Ann K. Levine was kind enough to take part in an interview about managing law school debt. Ann is a law school admission consultant and proprietor of www.LawSchoolExpert.net and http://lawschoolexpert@blogspot
1. Do you still have student loan debt? If so, when would you like to pay it off? What’s your plan to reach this goal?
Yes. I think I have a little over $40k left to pay off out of $60k. I graduated from law school in 1999. I’m not very concerned about when I pay it off because the interest rate isn’t even 4%, and (up to a certain income limit) there’s a little break on federal taxes for student loan debt. I pay $273/month. It’s roughly equivalent to my cable bill and cell phone combined; I don’t consider that too much to pay each month for a degree that allows me to earn my living.
2. When you were in law school, what action or habit do you think saved you the most money while in school?
I was stupid. I even had a full scholarship one year and still took out the full amount of federal loans. I didn’t understand what I was doing or the implications. I can think of lots of habits that wasted money when I thought I was saving like buying clothes at discount stores (but still buying clothes!). I remember justifying getting a manicure before every job interview. I don’t remember ever cooking dinner – I always ate out. I chose a very expensive private school over a very cheap state school. I chose an expensive city over a cheap city.Financially, I did it all wrong. I guess the point for your readers should be that your mistakes, if you make them, won’t kill you. Try not to make them, but know that (if you do) it won’t seem like a big deal once you’re earning your living and a few years removed from it all. But I never, ever had credit card debt and that is probably the best habit I started in law school.
3. As a law school admissions coach, what advice would you give pre-law students about preparing financially for law school?
Understand what you’re doing when you sign the loans on the dotted line. Every time you buy a drink, think about the interest you’re paying on that drink. Stop buying drinks – they are too darn expensive anyway. Manage your expectations – don’t spend your loan money thinking you’ll be rolling in dough during your first job. It just doesn’t happen that way. The more you make, the more you spend. And, usually, that first job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and you don’t want to be a slave to it.
4. What advice would you give to a law student in school right now?
“If you live like a lawyer while you’re in law school, you’ll live like a law student when you get out.” Stop eating out. Just cook. Seriously. It’s not that hard. And absolutely no credit card debt.
5. What should law grads do about managing the debt load they may have taken on during school?
- Have your monthly payments automatically withdrawn form your account. I don’t even feel my loan payments anymore. Each month, it’s a mere blip on my radar.
- If having student loan debt bothers you, use half of every bonus you get to pay it off. But don’t try to pay it off your first year. You have to pace yourself.
- Pay off credit card debt quickly, but remember that some debt is good debt. Make your monthly payments. I promise, even if that $400 sounds intimidating now, you won’t even feel it in 10 years – even if you don’t work for a big firm. Managing your finances does get easier, and you will make a lot more money 5 years out of law school than you do your first year. (I’m not convinced that’s the case at big firms, but I know it’s true at small and medium size firms).
- Prioritize. Don’t pour all your money into student loans at the expense of waiting to buy a home or pay retirement. Pay yourself first, then everybody else.
- Open a retirement account immediately. Max it out every single year. Live off what’s left and you’ll never miss it.
- Don’t consolidate loans until you are happy with the interest rate because you can only do it once.
- Practice living like an adult first. I made the initial mistake of trying to pay off my loan debt of $60k in 10 years and the payments were huge (at the time it was 8% interest). I was just learning how to live by myself in a new city on a salary for the first time and bit off more than I could chew. I suggest keeping things manageable – spread it out over 30 years, especially for those first few years.
- There’s a lot of pressure in the real world to look like you’re making good money. Don’t buy that BMW right away. I know attorneys who waited until they made partner before they bought their first new car. They are the smart ones.
6. What do you tell a law grad who says they will only work at a big firm because they want to pay off their debt quickly? What other options would you suggest this person take?
I know lots of people who did this. They were all single. It’s not a great plan for someone with a family to support because you’ll never see your family working those kinds of hours.Just don’t expect to meet someone to start a family with while you’re working 90 hour weeks. There are other options. I really admire my brother who graduated from NYU with an offer from a very big NYC firm. He decided to be a Manhattan District Attorney instead. But, I’m not sure he would have made the same choice without NYU’s great loan forgiveness program. Live by your own priorities – don’t get too caught up in perceived prestige.
7. What is the biggest money mistake that law students make?
Not understanding that every dollar you spend is really that dollar plus interest.
8. How could using your coaching service save law students money?
I’ve seen applicants waste money on a lot of things – books they don’t need that offer generic, one-size-fits-all advice, “Pre-Law” workshops, getting a paralegal certificate, applying to the wrong schools, applying to too many schools, going back to school to try to beef up a poor GPA. These mistakes add up quickly. I work with people who applied the year before without help and didn’t get in anywhere, then after working with me they get into law school. Everything they did the previous year was a waste of time and money. And they lost out that year of attorney income too. One way I save people money is by helping them use their application-fee budget efficiently so they aren’t wasting a lot of money on impossible schools or schools that are all wrong for their ideals and goals. I can also help select schools that would be likely to offer scholarship money – I pay for myself thousands of times over this way! I pay an accountant to help me save money on my taxes. I pay a financial planner to help me save money for retirement. As a law school admission coach, I can save you a lot of money on the mistakes you won’t be making.
Thanks, Ann, for that informative interview! If you’re thinking about going to law school, go by Ann’s site. Also, remember to sign up for her upcoming webinar about law school admissions. This $150 service is free to Frugal Law Student Readers.
When attending Law School it is important to figure out where you want to practice Law. The rules of law vary by locality so there is a difference between becoming an Illinois Attorney and having a law office as a Texas Attorney so find about that State’s requirements.