BEST OF

8 Best Law School Loans of November 2020

If free financial aid won’t cover all your law school costs, opt for federal student loans before private loans.

Ryan LaneOctober 22, 2020
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Even if you’re planning for a future in Big Law, you shouldn’t choose just any law school loan. Compare interest rates, fees and repayment options to find the right loan — and only borrow after exhausting grants and scholarships.

If you a law school student loan, choose federal loans before private ones. Private loans may cost less if you have good credit, but federal programs like income-driven repayment protect you if you want to work in the public sector or don’t land a high-paying job.

Our picks for the best law school loans are below, as well as some additional information on choosing between federal and private options. Note that the ratings apply to each company's standard undergraduate loan, but we've noted specific features that apply to law students.

Summary of Best Law School Loans of November 2020

Our pick for

All borrowers as a first option

You can borrow up to $20,500 per year in unsubsidized loans, which may not be enough to cover all your law school costs.

Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan

Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan

Fixed APR

2.75 - 4.30%

Variable APR

N/A

Min. Credit Score

None


Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

Best first option for all student loan borrowers.

Pros

  • More flexible repayment options for struggling borrowers than other lenders.

  • Subsidized loans do not collect interest while in school or during deferment.

  • Lower interest rates compared with private lenders.

Cons

  • You pay an origination fee.

Qualifications

  • No credit check or minimum income is needed to borrow.

  • Loan amounts for undergraduates: $5,500 year one, $6,500 year two, $7,500 year three and thereafter, up to a total of $31,000

  • Independent students and graduate students have higher loan limits.

  • Undergraduate interest rate fixed at 4.53%, while grad students get higher 6.08% rate.

Available Term Lengths

10 to 25 years once repayment begins, depending on the repayment plan.

Disclaimer

Read Full Review

Our pick for

Manageable payments post-graduation

Federal programs like income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness make graduate PLUS loans best for those who plan to go into public interest law or government — or who want to keep their options open.

Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Fixed APR

5.30 - 5.30%

Variable APR

N/A

Min. Credit Score

None


Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

Graduate students can receive only unsubsidized direct loans. They can also qualify for federal graduate PLUS loans, which have higher interest rates and fees than unsubsidized loans but allow you to borrow more money.

Pros

  • More flexible repayment options for struggling borrowers compared with private lenders.

  • All borrowers who attend a school authorized to receive federal aid can qualify.

Cons

  • May have higher interest rates compared with private lenders.

  • You pay an origination fee.

  • You can’t see if you’ll qualify without a hard credit check.

Qualifications

  • Grad PLUS loan borrowers must not have adverse credit history.

  • Borrowers with adverse credit history can still receive a grad PLUS loan by enlisting a co-signer without adverse credit history or documenting extenuating circumstances for their credit history.

  • Loan amounts: Total cost of attendance minus other financial aid.

Available Term Lengths

10 to 25 years once repayment begins, depending on the repayment plan.

Disclaimer

Read Full Review

Our picks for

Private law school loans

These lenders offer specific loans for law students. Some have features designed to meet law students’ needs — like deferments during clerkships. Weigh those benefits vs. your career goals. You or a co-signer will need excellent credit to get the lowest rate possible.

Ascent Law Student Loan
Check Rate

on Ascent's website

Ascent Law Student Loan

Ascent Law Student Loan

Fixed APR

4.56 - 13.42%

Variable APR

3.65 - 12.40%

Min. Credit Score

mid-500's

Check Rate

on Ascent's website


Variable APR

3.65 - 12.40%

Key facts

Best for law students who want flexible payment options.

Pros

  • Forbearance of 24 months is longer than many lenders offer.

  • Grace period of 9 months is longer than many lenders offer.

  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

Cons

  • You must be enrolled at least half-time to qualify.

  • Fixed rate loan only offers 10-year repayment term.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Not available.

  • Minimum income: Not available.

  • Loan amounts: up to $200,000.

Available Term Lengths

7, 10, 12 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Ascent Student Loans are funded by Richland State Bank (RSB), Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentStudentLoans.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 10/01/2020 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 2.00% (for undergraduate future income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentStudentLoans.com/Rates . 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must have a minimum credit score. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner.
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Sallie Mae Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Fixed APR

4.25 - 12.35%

Variable APR

1.25 - 11.15%

Min. Credit Score

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website


Variable APR

1.25 - 11.15%

Key facts

Rating and details displayed are for Sallie Mae's private student loan. Sallie Mae's law school loan is available to students enrolled less than half-time, making this a good option if you're studying for your JD at night or part-time. The loan also offers 48 months of deferment during a clerkship or fellowship.

