BEST OF

11 Best Law School Loans of February 2023

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

By Cecilia Clark 

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Even if you’re planning for a lucrative 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 need a law school student loan, federal loans are a safer choice than private options. 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.

Best Law School Loans

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

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan

Min. credit score

None

Fixed APR

4.99-6.54%

Variable APR

N/A

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 3.73%, while grad students get higher 5.28% rate

Available Term Lengths

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

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

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Min. credit score

None

Fixed APR

7.54-7.54%

Variable APR

N/A

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.

Read Full Review

Our pick for

Private law school loans

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan
Check rate

on Sallie Mae's website

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

Mid-600's

Fixed APR

4.50-14.83%

Variable APR

5.37-15.70%
Check rate

on Sallie Mae's website


Variable APR

5.37-15.70%

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.

  • 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.

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

10 to 15 years

Disclaimer

Lowest rates shown include the auto debit. Advertised APRs for undergraduate students assume a $10,000 loan to a student who attends school for 4 years and has no prior Sallie Mae-serviced loans. Interest rates for variable rate loans may increase or decrease over the life of the loan based on changes to the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent. Advertised variable rates are the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Interest is charged starting when funds are sent to the school. With the Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options, the interest rate is higher than with the Interest Repayment Option and Unpaid Interest is added to the loan’s Current Principal at the end of the grace/separation period. To receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate discount, the borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae. The discount 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. It may be suspended during forbearance or deferment. Advertised APRs are valid as of 1/25/2023. Loan amounts: 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. Examples of typical costs for a $10,000 Smart Option Student Loan with the most common fixed rate, fixed repayment option, 6-month separation period, and two disbursements: For a borrower with no prior loans and a 4-year in-school period, it works out to a 10.28% fixed APR, 51 payments of $25.00, 119 payments of $182.67 and one payment of $121.71, for a Total Loan Cost of $23,134.44. For a borrower with $20,000 in prior loans and a 2-year in-school period, it works out to a 10.78% fixed APR, 27 payments of $25.00, 179 payments of $132.53 and one payment of $40.35 for a total loan cost of $24,438.22. Loans that are subject to a $50 minimum principal and interest payment amount may receive a loan term that is less than 10 years.

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Ascent Law Student Loan
Check rate

on Ascent's website

Ascent Law Student Loan

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Ascent Law Student Loan

Min. credit score

Varies

Fixed APR

5.62-16.16%

Variable APR

6.75-15.76%
Check rate

on Ascent's website


Variable APR

6.75-15.76%

Key facts

Best for law students who want flexible payment options.

Pros

  • Among the best for payment flexibility.

  • 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.

  • Stands out for features that enable faster loan repayment.

Cons

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

Qualifications

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

  • Minimum income: Not available.

  • Loan amounts: up to $400,000.

Available Term Lengths

7, 10, 12 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Ascent Student Loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, 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.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 2/1/2023 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-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: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.

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College Ave Law Student Loan
Check rate

on College Ave's website

College Ave Law Student Loan

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
College Ave Law Student Loan

Min. credit score

Mid-600s

Fixed APR

4.49-13.99%

Variable APR

4.49-13.99%
Check rate

on College Ave's website


Variable APR

4.49-13.99%

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

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC.. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Flat Repayment Option with an 8-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.78% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 54 monthly payments of $25 while in school, followed by 96 monthly payments of $176.21 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $18,266.38. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2023. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

Read Full Review
Earnest Private Student Loan
Check rate

on Earnest's website

Earnest Private Student Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Earnest Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

650

Fixed APR

4.79-13.70%

Variable APR

4.79-13.50%
Check rate

on Earnest's website


Variable APR

4.79-13.50%

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.

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

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 5.04% APR to 14.10% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 5.04% APR to 13.75% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan origination loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

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Discover Undergraduate and Graduate Student Loans
Check rate

on Discover's website

Discover Undergraduate and Graduate Student Loans

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
Discover Undergraduate and Graduate Student Loans

Min. credit score

Does not disclose

Fixed APR

5.49-15.99%

Variable APR

5.87-16.72%
Check rate

on Discover's website


Variable APR

5.87-16.72%

Key facts

Best for borrowers with strong finances.

Pros

  • International and DACA students can qualify with a qualified U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer.

  • No late fees.

Cons

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

Qualifications

  • Minimum income: Did not disclose.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 minimum. Borrow up to 100% of school-certified cost of attendance — including tuition, housing, book and more — minus financial aid. Aggregate loan limits apply.

