Loan Repayment and Forgiveness for Lawyers

The two main forgiveness programs for lawyers, and detailed information of amount, eligibility and how to apply for repayment programs for lawyers differing state-wise.

Updated by Taskeen Fatema on 1st November 2019

Since childhood, we grow up with solid dreams to shape certain careers of our choice. One of the noblest professions among those is that of being a lawyer, with an innocent determination to entail justice throughout the world. What we don’t know is, as lucrative as a career of a lawyer is, and as satisfying the work may be, reaching there is not an easy journey these days both in terms of clearing the bar and in terms of the high-cost tuition associated with law school. A student loan should be your go-to solution it's just the way you handle your student loan debt which should be paid attention to. The uncovered reality is that one has to put up with student loan debt one you are done with schooling, which can be quite overwhelming.

To put it in the form of numbers; according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Lawyers owe an average of $145,000 in student loans from their undergraduate and graduate degrees. This is without bringing in the picture some more expensive law schools like Harvard.

The sooner you can dispose of your student loan debt, the easier it will be to achieve your other financial and life goals.

It is for this purpose that we have compiled a list of loan forgiveness programs and repayment options for lawyers that can help reduce to an extent or even erase their debt burden completely. 

Let us first address the loan forgiveness programs, and the move on to the various repayment plans.

Table of Contents

Loan forgiveness programs for Lawyers 

To aid you in getting rid of burdensome student loans, there are some student loan forgiveness programs to help you but they have certain requirements to be followed. 

Apart from the requirements, you have to be current on your student loan payments which means that your loans can’t be in default.

After the requirements are met, you have the option of debt repayment, cancellation or forgiveness. Giving just two or three years of your professional life to a qualifying job may be the ultimate answer to your student loan problems.

  1. Income-driven repayment plan forgiveness (IDR)
  2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

1. Income-driven repayment plan forgiveness

This is one of the most common options for federal student loan borrowers.

Whether you qualify for a law school loan forgiveness or assistance program or not, the Department of Education’s income-driven repayment plans can help you better afford your monthly payments.

There are mainly four repayment plans to choose from based on your personal financial needs. Each plan lowers your monthly payment to a certain percentage of your income and extends your repayment term. If you still have a balance after your extended-term ends, your remaining balance is forgiven.

Income-driven repayment programs include:

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan: Your repayment term for undergraduate loans is extended to 20 years, and your monthly payment is typically 10% of your discretionary income. You’ll need to prove the financial need to qualify for the PAYE Plan.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan: Your payment will generally be 10% of your discretionary income, and your repayment period will typically be extended to 25 years. Any borrower can apply for the REPAYE Plan.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: IBR changes your monthly payment to 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, and your repayment term will be extended to 20 or 25 years. The actual terms you get depend on when you took out the loan. To qualify, you’ll need to provide evidence of financial need.

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: The ICR plan is available for all federal loan borrowers. It reduces your monthly payment to the lesser of 20% of your discretionary income or what you’d pay on a plan with a 12-year repayment plan. Your new repayment term will be 25 years.

It is to be kept in mind that income-driven repayment plans are only available for federal loans. Having private loans doesn’t qualify for these repayment options.

Eligibility

The payment for all income-driven repayment plans is based on discretionary income i.e. having a salary on the relatively lower scale is the primary eligibility criteria.

Income-driven plans are available whether you practice in the private or public sector.

How to apply for the Income-Driven repayment program?

You can sign up for an Income-driven repayment plan (IDR) with this approach. Payments will be extended for some years, from 20 to 25 years, by your respective loan servicer and your minimum monthly payment will be capped at a percentage of your discretionary income.

Depending on factors such as your income and family size, your monthly payment could become dramatically smaller. A more favorable situation occurs when the remaining balance of your loan is discharged after payments made for 20- 25 years. Even though you will still owe tax on the amount that has been forgiven, it is still a fair deal considering the substantial amount of money saved overall.


Read more on income-driven repayment plans to find out if it is best suited for your financial situation


2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program has been made available through the Department of Education.

The official website, Federal Student Aid website includes complete descriptions of what a qualified payment, qualified employer, and full-time employment mean for the purpose of PSLF.

However, the only way to be completely affirmative that your employer qualifies for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and whether you, in turn, qualify now or in the future is to complete and submit the Employment Certification form as soon as possible.

