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Average Student Loan Debt for Law School Graduates

Law school students graduate with an average student loan debt of $145,550, including undergraduate loans.
July 24, 2019
Loans, Student Loans
Average Student Loan Debt for Law School Graduates
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Law school graduates finish school with an average student loan debt of $145,500, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That total includes student loans that law students took out for their undergraduate degrees.

A student loan balance of $145,500 would cost $198,700 if repaid over the standard 10-year plan, assuming current interest rates. The average law school loan payment for that amount of debt would be $1,656 a month.

» MORE: How to pay for law school

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Average law student debt for the class of 2018

Seventy-five percent of 2018 law school graduates took student loans, according to Law School Transparency, a nonprofit organization.

On average, these students borrowed $115,481 to pay for their JD alone — $130,900 for graduates of private law schools and $89,962 for those who attended public law schools.

On average, these students borrowed $115,481 to pay for their JD alone — $130,900 for graduates of private law schools and $89,962 for those who attended public law schools.

Because law students don’t qualify for subsidized federal loans, which cover interest while you’re enrolled, those balances will increase even more when interest is capitalized at the start of repayment. The debt levels also do not include other money a law student may have taken on to cover expenses, like a bar exam loan.

» MORE: Best law school loans for 2019

That heavy debt burden may be worth it to you — if you get the job you want.

Jeffrey Hanson is a financial aid consultant for the Law School Admission Council and the former director of financial aid at the Chicago campus of Northwestern University, which includes its school of law. He says you shouldn’t necessarily choose the law school with the best scholarship, but rather the one with the best chance to pursue your desired career.

“Not all schools are going to give [you] the same opportunity for that,” says Hanson.

How to repay law school loans

If you’ve already borrowed loans for law school, the right repayment strategy for you will likely depend on your career path — and the salary you earn as a result.

  • If your earnings are on the low end. Salaries are typically lower for public interest lawyers than those in the private sector, but income-driven repayment may benefit anyone who needs lower federal student loan payments. If you’ve chosen a career in public interest law, you may also be able to benefit from Public Service Loan Forgiveness or a different loan forgiveness program for lawyers.
  • If your earnings are on the high end. Those who opt for careers in Big Law will likely earn good money, as will some other private sector lawyers. These borrowers should pay their loans as fast as possible to minimize interest costs. That could mean sticking with the standard plan or refinancing law school loans at a lower rate. Refinancing federal loans will cost you options like income-driven repayment, but if you’re confident you won’t need these benefits, refinancing could save you money.

» MORE: What is the average lawyer salary?

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