Do any of these statements sound familiar?
“I have had immense life stress because my loans make it almost impossible to enjoy my career.”
“I have NO flexibility in my career path because I am saddled with this debt.”
“Student loans made me hate the profession.”
These are just a few of the responses to a 2020 American Bar Association survey about lawyer student loan debt and how it’s impacting lawyers’ mental health. The survey paints a pretty grim picture of the negative effects student loan debt can have on your life. For example, 55% of respondents said they postponed or decided not to buy a house because of student loan debt, while 48% postponed or decided not to have children.
Lawyer Student Loan Debt Doesn’t Have to Define You
While everyone’s situation is different, there are steps you can take to make that debt go away more quickly and remove that worry from your life.
Refinance Your Student Loans
It may not feel like it, but chances are you are in a better financial position now than you were when you took out your student loans. You are making a stable income and building credit. Take advantage of your improved position by refinancing your loans. When you refinance, you combine all of your loans into one monthly payment. Refinancing also gives you flexibility based on what your current needs are. You can get a lower monthly payment or pay your loans off faster with a lower interest rate.
You’d be surprised how much you can save by refinancing. It pays to shop around, too. You might not get the best rate from the same big banks that you find on most lending marketplaces.
Explore Forgiveness Options
Most states offer student loan forgiveness programs to help you reduce how much you owe. For example, in New York, you can get up to $3,400 a year if you work as a district attorney, assistant district attorney or indigent legal services attorney. Check your state to see what’s available. There are also federal programs that you can apply for, like the John R. Justice Loan Repayment Program for prosecutors and public defenders.
Your law school might also offer a loan repayment assistance program, which is often geared toward graduates who are making a lower annual income. This is another option that just takes a little homework. You might not get the whole student loan amount forgiven, but anything you can get helps.
Make Budgeting a Priority
You’ve done all you can to get your student loan amount reduced. Now it’s time to take a look at what you’re spending each month. Keep track of your expenses. Make a spreadsheet of what you spent the last three months on necessities, what you spent on wants, and how much you put in savings. Look at where you could make some cutbacks to free up more money to pay down your debt. Do you have subscriptions you aren’t using? How much money are you spending on food? Cooking dinner at home two additional nights a week instead of ordering out or going out can put an extra $100 in your pocket each month.
Once you’ve written down your monthly expenses, figure out how much wiggle room you have to set aside more money each month toward paying off your debts. This doesn’t just mean student loans. Credit cards and medical bills are equally important to pay down.
Make Extra Payments if You Can
As you go through the budgeting process, make it a goal to make at least one extra student loan payment each year. Check with your lender and make sure your extra payment is going toward paying down the principal, though, not the interest. Also, make sure your lender doesn’t charge a fee for making an extra payment. If you can’t afford to make a full extra payment, try to spread it out. Paying $25 or $50 more each month will help you a lot in the long run.
Whatever strategy you want to use to tackle your student loan debt, start as early as possible. The sooner you start, the sooner you can put it behind you. An important thing to keep in mind is that you are not the only one dealing with lawyer student loan debt. Over half of those polled in the ABA survey said they had at least $150,000 in student loans when they graduated from law school. Get more opinions: Ask your colleagues what they’ve done and see what’s worked for them.
Remember that paying off a significant student loan debt is not a quick and easy fix. It may take time, but setting a goal and sticking to it should go a long way toward improving your financial situation and mental health.
FAQ: Common Questions About Student Loan
Consolidation is only for federal loans. With consolidation, you can take multiple loans and combine them through the federal government. Your new rate is the weighted average of the individual loans you are consolidating. Refinancing can be done for federal or private loans, and you get a new interest rate based on your current credit profile.
It depends on your financial situation. A variable rate loan has a lower interest rate but will fluctuate as market conditions change. Variable is better if you plan on paying it off sooner or think market conditions will improve. A fixed rate loan is better if you don’t plan to pay off your loan early and have a stable income.
Yes, you can apply for refinancing with a co-signer if you cannot qualify on your own. If your co-signer has a good credit score, that could help you get a better interest rate.
Attorney at Work is partnering with the Lend-Grow Marketplace to help readers find the best deals on student-loan refinancing, here. We may receive a small affiliate commission and thank you for the support.
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