Pros

  • One of the few lenders to provide loans to part-time students.

  • Borrowers can access online tutoring and free credit score tracking.

  • Non-U.S. citizens, including DACA students, can apply with a U.S. co-signer.

Cons

  • You can't see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Information not available on minimum qualifying credit scores or income.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Does not disclose.

  • Minimum income: Did not disclose.

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

Available Term Lengths

5 to 15 years

Disclaimer

Lowest rates shown include the auto debit discount: Fixed 4.25% - 12.35% APR and Variable 1.25% - 11.15% APR. 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 06/25/2020. and assume a $10,000 loan to a freshman with no other Sallie Mae loans. Additional information regarding the auto debit discount: Borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction benefit. This 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 and may be suspended during periods of forbearance or deferment, if available for the loan. Loan amounts: $1000 up to 100% of the school certified expenses: 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. Repayment term of 5 to 15 years: 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 8.51% fixed APR. It works out to 51 payments of $25.00, 179 payments of $124.69 and one payment of $66.91, for a Total Loan Cost of $23,661.42.
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College Ave Law Student Loan
Check Rate

on College Ave's website

College Ave Law Student Loan

College Ave Law Student Loan

Fixed APR

4.49 - 9.95%

Variable APR

1.39 - 8.99%

Min. Credit Score

Mid-600s

Check Rate

on College Ave's website


Variable APR

1.39 - 8.99%

Key facts

Best for law students who'll need extra time before starting repayment.

Pros

  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Twelve-month grace period is longer than other lenders offer.

  • You can defer payments up to an additional 12 months during clerkship after your grace period.

Cons

  • You must be at least halfway through your repayment term before you can request a co-signer release.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: Mid-700s.

  • Minimum income: $35,000 per year.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to the total cost of attendance.

Available Term Lengths

5, 8, 10, 15 or 20 years

Disclaimer

Read Full Review
Earnest Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on Earnest's website

Earnest Private Student Loan

Earnest Private Student Loan

Fixed APR

3.49 - 12.78%

Variable APR

1.24 - 11.44%

Min. Credit Score

650

Check Rate

on Earnest's website


Variable APR

1.24 - 11.44%

Key facts

Rating and details displayed are for Earnest's private student loan. Earnest offers a specific law school loan, but it has the same underlying terms as the lender's other products.

Pros

  • Option to skip one payment every 12 months.

  • No late fees.

  • Nine-month grace period is longer than most lenders offer.

Cons

  • You can’t see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Loans aren't available in Nevada or New Mexico.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: 758.

  • Minimum income: $35,000.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to your total cost of attendance.

Available Term Lengths

5, 7, 10, 12 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Read Full Review
SoFi Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on SoFi's website

SoFi Private Student Loan

SoFi Private Student Loan

Fixed APR

4.13 - 11.37%

Variable APR

1.77 - 11.89%

Min. Credit Score

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on SoFi's website


Variable APR

1.77 - 11.89%

Key facts

Rating and details displayed are for SoFi's private student loan.

Pros

  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Multiple in-school repayment options available, including interest-only and flat-fee, and deferred for undergrad and grad students.

  • Additional perks like career planning, job search assistance and entrepreneurship support available.

Cons

  • Must be a U.S. citizen.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: 700+.

  • Minimum income: No minimum.

  • Loan amounts: $5,000 minimum.

Available Term Lengths

5, 10 or 15 years

Disclaimer

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate ("APR") (with autopay), variable rates from 1.87% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.77% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.94% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.87% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 10/20/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
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Our pick for

International law students

Many lenders let international students take out loans with an eligible co-signer; MPOWER is one of few that waives this requirement.

MPOWER Private Student Loan

MPOWER Private Student Loan

Fixed APR

7.52 - 13.63%

Variable APR

N/A

Min. Credit Score

N/A


Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

Best for international students and students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status.

Pros

  • Offers a hard-to-find option: non-co-signed student loans for international and DACA students.

