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While studying law could lead to a lucrative legal career, it can also be expensive. The average law student graduates with $130,000 in student loan debt, according to the American Bar Association (ABA). Additionally, many new lawyers end up with lower annual incomes than their total loan balances, which can make it difficult to repay the debt.
Here’s the average law school debt in several categories:
- Average law school debt
- Cost to repay law school debt
- Average interest rates on law school loans
- Typical loan balances and interest rates for law school grads
- Percentage of grads passing the bar
- Average time to repay law school loans
- Average earnings with a law school degree
- Law school debt and earnings by school
- How to pay off law school debt
Average law school debt
Here’s a look at the average law school debt and earnings for graduates nationwide, according to data reported by the ABA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Average law school debt: $108,000
- Average education debt after law school: $130,000
- Median salary with a law school degree: $127,990
- Average salary with a law school degree: $148,030
- Average time to repay law school debt: 20-25 years
Before you attend law school, it’s important to understand the full cost involved so you can make the right decisions with your finances. In general, lawyers graduate with higher student loan debt balances than their incomes, which leads to longer repayment times.
Average law school debt by year
|Graduation year||Law school debt only||Cumulative debt at graduation|
|Sources: National Center for Education Statistics, American Bar Association|
The chart above shows average total education debt for law school graduates is:
- For the class of 1999-2000: $57,500
- For the class of 2019-2020: $130,000
That’s an increase of 126%, without adjusting for inflation.
Keep in mind that total education debt includes both law school and pre-law debt taken on to earn a bachelor’s degree. Excluding pre-law debt and looking only at loans taken out for law school, average law school debt at graduation averaged:
- For the class of 1999-2000: $51,800
- For the class of 2019-2020: $108,000
That’s an increase of 108%, without adjusting for inflation.
See More: U.S. Student Loan Debt Statistics
Cost to repay law school debt
Law school students take on far more debt than other grad students. The cost to repay law school debt depends primarily on three factors:
- The interest rates on your loans
- How how long it takes you to pay your loans back
- Whether you’ll qualify for loan forgiveness
You can use our calculator below to see how much you could save by refinancing your student loans.
Step 1. Enter your loan balance
Step 2. Enter current loan information
Step 3. Enter your new loan information to start calculating your savings
If you refinance your student loan at % interest rate, you can save will pay an additional $ monthly and pay off your loan by . The total cost of the new loan will be $.
Does refinancing make sense for you?
Compare offers from top refinancing lenders to determine your actual savings.
Checking rates won’t affect your credit score.
Average interest rates on law school loans
If you’re taking federal student loans for pre-law and law degrees, there are three interest rate tiers — one for undergraduates, one for graduate students, and one for PLUS loans. Many lawyers have all three types of loans by the time they graduate from law school.
Based on average student loan interest rates in recent years, a typical law school graduate would have the following loan balances and interest rates:
|Loan type||Amount borrowed||Average interest rate*|
|Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans |
(for undergrad students)
|Direct Unsubsidized Loans |
(for graduate students)
|Direct PLUS loans |
(for graduate and professional students)
|* Averages based on federal interest rates from 2006-22.|
Typical loan balances and interest rates for law school grads
Graduate and professional students are allowed to take out a lifetime total of $138,500 in Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. Keep in mind that the annual borrowing limit for grad students on these more affordable loans is $20,500.
What this means is that students earning a law degree in three years will be able to borrow no more than $61,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans for grad students. After this, law students will need to consider costlier Grad PLUS Loans or private student loans to cover their unmet funding needs.
Check out: Best Law School Loans
Percentage of grads passing the bar
Graduating from law school is only one hurdle on the path to becoming a lawyer. New law school graduates must also pass the bar exam in the state where they’d like to practice law in order to start their careers.
The bar is a notoriously difficult exam, but the good news is 79.86% of first-time bar exam takers passed it in 2021, according to the American Bar Association.
Unfortunately, taking the bar exam could also add to your debt. The exam itself can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,300 or more, according to JD Advising. Additionally, many exam takers will need to pay for a prep course that could cost upward of $4,000, as well as the cost of lodging for the multi-day exam.
Before taking out a bar exam loan, it’s important to consider as many lenders as possible so you can find the right loan for you. Here are a couple of Credible’s partner lenders that offer bar exam loans:
|Lenders that offer bar exam loans||Loan amount||Fees|
|$1,000 - $16,000|
($225,000 aggregate loan limit)
|$1,000 - $15,000||None|
your credit score. 100% free!