Eligibility

Firstly, if you’re working in a public service capacity (as a public defender, for a qualified 501(c)(3) organization, or in another qualified public service role), you may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

For lawyers, this is a reasonably good option because you can work in all sorts of public service roles - law clerk, admin, and so on as long as you work for a qualified employer - including local, state, or Federal government, or a non-profit. 

Secondly, you need to make 120 qualifying payments over a period of minimum 10 years on your federal student loans while working for a qualifying employer, which includes government agencies and certain non-profit organizations. These payments need not be made consecutively.

However, it is to be noted that the amount forgiven is not taxable if you are a public interest lawyer.

How to Apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?

After adhering to the eligibility, you will have to fill out and submit a PSLF application to receive loan forgiveness.

Downside - While the idea of getting your full balance forgiven seems very appealing, the PSLF program requirement of a 10-year commitment to employers may pay less than you could earn in the private sector.

To add to it, the Department of Education's latest PSLF report date shows that a roughly estimated 10 percent of people who’ve applied for PSLF have had their applications approved, and less than one percent have had their loans forgiven.


Read more on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to find out if it is the right choice for you.


Loan Repayment Assistance for Lawyers 

Even though you wouldn’t want to exercise the other traits of a ‘Lannister’, paying back debts, and on time, is one quality you must employ.

In addition to the public service forgiveness option and the income-driven repayment plan forgiveness, there are some other sources of student loan repayment help that lawyers can take advantage of.

Not all lawyers graduate with the intention of entering the corporate world and receiving lucrative salaries. Some have entered the field with other nobler intentions of contributing to there community based on which there are jobs out there that will enable you to get some of your student loans forgiven.

Law school isn’t cheap as we now know, but there are a few student loan repayment assistance programs for lawyers among which there are national and state programs as well.

These programs make it possible for students to attend law school with dreams of helping their communities to contribute.


1.Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP)

The Department of Justice offers an Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP) in an effort to recruit and retain new and existing lawyers in the field. Each spring, the agency opens up applications to current employees for the assistance program.

It is important to note that lawyers are still expected to make personal payments toward their federal student loans while participating in the program, and failure to do so may result in disqualification.

Eligibility

In order to qualify, you must owe at least $10,000 in federal student loans, meet specific income thresholds and commit to a three-year service with the Department of Justice.

Any attorney who works for the Department of Justice (DOJ) can request to join the Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP)

Amount

While this is not a loan forgiveness program, according to the ASLRP website, “the Department will match the annual amount that the recipient pays on his or her qualifying Federal student loans (up to the maximum of $6,000 per the calendar year).”

The lifetime maximum amount of which is $60,000. However, “there is an exception for recipients whose annual base salaries are less than $84,000 – those individuals will automatically receive the annual maximum repayment amount.”

Your payment will be sent to your loan servicer and not to you directly.

The following is the list of Eligible Loans

  • Stafford Loans

  • Supplemental Loans

  • Federal Consolidation Loans

  • Defense Loans (made before July 1, 1972)

  • National Direct Student Loans (made between 7/1/72 and 7/1/87)

  • William D. Ford Direct Student Loans

  • The Nursing Student Loan Program loans

  • The Health Profession Student Loan Program loans

  • The Health Education Assistance Loan Program loans

How to apply?

Interested attorneys (existing or new) must submit a written request by the deadline set by the program administrators.

For new requests, the last date in 2019 was March 1.

Attorneys who qualify for the program will automatically be enrolled for three years, as long as they continue to work full-time as an attorney for the DOJ.

However, as mentioned above, this isn’t truly a loan forgiveness program anyway hence all of the payments of the Department of Justice on your loans are considered taxable income which are subject to additional withholdings.

Overall it is a good program, especially for whose working in the Department of Justice.


2. John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

The JRJ Grant Program is a student loan repayment assistance program available to public defenders at local, state and federal levels, as well as to local and state prosecutors.

For those who want to work as public defenders, the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides loan assistance of varying amounts, depending on where you live.

It was seen that in 2018, the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program awarded $1.8 million in funds to qualifying public defenders and prosecutors who are employed by the state or city.

