Most students receiving financial assistance while at the Law School borrow at least the Federal Direct Stafford Loan and one other loan annually. Loans are serious financial obligations that must be repaid. The less you borrow during law school, the sooner you will be able to use your future income on other things.
Assess Your Current Educational and Consumer Debt
All students have the right and the responsibility to keep track of their financial health. If you are applying for financial aid at GW, we urge you to verify your consumer debts and check your credit. You may request a free, annual credit report from all three credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the website that the Federal Trade Commission mandated the three major reporting companies create for consumers. It is very important to keep up to date with your credit reports because some educational loan lenders depend on it to make credit decisions and some bar exam applications require credit information.
Know before you owe
It is also a very good idea to make sure that you are aware of repayment options and how they may affect your budget for living expenses after you graduate. You may want to track interest accrual while in school or see what your weighted average interest rate would be if you choose to consolidate your loans in repayment. To keep up-to-date on your educational debt calculations you should work with the calculators. No matter who your lenders are, you may use any calculator you wish to figure your debt burden.
When verifying educational loans, know where to look for records of each loan. Remember your original lenders may not necessarily still own your loans; they are often sold from one lender to another. However, each time one of your loans is sold you must be informed. Starting with your original lender is advisable. All of your student loans will be listed on the National Student Loan Database System.
Keep Debt to a Minimum
Your best strategies for keeping debt down include:
- Save now for future expenses. Try to set aside enough to cover the security deposit on an apartment and your first month's living expenses. Moving expenses to D.C. from out of state are not included in our academic year budget.
- Reduce your consumer debt before entering law school. Credit card and other consumer debt monthly payments are not part of the living expense budget used by the GW Law Financial Aid Office to determine your aid package. Educational debts should be reduced too. Although your undergraduate student loan payments will probably be deferred when you return to school, it is wise to repay as much as you can now. Your undergraduate loans will go into repayment immediately after you leave law school if you have already used your grace period on those loans.
- Reduce your monthly expenses. The Law School budget allows you to live like a student, not a lawyer, so economize wherever possible. You may wish to consult a site such as SmartMoney to help with issues related to budgeting and credit.
Commercial loan lenders who provide a major source of funding for students require you to have a good credit history that shows timely payments on your past financial obligations. Because the combination of GW aid and Federal Direct Stafford Loans will not fully cover the total cost of attendance for one academic year, applicants whose poor credit history precludes them from qualifying for commercial loans or Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans must find another source of funds. An online resource such as www.annualcreditreport.com may help you better understand credit scoring as it affects your ability to borrow student loans. More assistance for credit counseling can be found at National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Federal Trade Commission’s website. There is no financial assistance safety net available to students rejected for commercial loans; only time can clear negative entries from a credit report.
As you focus on how much money you need to invest in law school, consider your post-graduation goals. What kind of job are you seeking? What salary range might you expect in that field? Most importantly, how much will you owe in loans (including undergraduate loans) and what is the estimated monthly payment? How big will your paycheck need to be to cover your loan payments?