Smart Borrowing Tips
Law school loans are considered a justifiable means achieving your degree, but can also be a major contributor to excessive debt. Be a responsible borrower by understanding your options and keeping your debt to a minimum by being prepared and making smart decisions.
Plan Ahead to Minimize Expenses—Living frugally during law school will benefit you after graduation. By being proactive and making good decisions now, you can limit the amount you will borrow and ensure manageable loan debt upon graduation. Some ways to minimize expenses include sharing housing, living in an older complex or in graduate student housing, using public transportation or ride sharing, packing your lunch a few days a week instead of eating out, and utilizing free entertainment.
Eliminate debt—Eliminating all credit-card debt will help you maintain a budget while in school. Make sure that you use your credit cards wisely and pay the balances in full at the end of each month. If you need help with credit card debt, please contact Consumer Credit Counseling Services. It is a good idea to eliminate all other debts if possible such as paying off your car or selling it so that you don’t have a payment.
Review your credit—Request your credit report from all three credit bureaus. Review them carefully. Should you find any errors, make sure you contact the credit bureaus and ask for the mistakes to be corrected.
Check your credit score—Private loan lenders will factor in your score when considering your loan application. You may also request a free credit report each year from annualcreditreport.com.
Work during your breaks—During semester breaks, work as much as you are able and use the money you make to pay down debt.
Develop a personal budget—Reduce discretionary spending and save as much as you can. The more you save now, the less you will need to borrow later. Use our “Budgeting and Financial Awareness Page”:https://law.nd.edu/admin/pages/83063 for information on how to create and execute a budget.
Make smart housing choices—Notre Dame and the South Bend area offer a number of very affordable on-campus and off-campus housing choices. Reduce your housing expenses by living in a slightly older complex or by splitting the rent costs with a roommate or two.
Cut expenses and shop wisely—Work hard to cut expenses, which can add up to big savings. Get a roommate, pack your meals, go to garage sales to purchase furniture, and avoid getting a car if you live by campus. Explore Upromise, which allows students to earn contributions for a savings account, money to pay down student loans, or cash for school expenses by shopping at participating grocers, gas stations, and retailers.
Look at outside scholarships—There are a number of excellent outside scholarship opportunities available that can help you save. Search our External Scholarship Database and utilize the internet, civic associations, and the local bar association.
Work during your breaks—During semester breaks, work as much as you are able and use the money you earn to pay down debt.
Explore options for those interested in public service—Start your career in a public service job that qualifies you for a debt-forgiveness program. If your income after graduation is modest, the Loan Repayment Assistance Program can help repay your educational loans. Read more about NDLS’s LRAP
Borrow wisely—Look closely at the terms and conditions of all loans. Different types can vary widely in interest rates, for example. Do not always sign up for the first student loan you are offered. Seek the lowest interest rate and look for flexible terms that allow you to avoid penalties as you begin paying after graduation. Credit cards are your worst option for funding law school expenses because you may never pay them back and their interest rates are relatively high.
Think about the bar exam—Start thinking about the state in which you want to take the bar exam. Some states allow an attorney admitted in one state to “waive” into the bars of their states, while some states don’t allow it at all (you must take their bar exam). Other states allow admission to their bar, but only for attorneys coming from states with “reciprocity” to that state. Therefore, if State A allows attorneys from State B to waive in, then attorneys from State B can “reciprocally” waive in to State A. Check whether the states you are considering have reciprocity; if one does, and the other does not, taking the bar in the state that does not offer reciprocity and waiving into the other state will reduce the overall costs associated with sitting for the bar.
Plan wisely for health insurance—If you do not qualify under a parent or spouse’s health insurance plan. Law students must be covered by a health insurance plan. You will automatically be enrolled in the student insurance plan unless proof of comparable coverage is provided. You can learn more about the University-sponsored insurance plan as well as obtain a waiver through the University Health Services website.