Eligibility

Firstly, the candidate must be employed as a public defender at an agency selected by the state they are applying in. The other requirements will vary depending on their state, therefore it is mandatory to know your state’s requirement’s before applying.

The deadlines and application dates may also vary by state.

Secondly, you’ll need to commit to a service obligation of three years as a public defender or prosecutor to qualify.

Amount

If you meet these requirements, you can receive up to $10,000 per year and a maximum of $60,000 in total assistance.

The top consideration for this reward is given to applicants who have the least ability to repay their loans on their own and those who have entailed benefits from this program in the previous year.

How to Apply?

You have to work with your city or state to apply for the repayment program.

The funds received under this program are generally not taxable, though there are some speculations pertaining to certain circumstances, which the IRS will have to clarify.


3. Air Force JAG Student Loan Repayment Program

The USAF Judge Advocate General’s Corps currently has a Student Loan Repayment Program (JA-SLRP). Under this program, eligible JAGs can apply toward student loan repayment.

Eligibility

Completion of a minimum of one year of service as a JAG officer.

The three annual payments are made in equal portions directly to your qualified lender, and the first payment occurs at the completion of your first year of service.

Amount

You can receive upto $65,000 in student loan repayment over a period of 3 years.

These payments are taxable.

How to apply?

You can take advantage of this offer by joining the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General (JAG).

For continuing education costs, you may also be able to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It’s even possible to transfer your benefits to your spouse or dependent children. 


4. Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program

This student loan repayment assistance program was created in the year 2005 for helping legal aid attorneys with large outstanding law school loans.

Each year, around 70 lucky attorneys are selected who benefit from this program. This selection is made using a lottery system. These winners are repaid up to $5,600 in student loans.

The number of winners selected each year can change based on funding levels. According to the official website, “in 2018, we awarded 80 legal aid attorneys a total of $1 million to assist them with student loan debt.”

As such, the participating attorney shouldn’t have to pay taxes on the payments received from the program.

Eligibility

To be eligible to enter this lottery, you must be an attorney employed by one of the program’s grantees (as listed on the official website) with outstanding student loan debt of at least $75,000.

Participating attorneys must use funds from the program to pay for qualifying law school loans and accrued interest.

In addition, the participating attorney must have a net worth of less than $35,000 (excluding your home’s value), and earn less than $62,500 (in the lower 48 states — Alaska and Hawaii have higher limits).

Amount

Those selected can receive up to $5,600 per year for three years of qualified employment and program participation.

How to Apply?

All the detailed Instructions for completing the application and renewal applications can be found on the program’s official website, along with the cut-off and distribution dates.


5. State and university-sponsored loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) By School. LRAPs are very helpful for lawyers who have newly entered the market. These programs have been specifically curated for them, it is very beneficial if made use of in the proper way.

Eligibility

This is a very appealing program for freshly graduated lawyers who are caught up with student loans and are inhibited from taking positions in the public sector can also avail options. Many law schools have come up with Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) to ease the financial burden and in turn attract attorneys to the public sector.

Amount

Usually, the requirement for such programs is based on the salary, such as earning $75,000 or less per year. The actual amount you receive as part of your assistance is totally dependant on your law school.

How to apply?

Under university-sponsored loan repayment assistance programs, some universities help their alumni pay back their loans. For instance, The University of Virginia School of Law will cover up to 100% of student debt for graduates who make less than $55,000 per year. This program encourages its students to work in public service


6. Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) By State

Just like teachers and doctors have the opportunity, likewise, lawyers also might qualify for state or local repayment assistance programs.

Currently, there are a total of 24 statewide loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs).

These 24 LRAPs range in size and scope. Almost all require participants to be working in public interest law. Some are funded through state legislative appropriations while others rely on funding from the private sector or from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) funding. Some LRAPs cover private student loans, including bar exam loans.

Here is a list of the states providing assistance:

1. District of Columbia

2. Arizona

3. Florida

4. Illinois

5. Iowa

6. Indiana

7. Louisiana

8. Maine

9. Maryland

10.Massachusetts

11.Minnesota

12.Mississippi

13.Montana

14.Nebraska (two programs)

15.New Hampshire

16.New Mexico

17.New York

18.North Carolina

19.Ohio

20.Oregon

21.Pennsylvania

22.Texas

23.Vermont

24.and Virginia.

