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Compare Bar Loans for 2020

Ryan LaneJune 18, 2020

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Bar loans are private loans for bar study courses, bar exam fees and living expenses while you’re studying for the bar.

Skip bar loans if possible — they have high interest rates compared with student loans and typically cannot be included in student loan refinancing. If you take one, plan to pay it off as quickly as you can.

You can apply for bar loans starting in your final semester of law school or up to a year after graduating.

Summary of Compare Bar Loans for 2020

Our picks for

Bar loans

These lenders offer specific loan products to cover bar exam preparation costs.

Discover Bar Study Loan
Check Rate

on Discover's website

Discover Bar Study Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Discover Bar Study Loan

Fixed APR

7.24 - 12.74%

Variable APR

6.12 - 11.87%

Min. Credit Score

N/A

Check Rate

on Discover's website


Variable APR

6.12 - 11.87%

Key facts

This product not rated. Rating displayed is for Discover's private student loan. Discover offers generous repayment flexibilities for borrowers who are struggling to make payments. If you’re in a pinch, you may be able to temporarily postpone loan payments, reduce your payments or lower your interest rate.

Pros

  • Generous repayment flexibilities.

  • Nine-month grace period is longer than the six-month standard.

Cons

  • Longest repayment period among bar loans on the market.

Qualifications

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to $16,000.

  • Application deadline: 6 months after graduation.

  • Grace period: 9 months.

Available Term Lengths

20 years

Disclaimer

Lowest rates/APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Bar Exam Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of October 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates.
Sallie Mae Bar Study Loan
Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website

Sallie Mae Bar Study Loan

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
Sallie Mae Bar Study Loan

Fixed APR

N/A

Variable APR

5.26 - 12.18%

Min. Credit Score

N/A

Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website


Variable APR

5.26 - 12.18%

Key facts

This product not rated. Rating displayed is for Sallie Mae's private student loan. Sallie Mae is the only lender whose bar loans don’t have fixed rates — rates are variable, meaning they’re subject to change as economic conditions fluctuate. Sallie Mae also has a generous co-signer release program that allows co-signers to get off the hook after the borrower makes on-time payments for 12 consecutive months.

Pros

  • Option to make interest-only payments for the first two or four years.

  • Nine-month grace period is longer than the six-year standard.

  • Generous co-signer release program: Drop your co-signer after 12 consecutive on-time payments.

Cons

  • No fixed interest rates — only variable.

Qualifications

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified expenses.

  • Application deadline: 12 months after graduation.

  • Grace period: 9 months.

Available Term Lengths

15 years

Disclaimer

1 Lowest rates shown include the auto debit discount. Interest rates for Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options are higher than interest rates for the Interest Repayment Option. You’re charged interest starting at disbursement, while in school, during your separation/grace period, and until the loan is paid in full. The repayment option that is selected will apply during the in-school and separation/grace periods. When you enter principal and interest repayment, Unpaid Interest will be added to your loan’s Current Principal. Variable rates may increase over the life of the loan. Advertised variable rates reflect the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Advertised APRs are valid as of 05/28/2019 and assume a $10,000 loan to a freshman with no other Sallie Mae loans. Borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae. The rate reduction benefit applies only during active repayment for as long as the Current Amount Due or Designated Amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. This benefit may be suspended during periods of forbearance or deferment, if available for the loan. 2 Loan amount cannot exceed the cost of attendance less financial aid received as certified by the school. Sallie Mae reserves the right to approve a lower loan amount than the school-certified amount. 3 This repayment example is based on a typical Smart Option Student Loan made to a freshman borrower who chooses a fixed rate and the Fixed Repayment Option for a $10,000 loan, with two disbursements, and a 8.88% fixed APR. It works out to 51 payments of $25.00, 119 payments of $162.06 and one payment of $120.23, for a Total Loan Cost of $20,680.37.
Wells Fargo Bar Study Loan

Wells Fargo Bar Study Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Wells Fargo Bar Study Loan

Fixed APR

12.45 - 12.67%

Variable APR

11.34 - 11.56%

Min. Credit Score

N/A


Variable APR

11.34 - 11.56%

Key facts

This product not rated. Rating displayed is for Wells Fargo's private student loan. Wells Fargo offers 0.25% and 0.50% interest rate discounts for its existing student loan and checking account customers.

