to $6,000 in repayment assistance. (Learn more)
The Oregon State Bar has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help retain and attract public service attorneys. Eligible candidates must work at a qualifying nonprofit or agency with a salary that does not exceed $65,000.
In addition, applicants must have $35,000 or more in outstanding student loan debt. An award of $7,500 per year is available for up to three years. (Learn more)
The Pennsylvania Bar Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program that aims to help lawyers understand their student loan debt and make it more manageable to stay in public service.
An eligible candidate’s salary must not exceed $66,000. The total award amount will depend on the number of candidates and available funding. (Learn more)
The Texas Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program is funded by the State Bar of Texas and offers repayment assistance to those who choose to work in legal aid in Texas. The program offers assistance to approximately 125 attorneys. At this time, there is no income cap and the yearly maximum award is $4,800. (Learn more)
The Vermont Bar Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program that offers loan assistance for attorneys working in the nonprofit sector, helping low-income individuals and families.
Lawyers must be licensed in Vermont and be employed at a qualified organization. Eligible candidates’ salaries must not exceed $60,000. Applicants may be eligible for up to $5,000 per year. Former participants may apply again for future funding cycles. (Learn more)
A lot of the aforementioned assistance programs require you to work at a qualifying nonprofit or agency and work under strict income limitations. If you don’t qualify for one of those programs and you have federal loans, consider an income-driven repayment plan.
Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Your monthly payments are capped at 10 to 15 percent of your income, depending on when you took out your loan. To qualify for IBR, your proposed payment must be less than what it would be under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. The repayment period is 20 to 25 years — any balance remaining after that will be forgiven but may be subject to additional taxes.
Pay As You Earn (PAYE): Monthly payments are capped at 10 percent of your income. To qualify, your proposed payment must be less than what it would be under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. The repayment period is 20 years — any balance remaining after that will be forgiven but may be subject to additional taxes. Note, however, that the government is making changes to PAYE — learn more about the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAY) program.
Income-Contingent Plan: Monthly payments are capped at 20 percent of your discretionary income under an Income-Contingent Plan. The repayment period is 25 years, with any remaining balance forgiven (though forgiven debt might be subject to additional taxes).
Graduating with huge law school loans is tough, but there may be options to get some assistance from your employer, state, and more. Check out these options to see if you qualify for some form of assistance or forgiveness.
Photo credit: Tori Rector via Flickr Creative Commons
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