You’ve graduated from law school and are ready to get your professional life started. There’s just one little — okay, big — step that’s left: pass the bar exam.
Preparing for the bar exam can take months and is costly. According to the University of California Irvine Law school, graduates preparing for the California bar should have close to $6,000 saved up, which doesn’t include living expenses.
Costs for the bar exam itself range in price. For example, in Illinois, the test costs between $500 to $1,450. Of course, this amount varies by state.
You’ll need money to pay for that weird time between graduation and becoming a practicing attorney after passing the bar exam — ideally, without loading up on credit card debt. Enter bar prep loans.
How bar exam loans differ from other loans
Bar exam loans are different from personal loans and traditional student loans because they only serve one purpose: to help you pay for the bar exam and bar exam-related costs. For example, the bar exam itself might only be several hundred dollars. But test prep software, study guides and living expenses add up quickly.
Personal loans can be used for a variety of purposes, like debt consolidation, home improvement and more, while student loans are specifically for in-school education costs.
Special considerations when choosing a bar exam loan
If you’re in need of a bar exam loan, check with multiple lenders and compare rates. Some bar exam loans can have higher interest rates than others, which add to the total cost of the loan. Here are the things to consider before applying for a bar prep loan:
- Interest rates. Look at variable versus fixed interest rates, and the ranges offered.
- Repayment term. How long is the repayment term? The shorter the term, the higher of a payment you’ll have. The longer the term, the lower your payment.
- Grace period. Does the lender offer a grace period and how long is it? This is a period where you don’t have to pay back the loans yet.
- Any interest rate deductions. Many lenders offer interest rate deductions when you sign up for autopay.
- Minimum and maximum amounts. Each lender has a minimum and maximum amount you can borrow. Make sure you can meet the minimum and that the maximum covers what you need.
- Eligibility requirements. Every lender sets their own eligibility requirements to qualify for a bar exam loan. Look at what those are to see if you qualify.
Comparing these factors among various lenders can help inform your decision and feel good that you’ve done your research.
4 lenders that offer bar exam loans
Since bar exam loans are a special type of loan, you can’t just get one anywhere. Here are specific lenders that offer bar exam loans:
- Sallie Mae. You can get a Sallie Mae bar exam loan and borrow from $1,000 up to $15,000 with no origination fees or prepayment penalties. You can choose from a variable or fixed interest rate and also request a cosigner release if you need it.
- Citizens Bank. You can borrow up to $16,000 with a Citizens Bank bar exam loan with no origination fees. You can get variable or fixed interest rates and choose from different repayment options.
- Discover. Get a bar exam loan from Discover between $1,000 and $16,000 with absolutely no fees and either variable or fixed interest rates.
- PNC. Through PNC you can apply for a bar exam loan for up to $15,000 and have no origination fees. You can also choose from a variable or fixed interest rate. There are multiple repayment options and you have a six-month grace period.
Another option is checking with your local credit union to see if they offer bar prep loans at a competitive rate.
Depending on your credit, you can also consider a 0% APR credit card which temporarily doesn’t charge you interest for a fixed period. Just make sure you’re able to repay the debt before the promotional interest timeframe expires.
How to apply for a bar exam loan
Think you need additional funding and need bar prep loans? Here’s how to apply for a bar exam loan:
- Look at eligibility requirements. First, ensure that you actually qualify for a bar study loan. For example, with Sallie Mae, you must’ve graduated within the past 12 months, whereas with Citizens Bank, that time shortens and is within six months of graduation.
- Choose a lender. Once you’ve looked at lenders’ eligibility requirements and compared the terms, rates, and repayment you can select a lender for a bar study loan.
- Gather your information. Have your personal information handy, like ID, address, bank account numbers, Social Security number, the amount needed, etc.
- Apply for bar prep loans. Go to your lender’s online application page for bar prep loans and go through the guided process.
- Get your funding. You might be able to get your funding straight to your bank account via ACH direct deposit.
Keep track of any paperwork and keep records of the amount borrowed, repayment due dates, and terms.
What to do if you’re denied
If you get denied a bar exam loan, not all is lost. The next best thing to do is to apply for a bar exam loan with a cosigner.
A cosigner is someone who is a co-applicant that has good credit. Their strong credit profile can help you get approved for the loan. The thing is, they’re also legally responsible for the loan, too. If you miss payments, it could put the cosigner in an awkward situation.
If you’re still in school, you might also qualify for federal Grad PLUS Loans to help cover bar exam costs. Check with your school or financial aid administrator.
Alternatives to bar exam loans
If you need funding for the bar exam, bar exam loans aren’t your loan-only option. You should also look into scholarships and grants to see if you qualify for funding that way. A personal loan might also have a lower interest rate than a bar exam loan. See if personal loan rates and terms would be more beneficial given your situation. Though, it depends on your credit and the lender.
If you’ve secured a job, see if your employer can provide any financial support. You can also take on a side hustle for a short while to earn more or sell some of your used belongings on OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace to get more cash.
Credit cards are not advised as they tend to have higher interest rates than both bar exam loans and personal loans.
Getting bar prep loans can help you fund the time between school and being a lawyer. You can check out leading lender Sallie Mae and review all of your options. If you need help deciding, get in touch with us for a consult so you can feel better about what to do next.