  • Borrowers are assigned a dedicated student loan advisor.

  • Forbearance of 24 months is longer than many lenders offer, and borrowers can access national disaster forbearance as well.

Cons

  • Payment required while in school and during the grace period.

  • Offers only one repayment term: 10 years.

Qualifications

  • MPOWER considers future income potential but does not factor in credit scores.

  • Loan amounts: Minimum $2,001. Maximum loan is $50,000, limited to $25,000 per academic period.

Available Term Lengths

10 years

Disclaimer

Read Full Review

Types of law school loans

Law students may be eligible for two types of federal student loans:

  • Direct unsubsidized loans. These have a lower interest rate and fee than other government loans, so take them out first. But there’s a limit to the amount of direct unsubsidized loans you can borrow.

  • Graduate PLUS loans. You can borrow up to your cost of attendance, minus other aid received, in graduate PLUS loans. If you max out your unsubsidized loans and still have a gap, PLUS loans can fill it.

Some private lenders, such as Sallie Mae, offer branded “law school loans” or loans for bar exam expenses. These may have features that cater to law students’ specific needs — like deferring payments during a clerkship or fellowship.

However, you can also use any private graduate student loan for law school. Compare rates and features to find the least expensive option if you opt for private loans.

Which law school student loan is right for you?

If you’ve exhausted free aid like scholarships and are torn about which law school loan to borrow, federal loans are a safer bet. Opt for these if:

  • You have bad credit. Direct unsubsidized loans are not credit-dependent. You will need to pass a credit check to get PLUS loans for law school, but these standards aren't as strict as with private lenders. All eligible federal loan borrowers also receive the same interest rate, regardless of their credit score.

  • You want flexible repayment options. Law students finish school owing an average of $145,500 in student debt, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Federal loans offer more repayment options to handle that debt load, such as income-driven repayment plans, and and may be eligible for law school loan forgiveness or repayment programs.

Private student loans may make sense — and save you money — if you have excellent credit and don’t think you’ll need or qualify for federal loan benefits.

For example, repaying $145,500 in grad PLUS loans with a 5.30% interest rate would cost $187,761 over 10 years. Opting for private loans with an interest rate of 5% would drop that amount to $185,191. The PLUS loan would also come with an origination fee above 4%; most private lenders don’t charge these fees.

Monthly payments on that much debt would be roughly $1,500 for private loans and $1,565 for PLUS loans. Either might be unaffordable if you choose to be a legal services attorney, public defender or prosecutor, whose median starting salaries range from $48,000 to $58,000, according to the National Association for Law Placement. But with federal loans, income-driven payments at that salary could be closer to $250, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness could erase the balance after 10 years.

Projected starting salaries are higher if you plan to practice in the private sector, with a median of $155,000 according to NALP. Wages rise even more if you join a Big Law firm. Still, opting for federal loans can protect you if you don’t land the job or salary you expect. And if you do, you can always refinance law school loans after graduating to recoup some savings.

How to take out loans for law school

Taking out loans for law school requires only a few steps. If you applied for financial aid as an undergrad, you’ll likely know what to do — though there are a couple of differences.

1. Fill out the FAFSA

You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to receive all types of federal financial aid, including work-study and student loans. Many private scholarships and grants require the FAFSA as well.

When completing the FAFSA, indicate that you’re going to be or already are a graduate student. This means you don’t have to include your parents’ information on the form; it also increases your borrowing limits.

2. Complete other required applications

In addition to the FAFSA, some law schools may make you submit the CSS Profile to receive nonfederal financial aid. Alternatively, your school might require an aid application that’s unique to its program.

Unlike on the FAFSA, you may need to provide your parents’ financial information on these forms to receive institutional scholarships or grants. Double-check the application process with the school’s financial aid office — including when its priority filing deadline is — so you don’t miss out on free money.

3. Work directly with private lenders

You don't need to complete the FAFSA for private student loans. If you've decided a private student loan makes sense for you, apply directly with the lender. The lender will likely require proof of your identity, income and law school you're attending, among other information.

Each lender has its own underwriting standards. Be sure to shop around and compare interest rates. You may need a co-signer to get the best possible deal.

Last updated on October 22, 2020

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Law School Loans of November 2020

Frequently asked questions