Call me Mr. LawSchoolDebt. I graduated from law school in 2011. I went to a law school that ranks pretty highly (usually in the 15 to 20-ish range, so not a vaunted T14 member but not too shabby by any means). Prior to attending, I had heard about some poor law school outcomes but I thought they were limited to graduates of third tier and lower law schools. I got average grades and ended up in the middle of the class, which translates to being barred from working in BigLaw firms and prestigious government agencies that pay well. My law school debt when I graduated was approximately $190,000.
The published starting salaries for my law school were substantial and strong six-figure incomes, so I reasoned that taking on six figures in debt was not crazy and I could pay it off within a 3-5 year period of time. Wrong. I graduated without a job and had to spend quite a while finding one. I worked for a year at a law firm that paid peanuts. My law school debt meanwhile ballooned to more than $200,000. I eventually found a job that pays a little more than $40,000. It’s not perfect, but it has benefits and I feel that it adds more value to my future than doing temporary document review gigs.
I’ve been through the Kübler-Ross model, more popularly known as the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
- Denial: at first I pretended that Income-Based Repayment (IBR) was going to save me and that I’d eventually find a high-salary job with my oh-so-prestigious law degree. As the months turned into years, I’ve accepted that I most likely will never land a high-paying law job and I’d be better off paying off the debt as soon as possible. Under the IBR plan, you make small payments based on your income and your law school debt is “forgiven” after 25 years. But there must be a catch, right? Correctamundo. The amount of debt that’s forgiven is treated as taxable income. With some of my loans at 8%+ interest rates, it’s entirely possible that my debt could explode to $400k+ in 25 years if I just made the minimum payments under the IBR plan. So in 25 years, I could face a HUGE bankruptcy-inducing tax bill when I’m in my 50s and past my prime earning years. Needless to say, this would be a catastrophe. I’ve since stopped living in denial that IBR isn’t a good plan for my future.
- Anger: I will admit that I was very angry for a time – angry at the law school for sending me all those seductive marketing materials, angry at my law professors for not giving me the A grades I thought I deserved, angry at other law students for “taking” the jobs I thought I wanted, angry at the ABA for failing to regulate the legal industry and legal education, angry for feeling tricked and having my finances destroyed, etc. I was definitely angry for a while. I still am slightly angry, but I’m more angry at myself for letting my life get off the rails and being as naive as I was in my early 20s.
- Bargaining: I thought if I went to a ton of networking events, CLEs, MeetUps, and emailed lots of people, I’d be able to rise like the phoenix from my grave of law school debt. Nope. The debt just continued to grow and my efforts at career networking produced rejection after rejection.
- Depression: I’m not proud to admit that I’ve suffered some severe depression after law school. I’ve had to move back with my parents. I hate complaining but my salary isn’t paying the bills. I drive a 17-year-old car. I don’t have money to partake in social activities, take trips, or pursue my interests. If it even needs to be said, this translates to zero dating life. I’ve realized I’ll be broke for a very, very long time. I was also depressed that I would never be able to find a wife or start a family due to my financial and career condition. All of this caused some pretty severe depression and during the depths of my depression, I often had thoughts about self-harm. When you’re turning the corner on 30 and you have no savings, your career is going nowhere, you have HUGE student debt, you have no dating life, you live like a hermit with your parents, and you spend your time fruitlessly searching for better job options, it’s not good for the psyche.
- Acceptance: I’ve come to accept that I signed up for the debt. No one forced me to get a law degree. It’s my responsibility to pay back the money I borrowed. I also started focusing on exercising, nutrition, and making time to socialize with friends and family, which was good for my mental health. Reading more books and engaging in cheap or free activities has also been good for my outlook. I’ve accepted that this law school debt is the challenge life has handed me and I think I’m up for the task. I’ve also begun building other skills that may provide me the opportunity to change careers into an industry with more jobs and better salaries.
So enough Tony Robbins psychobabble. Here’s the damage I’m looking at as of today:
|Principal||Accrued Interest||Interest Rate||Total|
That’s the number standing between me and some semblance of freedom. It’s a lot of money. I’m throwing most of my paycheck at the debt and working side jobs to throw even more money at it. It’s going to take more than a minor miracle to pay these loans off in the near future.
This blog is going to detail my progress paying off my law school debt and hopefully it can serve as a resource for others with similar debt troubles. I’ll share any tips I have for paying off debt and hope to commiserate with others working hard to pay off their student loans. There is strength in numbers.