Available Term Lengths

Visit Lender Website

Disclaimer

APR ranges vary by loan type and the lowest available APR may be higher than what is shown here. Lowest APRs are available to the most creditworthy applicants, and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. Applying with a creditworthy cosigner may improve your likelihood for loan approval and you may receive a lower interest rate. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan unless you are no longer eligible for one or more discounts. The variable interest rate and corresponding APR may increase over the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month CME Term SOFR index plus the applicable margin percentage less any applicable discounts. The 3-Month CME Term SOFR index value for variable interest rate loans is 4.625% as of January 1, 2023. 3-Month CME Term SOFR is administered by CME Group and is published by CME Group on its website (cmegroup.com/termsofr). Discover Student Loans may adjust the variable interest rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (each an “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month CME Term SOFR rate available for the day that is 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125), or 0%, whichever is greater. This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. If the 3-Month CME Term SOFR rate is less than zero percent, then the index will be deemed to be zero percent (as stated in the promissory note) for purposes of calculating your interest rate. Your variable interest rate (index + margin – applicable discounts) will not exceed 18%. Our lowest APRs are only available to applicants with the best credit. The APR will be determined after an application is submitted. It will be based on credit history, the selected repayment option and other factors, including a cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). If a student does not have an established credit history, the student may find it difficult to qualify for a private student loan on their own or receive the lowest advertised rate. Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates.

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Education Loan Finance Private Student Loan
Check rate

on Education Loan Finance's website

Education Loan Finance Private Student Loan

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
Education Loan Finance Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

680

Fixed APR

3.98-11.99%

Variable APR

3.98-11.99%
Check rate

on Education Loan Finance's website


Variable APR

3.98-11.99%

Key facts

Best for borrowers with a significant funding gap.

Pros

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

  • You are assigned a student loan advisor.

Cons

  • Minimum loan amount is larger than other private lenders.

  • No co-signer release available.

Qualifications

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

  • Minimum income: $35,000.

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

Available Term Lengths

5, 7, 10 or 15 years.

Read Full Review
Brazos Private Student Loan
Check rate

on Brazos' website

Brazos Private Student Loan

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
Brazos Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

680

Fixed APR

2.84-7.27%

Variable APR

4.09-8.52%
Check rate

on Brazos' website


Variable APR

4.09-8.52%

Key facts

Best for Texas residents with strong financials or a qualified co-signer.

Pros

  • May offer lower rates for graduate students than what are available through the federal government.

  • Applies extra payments to the loan principal by default.

  • Offers five loan terms, which is more than most lenders.

Cons

  • Not available to borrowers enrolled in two year programs at community colleges.

  • Not available to borrowers who are not Texas residents.

  • Biweekly payments via autopay is not available.

Available Term Lengths

5, 7, 10, 15 or 20 years

Read Full Review

Nelnet Bank Private Student Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Nelnet Bank Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

680

Fixed APR

4.49-14.32%

Variable APR

4.74-14.77%

Variable APR

4.74-14.77%

Key facts

Best for borrowers who value flexibility in repayment.

Pros

  • Offers 13 options for flexible post-graduation repayment, which is more than most lenders.

  • Provides rate offer with soft credit check.

  • Borrowers enrolled less than half-time can qualify.

Cons

  • Does not disclose full underwriting requirements.

  • Borrowers may not know what to expect with hardship forbearance as it is granted case-by-case.

  • Does not allow bi-weekly payments via autopay.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: Did not disclose.

  • Minimum income: $36,000

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 with an aggregate loan limit of $125,000

Available Term Lengths

5, 10 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% APR (with auto debit discount) to 14.32% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. The fixed interest rate will remain the same for the life of the loan. Variable interest rates range from 4.74% APR (with auto debit discount) to 14.77% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. Variable rates may increase after consummation. Variable rates for Nelnet Bank Student Loans are calculated as the One-Month SOFR plus the applicable Margin percentage. Variable rates will be based on the highest One-Month SOFR as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on the twenty-fifth day (or the next business day) of the immediately preceding calendar month. The variable rate may change on the first day of each month if the SOFR index changes. This may result in higher monthly payments. The current One-Month SOFR index is 4.54% as of February 1, 2023. The lowest interest rate for each loan type requires automatically withdrawn (“auto debit”) payments. The lowest rate is available only to the most creditworthy applicants. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rate., The interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) may be higher depending upon (1) the credit history of the borrower and, if applicable, the cosigner, (2) the repayment option and loan term selected, and (3) the loan type selected. If approved, applicants will be notified of the rate qualified for within the stated range. Checking your rate results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score. Interest rate reduction of .25% for automatically withdrawn payments from any designated bank account (“auto debit discount”). Auto debit discount applies when full payments (including both principal and interest) are automatically drafted from a bank account. The auto debit discount will continue to apply during periods of approved forbearance or deferment if the auto debit discount was in effect at the time of receiving the forbearance or deferment. Auto debit discount will remain on the account unless (1) the automatic deduction of payments is cancelled or (2) there are three consecutive automatic deductions returned for insufficient funds at any time during the term of the loan. Subject to Credit approval.