The numerous programs offered by certain states are:

Arizona

To honor Joyce Holsey and all that her life represented, this loan repayment assistance program was created. Contributions to the Joyce Holsey Loan Repayment Assistance Program support those who dedicate their careers to giving others a voice in the justice system.

It aims to establish statewide assistance for law school graduates employed in certain programs working with underserved communities. Applicants must have passed the State Bar of Arizona and have an income that does not exceed $65,000 annually.

At this time, attorneys employed by government agencies are not eligible for participation in the Joyce Holsey Loan Repayment Assistance Program. 

A maximum of $10,000 will be awarded to eligible candidates each year.


District of Columbia

DCBF provides loan repayment assistance to qualified attorneys working for an eligible employer in DC in order to increase the number of experienced, skilled lawyers working on behalf of low-income DC residents; and to assist DC poverty lawyers who have incurred significant educational debt in obtaining their law degree. 

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 $81,954.53 in 2016.

If you live in the D.C. area, you may be able to qualify for up to $12,000 interest-free, forgivable loans per year in repayment assistance.


Florida

The objective of the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) is to strengthen and expand legal assistance for the poor by supporting the recruitment and retention of the most qualified civil legal aid staff attorneys who are employed by legal assistance organizations that receive grant funding from The Florida Bar Foundation.

Eligible candidates must work full-time or part-time for 12 months at a foundation-supported organization which is a legal aid or legal services organization.

According to the official website, the Foundation’s LRAP currently provides benefits of $5,000 per calendar year per person in the form of a loan. The Foundation forgives the loan annually. 


Illinois

Outstanding law school graduates working with qualified public interest organizations are offered assistance through the Sun times public Interest Law Fellowship by the Chicago Bar Foundation.

Applicants must have at least $40,000 in educational debt and commit to working in public service.

Eligible candidates can receive up to $20,000 over a period of five years.


Indiana

The Indiana Bar Foundation is a charitable organization that supports programs that promote access to justice in Indiana 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 $50,000 annually.

Eligible candidates are awarded up to $5,000 per year through this program.


Iowa

The Iowa State Bar Association is an organization that facilitates professional growth and collegiality among Iowa attorneys. As the website mentions, its mission is to “help Iowa attorneys succeed.” 

It aims to help law school graduates working in the public sector.

Eligible candidates need to be licensed in Iowa and be employed full-time by a public interest organization. Salary cannot exceed $50,000 per year.

The program awards up to $2,000 per year. The number of years you are eligible for funding depends on the specific program.


Louisiana

The Louisiana Bar Foundation, organized under the State of Louisiana is the largest state funder of civil legal aid, the LBF supports non-profits throughout Louisiana that provide free, civil legal representation to the indigent, law-related education to the public and administration of justice projects.

The eligibility comprises of the applicants being employed full-time and having a gross salary of $50,000 or less. In addition, they must reapply each year to be considered for funding.

Lawyers working at an organization that is supported by the Foundation can receive up to $5,000 per year.


Maine

Maine State Bar Association is a voluntary professional and public service association that serves as an advocate for lawyers, the courts, and the public with the aim of advancing Maine’s system of justice.

It offers loan assistance to lawyers working for a qualified nonprofit — most of which provide legal aid to the elderly and low-income.

Eligible candidates can receive a maximum benefit of $5,000 annually.


Maryland

The Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program in Maryland provides assistance to residents who work as attorneys in the public sector with low-income or underserved residents.

Eligible candidates must have received their degree from a college in Maryland and be employed full-time, making $60,000 or less.

The award loan amount is between $1,500 and $10,000 per year, depending on your debt amount.

In order to apply, you must complete and file a LARP General application.


Minnesota

The Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota offers assistance to graduates from a Minnesota law school, working at a qualified non-profit serving low-income communities.

The gross income requirement is dependant on the years of service given by you. The more the years of the service, the higher the number increases to; the income cap for one to two years is lesser compared to income of working for nine to fifteen years. Therefore, it is calculated individually.

Eligible candidates have the chance to have 80 to 95 percent of their payments covered.


Montana

The mission of Montana Justice Foundation is to achieve equal access to justice for all Montanans through effective funding and leadership.