Average time to repay law school loans
The repayment period for your law school loans will depend on a number of factors, including your choice of repayment plan, income, and whether you’ll qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness as a government or nonprofit worker.
For law school grads, the average time to repay student loans after graduation is:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): 10 years
- Standard repayment plan: 10 years
- Income-driven repayment (REPAYE): 17 years
The table below illustrates how your repayment plan impacts the time you’ll spend paying off the average law school debt of $130,000 with a weighted interest rate of 5.23%. You can also see how some borrowers might save more money and pay their loans off faster by refinancing their loans.
|Repayment plan||Monthly payment||Years of payments||Total repayment cost|
|REPAYE with Public Service Loan Forgiveness*||$304 to $397 (first, last)||10||$41,860 ($125,361 forgiven)|
|REPAYE without Public Service Loan Forgiveness*||$314 to $707 (first, last)||25||$146,147 ($52,977 forgiven)|
|Standard 10-year repayment plan||$1,394 (fixed)||10||$167,222|
|Refinance into 10-year loan at 4.25%||$1,639 (fixed)||10||$196,680|
|*Assumes an average income of $56,900 (the median entry-level salary for public defenders in 2022) and that the borrower is unmarried.|
Average earnings with a law school degree
While graduating with six-figure education debt isn’t ideal, many lawyers are able to earn a high annual salary that’s nearly equal to their total debt. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers earned the following in 2021:
- Median: $127,990
- Average: $148,030
Earnings with a law school degree
|Management of companies and enterprises||$198,900|
|Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics|
The chart above highlights that lawyers who work for state and local governments can expect to earn less than the average law school graduate. Working for the federal government can provide a more generous salary.
Landing a job with a law firm as a provider of legal services, or as a member of a company or enterprise legal staff, often provides the biggest paycheck.
Law school debt and earnings by school
The amount of student debt you take on and the salary you can expect post-graduation can both be impacted by which law school you attend. In general, the most prestigious universities have the highest price tags.
However, starting a legal career after graduating from a highly respected alma mater can often command a higher salary that makes it possible to repay the higher debt.
Schools that are less selective, on the other hand, can leave graduates deeply in debt and without a clear path to a six-figure income.
|School||Median debt||Median income||Debt-to-income ratio|
|Columbia University in the City of New York||$165,314||$180,300||0.92|
|New York University||$183,857||$175,800||1.05|
|University of California-Berkeley||$151,136||$135,400||1.12|
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||$145,182||$126,800||1.14|
|The University of Texas at Austin||$106,598||$90,100||1.18|
|University of California-Los Angeles||$121,453||$96,600||1.26|
|University of Florida||$84,508||$56,900||1.49|
|Brooklyn Law School||$119,909||$66,100||1.81|
|University of California-Hastings College of Law||$137,787||$67,600||2.04|
|George Washington University||$163,300||$74,300||2.2|
|Loyola Marymount University||$144,200||$63,700||2.26|
|South Texas College of Law Houston||$132,415||$56,900||2.33|
|Southwestern Law School||$193,653||$45,000||4.3|
|Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley Law School||$162,011||$36,000||4.5|
|Florida Coastal School of Law||$198,655||$35,300||5.63|
|The 20 largest law schools by number of degrees granted, ranked by recent graduates' debt-to-income ratio. The lower the ratio, the more manageable the debt. Median debt figures are for 2016-2017. Income is for 2015-2016 graduates. Some schools that do not report data excluded. Source: U.S. Department of Education.|
Students who take on debt that doesn’t exceed their annual earnings will have the easiest time repaying their loans. The chart above shows that among the nation’s 20 biggest law schools, the average debt-to-annual-income ratio can be much higher than the ideal of one or less.
Average debt-to-income ratio at the nation’s largest law schools
Law school vs. other graduate programs
While studying law can lead to a fulfilling career for many, it’s not your only option for graduate studies. If you’re considering other career options, it’s important to consider how much other programs cost. Here’s how law school debt stacks up against other degree types:
|Graduate program||Average student loan debt|
|Masters of Business Administration (MBA)||$66,300|
|Sources: National Center for Education Statistics, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, American Association of Medical Colleges, American Dental Education Association|
How to pay off law school debt
Some lawyers may be able to land a high-paying job right out of law school that will easily allow them to pay off their student loan debt. But that isn’t the case for all new lawyers, especially those who choose a career in public service.
If your debt-to-income ratio is high, you might wonder how you will ever be able to pay off your law school debt. Thankfully, there are a few options available that could help you more easily manage your debt.