Pros

  • Interest rate discounts available for existing Wells Fargo customers.

Cons

  • Must apply within 30 days of law school graduation.

  • Only borrowers with existing Wells Fargo student loans are eligible.

Qualifications

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to $12,000.

  • Application deadline: 30 days after graduation.

  • Grace period: 6 months.

Available Term Lengths

7 years

Disclaimer

PNC Bar Study Loan

PNC Bar Study Loan

3.5

NerdWallet rating 
PNC Bar Study Loan

Fixed APR

4.49 - 11.49%

Variable APR

4.59 - 11.59%

Min. Credit Score

660


Variable APR

4.59 - 11.59%

Key facts

This product not rated. Rating displayed is for PNC's private student loan. You can apply to release the co-signer on your PNC bar loan after you make 48 consecutive on-time payments.

Pros

  • Shortest repayment periods among bar loans on the market.

  • Co-signer release available after 48 consecutive on-time payments

Qualifications

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to $15,000.

  • Application deadline: 6 months after graduation.

  • Grace period: 6 months.

Available Term Lengths

1 to 15 years

Disclaimer

How to shop for a bar loan

  1. Compare your bar loan options. Look for the lender that offers the lowest interest rate you qualify for. Bar loans are credit-based, meaning the higher your credit score, the lower the rate you’ll get.

  2. Be aware of the fine print. Generally, lenders require that you apply for a bar loan in your last semester of law school or up to 12 months after graduation, and that you sit for the bar within 12 months of graduation.

  3. Budget your bar loan disbursement. Unlike student loans, which are first disbursed to schools to be applied to tuition and fees, a bar loan will be disbursed directly to you.

  4. Plan to pay off the loan relatively quickly. Bar loan terms range from one to 20 years, depending on the lender. Pay it off as soon as possible to save on interest — the major bar loan lenders don’t charge prepayment penalties. Repayment typically begins after a six- to nine-month grace period.

  5. Refinance your law school loans if it makes sense for you. While you can’t typically refinance bar loans, refinancing your law school loans may free up cash to pay off the bar loan more quickly. Refinancing isn’t for you if you plan to use federal income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs.

Bar loan alternatives

  • Ask your employer for support. If you’ve landed your first job as a lawyer, consider that many law firms — especially those in Big Law — reimburse bar exam fees and prep courses, and some offer bar stipends, starting bonuses or salary advances, or a combination of those perks.

  • Apply for bar preparation scholarships. Search for scholarships based on your location, legal field and minority status.

  • Use leftover federal student loans. If you’ve already graduated, you can’t take out new student loans. However, you can use money remaining from your law school loans.

  • Borrow federal direct unsubsidized loans. If you’re still in school, contact the financial aid office and ask about your federal student loan eligibility. Law students can borrow up to $20,500 of unsubsidized direct loans per year and $138,500 total, including undergraduate federal loans.

  • Borrow federal Grad PLUS loans. PLUS loans have higher interest rates and fees compared with unsubsidized direct loans, but they also generally have higher borrowing limits — you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance, minus other financial aid. Your school may be able to increase your PLUS loan eligibility by increasing its estimated cost of attendance to include bar exam fees.

What to do if you're denied a bar loan

If you’re denied for a bar loan because you have bad credit and no co-signer, avoid unsecured personal loans and credit cards, which have high interest rates. Instead, try these alternatives:

  • Review the bar loan alternatives. You may not need a bar loan — scholarships, employer reimbursements and federal student loans are better options if you can get them.

  • Work while you’re studying for the bar. Sure, it would be great to have a few months of dedicated bar study time, but that’s not realistic for many people. A side hustle may be just what you need.

  • Get a secured personal loan. Also known as a collateral loan, secured personal loans generally have lower rates than unsecured personal loans. To get one, you need to pledge an asset like your car or savings account.

Last updated on June 18, 2020

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Compare Bar Loans for 2020

  • Discover Bar Study Loan: Best for Bar loans
  • Sallie Mae Bar Study Loan: Best for Bar loans
  • Wells Fargo Bar Study Loan: Best for Bar loans
  • PNC Bar Study Loan: Best for Bar loans