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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
Check rate

on MPOWER's website

MPOWER Private Student Loan

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
MPOWER Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

N/A

Fixed APR

13.72-15.01%

Variable APR

N/A
Check rate

on MPOWER's website


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.

  • Borrowers can request forbearance of up to 24 months, which is longer than many lenders offer.

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 $100,000, limited to $25,000 per academic period.

Available Term Lengths

10 years

Disclaimer

Note: Our loan does not support Canadian citizens studying in Canada. Canadian Permanent Residents and U.S. citizens are considered “international” when studying in Canada. International students, U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and DACA recipients in the U.S. or Canada. ‘International’ means you are a non-U.S. citizen or U.S. non-permanent resident studying at a university in the U.S., or you are a non-Canadian citizen or Canadian non-permanent resident studying at a university in Canada. ‘DACA’ means the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program initiated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012. In order to qualify as a DACA Student, you must have applied for, and been granted, DACA status by USCIS. As a graduate student, you can borrow with a fixed interest rate of 12.99% (13.98% APR¹). This is the maximum rate and will not increase. However, MPOWER offers borrowers a way to qualify for a discount; a 0.25% rate discount is possible by making your loan payments through automatic withdrawal from your bank account. If you qualify for this discount, your rate will be 12.74% (13.72% APR²). ¹[International graduate student with regular interest rate] The APR is calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of US$10,000 with a 5% origination fee of US$500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. Payments will be interest only until graduation, plus an additional 6-month grace period. The remaining months of repayment are calculated using a 120-month amortization schedule. All payments are made on-time, a forbearance is never utilized, and there is no pre-payment of any principal. At an APR of 13.98%, the monthly payment amount is US$113.66 for the first 30 months. For the next 120 months, the monthly payment amount is about $156.71. ²[International graduate student with discounted interest rate] The APRs with discounts are calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of $10,000 with a 5% origination fee of US$500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. The borrower signs up for automatic debit immediately after the loan is disbursed and remains on it for the life of the loan, which reduces the rate by 0.25%. At an APR of 13.72%, the monthly payment is US$111.47 for the first 30 months. For the last 120 payments, the monthly amount is US$155.17. Undergraduate Students in the U.S. or Canada Note: Our loan does not support Canadian citizens studying in Canada. Canadian Permanent Residents and U.S. citizens are considered “international” when studying in Canada. International students, U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and DACA recipients in the U.S. or Canada. ‘International’ means you are a non-U.S. citizen or U.S. non-permanent resident studying at a university in the U.S., or you are a non-Canadian citizen or Canadian non-permanent resident studying at a university in Canada. ‘DACA’ means the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program initiated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012. In order to qualify as a DACA Student, you must have applied for, and been granted, DACA status by USCIS. As an undergraduate student, you can borrow with a fixed interest rate of 13.99% (15.01% APR³). This is the maximum rate and will never increase. However, MPOWER offers borrowers a way to qualify for a discount; a 0.25% rate discount is possible by making your loan payments through automatic withdrawal from your bank account. If you qualify for this discount, your rate will be 13.74% (14.75% APR⁴). ³[International undergraduate student with regular interest rate] The APR is calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of $10,000 with a 5% origination fee of $500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. Payments will be interest only until graduation plus an additional 6-month grace period. The remaining months of repayment are calculated using a 120-month amortization schedule. All payments are made on-time, a forbearance is never utilized, and there is no pre-payment of any principal. At an APR of 15.01%, the monthly payment amount is $122.41 for the first 30 months. For the next 120 months, the monthly payment amount is $162.97. ⁴[International undergraduate student with discounted interest rate] The APRs with discounts are calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of US$10,000 with a 5% origination fee of US$500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. The borrower signs up for automatic debit immediately after the loan is disbursed and remains on it for the life of the loan, which reduces the rate by 0.25%. A forbearance is never utilized and there is no prepayment of any principal. At an APR of 14.75%, the monthly payment is US$120.22 for the first 30 payments. For the last 120 payments, the monthly amount is US$161.39.

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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?

Law school costs average almost $67,000 annually, according to data from the American Bar Association. If you’ve exhausted free aid like scholarships to cover those expenses 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 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 7.54% interest rate would cost $207,618 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 $165,000 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.

STUDENT LOAN RATINGS METHODOLOGY

Our survey of more than 29 banks, credit unions and online lenders offering student loans and student loan refinancing includes the top 10 lenders by market share and top 10 lenders by online search volume, as well as lenders that serve specialty or nontraditional markets.

We consider 40 features and data points for each financial institution. Depending on the category, these include the availability of biweekly payments through autopay, minimum credit score and income requirement disclosures, availability to borrowers in all states, extended grace periods and in-house customer service.

The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

Last updated on December 20, 2022

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