1. Qualify for loan forgiveness
Pursuing PSLF could be a good idea for federal student loan borrowers who plan to work as public defenders or prosecutors or to work for nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to underserved communities.
Under this program, you could have your loans forgiven after working for an eligible employer and making qualifying payments for 10 years.
2. Choose a repayment plan
In addition to the 10-year standard repayment plan, there are also several federal student loan repayment options available, including:
- Graduated repayment plan: On this plan, your payments will start low and increase every two years. This could be helpful if you expect your income to rise over time.
- Extended repayment plan: This type of plan lets you extend your repayment term up to 25 years, which could reduce your monthly payments. You can choose between a standard extended repayment plan with fixed payments or a graduated repayment plan that starts with lower payments that gradually increase. Also keep in mind that you’ll pay more in interest over time by extending your repayment term.
- Income-driven repayment plan: With this kind of plan, your payments are based on your income — typically 10% to 20% of your discretionary income. Additionally, any remaining balance could be forgiven after 20 to 25 years, depending on the plan you choose.
If you’re wondering how long it’ll take to pay off your student loans, enter your current loan information into the calculator below to find out. Use the slider to see how increasing your payments can change the payoff date.
Enter loan information
If you increase your payments by $ monthly on your $ loan at %, you will pay $ a month and pay off your loan by Jan 2021.
Does refinancing make sense for you?
Compare offers from top refinancing lenders to determine your actual savings.
Checking rates won’t affect your credit score.
3. Refinance law school debt
In some cases, it might be a good idea to refinance your law school debt — however, this isn’t the right choice for everyone. If you’re thinking about refinancing your loans, here are some possible benefits to keep in mind:
- Might get a lower interest rate: Depending on your credit, you might qualify for a lower interest rate through refinancing. This could save you money on interest and even help you pay off your loans faster.
- Could reduce your payments: If you opt to extend your repayment term through refinancing, you could lower your monthly payments and lessen the strain on your budget. Just remember that this also means you’ll pay more in interest over time.
- Can combine multiple student loans: It can be difficult to keep track of multiple student loans with different payments and interest rates. Through refinancing, you can combine your loans — leaving you with just one loan and payment to manage. You also have the option to refinance all or just some of your loan balance.
And here are a few drawbacks to think about:
- Loss of federal benefits: If you refinance federal student loans, you’ll no longer have access to federal benefits or protections — including income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs.
- Lack of repayment options: Private refinanced loans don’t offer the variety of repayment options that come with federal student loans. For example, you generally won’t be able to sign up for an income-driven or extended repayment plan.
- Fewer options for poor or fair credit: Most law school loan refinance companies require borrowers to have good to excellent credit to be eligible for refinancing — a good credit score is usually considered to be 700 or higher. There are also several lenders that offer refinancing for bad credit, but these loans usually come with higher interest rates compared to good credit loans.
If you decide to refinance your law school loans, remember to consider as many lenders as you can to find the right loan for your needs. Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes.
|Lender||Fixed rates from (APR)||Variable rates from (APR)||Loan terms (years)||Loan amounts|
|4.4%+||4.54%+||5, 7, 10, 15, 20||$10,000 up to $250,000
(depending on degree)
|5.39%+1||5.39%+1||5, 7, 10, 15, 20||$10,000 to $500,000
(depending on degree and loan type)
|5.24%+2||5.24%+2||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20||$5,000 to $300,000
(depending on degree type)
|7.41%+5||7.29%+5||5, 10, 15, 20||$1,000 to $250,000|
|4.83%+3||3.99%+3||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20||$10,000 to $250,000|
|5.61%+4||6.61%+4||5, 10, 15, 20||$5,000 to $250,000|
|6.94%+ 7||N/A||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20||Up to $300,000|
|4.49%+||4.38%+||5, 7, 10, 15||Up to $300,000|
|5.1%+||N/A||7, 10, 15||$10,000 up to the total amount of qualified education debt|
|5.49%+||N/A||5, 8, 12, 15||$7,500 to $300,000|
|5.29%+||N/A||5, 10, 15||$7,500 up to $250,000
(depending on highest degree earned)
|Compare personalized rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit score. 100% free!
All APRs reflect autopay and loyalty discounts where available | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2College Ave Disclosures | 5EDvestinU Disclosures | 3 ELFI Disclosures | 4INvestEd Disclosures | 7ISL Education Lending Disclosures
Matt Carter contributed to the reporting of this article.