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Your Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers
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Studying law is not a promised path to gainful employment or six figures. Many lawyers face unemployment and burdensome student loan debt, instead.
Fortunately, there are law school loan forgiveness and student loan assistance programs out there to help with that lingering debt from college — and even more for those who dedicate their lives to public service.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers
Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
The Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program
Loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)
Income-driven repayment plans
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives your remaining federal loans once you’ve made 120 qualified payments while working for a qualified employer. Eligible employment includes positions in the government and nonprofit sectors. Candidates must work full time and make consecutive payments.
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, employees of the Department of Justice must have at least $10,000 in federal student loans.
Eligible loans include:
- Stafford Loans
- Supplemental Loans
- Plus Loans
- Federal Consolidation Loans
- Defense Loans (made before July 1, 1972)
- National Direct Student Loans (made between July 1, 1972 and July 1, 1987)
- William D. Ford Direct Student Loans
- Perkins Loans
- The Nursing Student Loan Program loans
- The Health Profession Student Loan Program loans
- The Health Education Assistance Loan Program loans
Eligible candidates can receive up to $6,000 per calendar year, with a lifetime maximum of $60,000 in 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 a three-year service with the Department of Justice.
Note that assistance provided through this program is considered taxable income, which is subject to additional withholdings. While this program may be a good option for those working for the Department of Justice, it can be highly competitive.
Are you looking to work in the public sector? You’re in luck! The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides assistance for lawyers working as public defenders. 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’ll want to contact the Governor-Designated State Agencies to learn how to apply within your specific state. Candidates must be employed as public defenders for at least three years.
This assistance program uses a lottery system to offer awards to qualified attorneys. The attorney must be employed by one of the program’s grantees and have outstanding student loan debt of at least $75,000. This program awards up to $5,600 to roughly 125 attorneys each year.
Newly graduated lawyers who are saddled with student loans and are deterred from taking positions in the public sector also have options. Many law schools have come up with Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) to ease the financial burden and attract attorneys to the public sector.
Typically, these programs have salary requirements. The actual amount you receive as part of your assistance depends on your law school.
In addition to LRAPs by school, there are numerous programs offered by certain states, such as the following:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
If you live in the D.C. area, you may be able to qualify for up to $12,000 per year in repayment assistance.
The District of Columbia Bar Foundation Loan Repayment Assistance Program seeks lawyers working with low-income individuals. Eligible candidates must be in good standing with the D.C. Bar, employed by a qualified organization and work at least 17 hours per week. In addition, applicants’ gross income must be less than $90,000 in 2020. (Learn more)
The Florida Bar Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program that awards up to $5,000 per year to lawyers who work at legal aid or legal services organizations. Eligible candidates must work full-time or part-time for a foundation-supported organization. (Learn more)
The Indiana Bar Foundation offers assistance through the Justice Richard M. Givan Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which is geared toward law school graduates working in the nonprofit sector. The program is specifically designed for law school graduates who have incurred significant educational debt.
Eligible candidates must not make more than $70,000 annually. The program awards a maximum of $5,000 per year per eligible candidate. (Learn more)
The Louisiana Bar Foundation has an assistance program that offers up to $5,000 per year to lawyers working at an organization that is supported by the foundation. Applicants must be employed full-time and have a gross salary of $65,000 or less. In addition, they must reapply each year to be considered for funding. (Learn more)
The University of Maine School of Law Loan Repayment Assistance Program provides loan assistance to lawyers working in a public interest organization, such as a nonprofit, who make less than $50,000 per year. Candidates can receive an award of $1,500 to $3,000 annually. (Learn more)
Maryland residents working as attorneys in the public sector with low-income or underserved residents might be eligible for assistance through the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program.
Eligible candidates must have received their degree from a college in Maryland and be employed full time and making $60,000 or less. The award amount is between $1,500 and $10,000 per year, depending on your debt load. (Learn more)
The Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota offers assistance to graduates from a Minnesota law school working at a qualified nonprofit serving low-income communities. The gross income requirement depends on your years of service.
For example, if you’re an entry-level attorney at a qualifying nonprofit, your income cannot exceed $51,000.
Awards are based on your years of employment and calculated individually for each applicant. Eligible candidates can have 80% to 95% of their payments covered. (Learn more)
The Montana Justice Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program for legal aid lawyers working with underserved communities.
A maximum of $2,500 may be awarded to eligible candidates. Applicants must work full-time. If the number of applicants exceeds the amount of resources, the Board of Directors will decide how the funds should be used. (Learn more)
The New Hampshire Bar Foundation has a Law School Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help attorneys working with qualified public agencies within underserved communities in New Hampshire.
Attorneys can work full time or part time at a qualifying agency, such as the Disabilities Rights Center. The total award amount is a percentage of your income, based on a variety of factors including how much assistance you may have received from other sources. (Learn more)
The New Mexico Public Service Law Loan Repayment Assistance Program offers educational assistance for attorneys working in the public or nonprofit sectors.
Eligible candidates must earn a salary of $75,000 or less. Candidates must be working for a qualified employment site and commit to three years. The maximum award is $7,200 per year. (Learn more)
In New York, the District Attorney and Indigent Legal Services Attorney Loan Forgiveness Program offers assistance to attorneys that are employed as District Attorneys, Assistant District Attorneys or Indigent Legal Services Attorneys.
Applicants must be residents of New York State and have a year of full-time, qualified service under their belts. This is one of the more generous programs, with a maximum total award of $20,400 paid in annual disbursements of $3,400. (Learn more)
The North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation helps recruit and retain public interest attorneys by offering repayment assistance. Funding has been provided to help public-interest attorneys in Mecklenburg County. (Learn more)
The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help recruit and retain attorneys working with Ohio’s poor and underserved communities. (Learn more)
The Oregon State Bar has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help attract and retain public service attorneys. Eligible candidates must work at a qualifying nonprofit or agency with a salary that does not exceed $65,000.
In addition, applicants must have $35,000 or more in outstanding student loan debt. An award of $7,500 per year is available for up to three years. (Learn more)
The Pennsylvania Bar Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program that aims to help lawyers understand their student loan debt and make it more manageable to stay in public service.
An eligible candidate’s salary must not exceed $66,000. The total award amount will depend on the number of candidates and available funding. (Learn more)
The Texas Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program is funded by the State Bar of Texas and offers repayment assistance to those who choose to work in legal aid in Texas. The program offers assistance to approximately 125 attorneys. At this time, applicants’ salaries should not exceed $80,000, and the yearly maximum award is $6,000. (Learn more)
The Vermont Bar Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program that offers loan assistance for attorneys working in the nonprofit sector and helping low-income individuals and families.
Lawyers must be licensed in Vermont and be employed at a qualified organization. Eligible candidates’ salaries must not exceed $60,000. Applicants may be eligible for up to $5,000 per year. Former participants may apply again for future funding cycles. (Learn more)
A lot of the aforementioned assistance programs require you to work at a qualifying nonprofit or 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 plan.
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 to 25 years — any balance remaining after that will be forgiven but may be subject to additional 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. Remaining student loan balances are forgiven once you’ve made 20 years of eligible payments.
Income-Contingent 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 more. Check out these options to see if you qualify for some form of assistance or forgiveness.