Student Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers
Law school debt can be a heavy burden, especially for government and nonprofit lawyers who might earn less than some of their colleagues. It’s also a very common situation, with about 90% of law school grads over the past decade holding student loans.
Fortunately, there are law school loan forgiveness and student loan assistance programs that can help.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness for lawyers
Some lawyers can get federal loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program once they’ve made 120 qualified payments while working for a qualified employer — namely any government agency (federal, state or local) or nonprofit.
Candidates must work full time and make consecutive payments, although there are some exceptions. Check out our PSLF guide for the details.
Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
The Department of Justice offers an Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP) in an effort to recruit and retain lawyers in the field.
Each spring, the agency opens up applications to current employees for the assistance program. To be eligible, you must have at least $10,000 in federal student loans.
Qualifying loans include:
- Stafford loans
- PLUS loans for professional or graduate students
- Direct consolidation loans
- Defense Loans (made before July 1, 1972)
- National Direct Student Loans (made between July 1, 1972 and July 1, 1987)
- Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL)
- Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans
- Federal Perkins Loans
- Nursing Student Loans
- The Health Professions Student Loans
Eligible candidates can receive up to $6,000 per calendar year, with a maximum of $60,000 in total assistance. Your payment will be sent to your loan servicer and not you directly. In order to accept the award, candidates need to commit to three years with the Department of Justice.
Note that assistance provided through this program is considered taxable income, which is subject to additional withholdings. Plus, while this program may be a good option for those working for the Department of Justice, it can be highly competitive.
John R. Justice Grant Program
If you’re a prosecutor, public defender, or full-time federal defender attorney struggling to pay off student debt, the John R. Justice Grant Program may be able to help. Eligible candidates can receive up to $10,000 per year, with a maximum award of $60,000.
Each state is provided with funding for this particular program, so you may need to contact your state educational agency to learn how to apply within your specific state. Candidates must agree to work in an eligible position for at least three years.
The Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program
This assistance program uses a lottery system to offer awards to eligible attorneys. To qualify, you must be employed by one of the program’s grantees and have outstanding student loan debt of at least $75,000.
This program loans up to $10,000 in forgivable loans to attorneys each year. You must have a reasonable expectation that you will work there for at least three years. That being said, if you meet all the requirements, each loan will be forgiven at the end of a one year term. You cannot receive more than three of these forgivable loans.
Loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)
Newly graduated lawyers are often saddled with student loans and cannot afford to take positions in the public sector. Many organizations, including law schools, offer Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) to help lawyers who take on public service roles.
LRAPs are loans that are canceled or forgiven if you do qualifying work for a set amount of time, often a one-to-three-year service commitment. Depending on the program, these loans may help cover the cost of private student loans, not just federal student loans.
These programs often have salary requirements. The actual amount you receive as part of your assistance depends on your program.
You can search for your law school on the American Bar Association list of LRAPs, or see if the state where you work has a program on this list below:
Income-driven repayment plans
A lot of the aforementioned assistance programs require you to work at a qualifying nonprofit or government agency and work under strict income limitations. If you don’t qualify for one of those programs and you have federal loans, consider an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan.
Here are the IDR options currently available:
Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Your monthly payments are capped at 10% to 15% of your income, depending on when you took out your loan. To qualify for IBR, your proposed payment must be less than what it would be under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. The repayment period is 20 or 25 years — any balance remaining after that will be forgiven, though the amount forgiven may be subject to taxes.
Pay As You Earn (PAYE): Monthly payments are capped at 10% of your income. To qualify, your proposed payment must be less than what it would be under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. The repayment period is 20 years — any balance remaining after that will be forgiven but may be subject to additional taxes.
Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): Payments are capped at 10% of your discretionary income, which is calculated according to your adjusted gross income minus 150% of the poverty state guideline. Like PAYE, undergrads can have their loans forgiven after 20 years. However, remaining graduate student loan balances aren’t forgiven until you’ve made 25 years of eligible payments.
Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE): This is the newest plan, meant to replace REPAYE over the coming year. Many of its benefits are more generous than the other IDRs, including full forgiveness after 10 years for some borrowers and raising your discretionary income to 225% of the poverty guidelines. However, some of these features won’t go into effect until July 2024 — you can check with your student loan servicer for more details.
Income-Contingent Repayment Plan: Monthly payments are capped at 20% of your discretionary income under an Income-Contingent Plan. The repayment period is 25 years, after which any remaining balance is forgiven (though forgiven debt might be subject to additional taxes).
Graduating with huge law school loans is tough, but there may be options to get some assistance from your employer, state and other sources. Check out these options to see if you qualify for some form of assistance or forgiveness.