Its Loan Repayment Assistance Program is for legal aid lawyers working with underserved communities. The applicants must be working full-time. If a contingent situation arises wherein the number of applicants exceeds the number of resources, the Board of Directors will then decide how the funds must be utilized.

A maximum of $2,500 may be awarded to eligible candidates.


New Hampshire

According to the official website, the New Hampshire Bar Foundation is a nonprofit, grant-making charitable foundation dedicated to helping in civil legal aid for the disadvantaged and law-related education in New Hampshire.

It assists 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 an array of deciding factors including how much assistance you may have received from other sources.


New Mexico

The New Mexico Public Service Law Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) offers assistance in legal education loan repayment awards to attorneys that provide legal services to low income or underserved residents of New Mexico.

Eligible employment sites include state or local government or the non-profit sector in New Mexico.Eligible candidates must earn a salary of $55,000 or less.

Candidates must be working for a qualified employment site and commit to three years. The maximum award is $7,200 per year.


New York

In New York, the District Attorney and Indigent Legal Services Attorney Loan Forgiveness Program offer awards to retain attorneys that are employed as District Attorneys, Assistant District Attorneys, or Indigent Legal Services Attorneys.

Apart from being a resident of New York or an eligible non-citizen, applicants must have worked full time as a District Attorney, Assistant District Attorney, or Indigent Legal Services Attorney in New York State for at least four years, but no more than nine years (including the year prior to application).

It goes without saying that he/she must have an outstanding balance on an eligible student loan debt, be in a non-default status on a student loan made under any NYS or federal education loan program or repayment of any NYS award; and be in compliance with the terms of any service condition imposed by a NYS award.

This program is quite generous in nature, with a maximum award of $20,400, or eligible student loan debt, whichever is less with amounts paid annually amounting to $3,400. Any additional payments made to reduce the outstanding balance may cause a reduction in the total amount of the award. No payments will be made after the student loan has been paid in full.


North Carolina

The North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation (NC LEAF) provides loan repayment assistance for eligible attorneys employed as prosecutors, public defenders, and legal services providers.

To be eligible, the applicant must have earned a J.D.(Juris Doctor degree) from an ABA-accredited law school within the past ten years and be a licensed member in good standing of the North Carolina State Bar.

The applicant must be employed full time in a law-related public service job in North Carolina. Qualifying employment includes a federal, state or local government agency, an organization providing legal services to the poor and an eligible nonprofit organization. Judicial clerkships do not qualify.

Applicants may be able to receive up to $4800 per year towards their student loans. Individual LRAP loan amounts are up to $400 per month but will not exceed the total monthly payments that are due and payable on all loans.


Ohio

The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, founded in 1994 and located in Columbus, is a statewide, nonprofit organization committed to ensuring that the highest quality civil legal assistance is provided to help recruit and retain attorneys working with Ohio’s poor and underserved communities.

Applicants that are employed full-time by a qualified agency are eligible for up to $6,000 in repayment assistance.


Oregon

The Oregon State Bar has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help retain and attract new talent in attorneys who will work in public service.

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.


Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Bar Foundation was founded in response to the organized bar’s desire to become more involved in public service. They aim to improve the public’s understanding of the law and our judicial system and strive towards ensuring that citizens have full and equal access to justice through their legal system.

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 is dependant on the number of candidates and funding availability.


Texas

The Texas Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program funded by the State Bar of Texas was created by the Texas Access to Justice Commission in 2003 to assist attorneys who choose to pursue careers in legal aid in Texas. and offers repayment assistance to those who choose to work in legal aid in Texas. The program offers assistance to approximately 125 attorneys.

Currently, there is no fixed income amount as such, and the yearly maximum award is $4,800.


Vermont

The Vermont Bar Foundation has a Loan Repayment Assistance Program that offers loan assistance for attorneys working in the nonprofit sector, helping low-income individuals and families. The goal of VBF-LRAP is to increase access to justice and to assist civil legal aid organizations and the Office of the Defender General in recruiting and retaining qualified lawyers. 

It provides forgivable loans for licensed attorneys employed in non-profit organizations dedicated to serving the civil legal needs of low-income individuals and families in Vermont or employed by the Office of the Defender General.

Eligible candidates’ salaries must not exceed $60,000.

Applicants may be eligible for up to $5,000 per year. Former participants can reapply again for future funding cycles.