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Compare Bar Loans for 2018

April 3, 2018
Loans, Student Loans
NerdWallet adheres to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from partners. Here’s how we make money.
We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

Bar loans are private loans for bar study courses, bar exam fees and living expenses while you’re studying for the bar. They’re designed to cover costs that student loans don’t. You can apply for bar loans starting in your final semester of law school or up to a year after graduating.

Sitting for the bar can be pricey — bar exam application fees alone range from about $200 to $1,450, depending on the state, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Bar preparation classes typically cost a couple thousand dollars, and you’ll also need money for basic living costs.

Still, 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.

» MORE: Law school loans, financial aid and loan forgiveness

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 student 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.

  • Ask your employer for support. If you’ve landed your first job as a lawyer, consider that many law firms 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.

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.

Top bar loans 2018

LenderGet started
Bar study loans: NerdWallet quarterly interest rate survey
Fixed: 6.42% to 12.99%; Variable: 4.86% to 11.99%

4.5 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Discover review

4 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0

PNC review

4 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Sallie Mae review

4 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Wells Fargo review

Bar loan details

Discover bar loan

  • Loan term: 20 years
  • Loan amount: $1,000 to $16,000
  • Grace period: 9 months
  • Application deadline: 6 months after graduation

How it stands out: 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.

PNC bar loan

  • Loan term: 1 to 15 years
  • Loan amount: $1,000 to $15,000
  • Grace period: 6 months
  • Application deadline: 6 months after graduation

How it stands out: You can apply to release the co-signer on your PNC bar loan after you make 48 consecutive on-time payments.

Sallie Mae bar loan

  • Loan term: 15 years
  • Loan amount: $1,000 to $15,000
  • Grace period: 9 months
  • Application deadline: 12 months after graduation

How it stands out: 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.

Wells Fargo bar loan

  • Loan term: 7 years
  • Loan amount: $1,000 to $12,000
  • Grace period: 6 months
  • Application deadline: 30 days after graduation

How it stands out: Wells Fargo offers 0.25% and 0.50% interest rate discounts for its existing student loan and checking account customers.

Bar study course loans

Barbri bar loan

  • Loan term: 3, 6 or 12 months
  • Loan amount: Cost of the Barbri course
  • Grace period: None
  • APR: 0% to 30%

Barbri offers bar exam courses online and in classrooms around the country. Prices start at $2,695 and vary by state and the package you select.

Barbri bar loans are available through Affirm, a lender that offers small, personal loans to help people cover relatively big purchases. It covers only the cost of Barbri bar exam review courses — not bar exam fees or living costs. You’ll have the option to finance through Affirm during the checkout process for your Barbri bar review course.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s Affirm review

 


Lender disclosures

6. The interest rate range represents the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA 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. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.25% as of April 1, 2018. Discover Student Loans will 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. Please visit https://www.discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates.html for more information about interest rates.

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