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Preparing for the bar exam can be an arduous, months-long process. During that time, many people choose not to work, instead prioritizing their bar preparation courses to help maximize their chances of passing the exam.
If you’re not working and are only studying, your course fees and other expenses can really add up. The good news is that bar loans are available to help.
Bar study loans—also called bar prep loans—are a form of financial aid that comes from companies that offer private student loans. These loans provide the funding necessary to cover living expenses and bar preparation course fees.
In this guide:
- Best bar study loans
- Do federal student loans cover bar study expenses?
- Private bar study loans
- How to get loans for bar study expenses
- Alternatives to bar study loans
- Frequently asked questions about bar study loans
Best bar study loans
When it comes to comparing bar study loans, you’ll want to look at many of the same factors as you would when comparing other types of student loans.
The most important factors are the loan limits, repayment terms, and interest rates that each lender offers, which will determine how much funding you can get and how much the loan will ultimately cost you.
|Rates (APR)||Loan amount||Term length|
|Sallie Mae||3.39% – 13.66%||$1,000 – $15,000||Up to 15 years|
|Citizens Bank||4.97% – 12.82%||$1,000 – $16,000||5 or 10 years|
|PNC Bank||1.34% – 9.89%||Up to $15,000||5, 10, or 15 years|
Do federal student loans cover bar study expenses?
Bar study loans are private student loans specifically intended for law school graduates who are preparing for the bar exam. These are offered only by private lenders—the Department of Education doesn’t provide any federal student loans for graduates who need time to study for the bar.
Applying for bar study loans will require you to submit a separate application with a private student lender. If you’d prefer not to do this, you could try to borrow more when you take out federal or private student loans during your last year of law school.
If you can’t cover the costs of studying for the bar with your other student loans or by working, a bar study loan can help.
Private bar study loans
If you’re looking for a private loan to help you cover living expenses and other costs while you study for the bar exam, there are many options to choose from.
You can always take out a personal loan, but some lenders will have specifically-branded bar study loan products available. Here are some of our top choices.
As one of the largest student lenders in the country, Sallie Mae is known for its educational funding options. It offers a specific bar study loan to law school students and recent graduates who plan to take the bar exam within 12 months of graduating. Here’s a look at the loan’s features:
- Fixed rates (APR): 5.75% – 12.68%
- Variable rates (APR): 3.02% – 9.96%
- Repayment terms: Up to 15 years
- In-school repayment options: Payments are deferred when enrolled at least half-time
- Grace period: 9 months
- Cosigner release: After 12 consecutive, on-time payments
- Discounts: 0.25% autopay discount
What stands out about Sallie Mae’s bar study loan
Sallie Mae loans are available to borrowers who have graduated law school within the last 12 months (other lenders impose a six-month window). This allows recent grads to spend even longer studying for the bar exam, or even retake the exam if needed.
Who’s eligible for Sallie Mae’s bar study loan
In order to take out a bar study loan from Sallie Mae, borrowers must either be a current law student, enrolled at least half-time in their last year of study, or have graduated within the last 12 months from an accredited school.
These loans are available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents; international students can borrow with a creditworthy, U.S. citizen/permanent resident cosigner.
Citizens Bank is one of the U.S.’s largest banks and offers a variety of loans online. One of these is the company’s bar exam study loan, available to recent law school grads or enrolled students preparing for the bar exam. Here’s some information about Citizens Bank’s bar exam study loans:
- Fixed rates (APR): 7.40% – 12.82%
- Variable rates (APR): 4.44% – 9.52%
- Repayment terms: 5 or 10 years
- In-school repayment options: Deferment, interest-only payments, and full payments
- Grace period: 6 months
- Cosigner release: After 36 consecutive on-time payments
- Discounts: 0.25% autopay rate discount, 0.25% loyalty discount
What stands out about Citizens Bank’s bar study loan
These loans allow for up to $16,000 in bar study funding, with both an autopay and loyalty discount available to help reduce interest payments.
Who’s eligible for Citizens Bank’s bar study loan
Bar study loans are available to students who are enrolled at least half-time in an eligible law school within six months or less of graduation, or they must be a recent graduate (within the last six months).
Students must also be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. International students can borrow, but must have an eligible cosigner.
PNC Bank offers a variety of financial products and services, including credit cards, bank accounts, and loans. One loan offered is the bar study loan, available to current law students or recent graduates who plan to take their bar exam within six months of graduation. Here’s more about the loan:
- Fixed rates (APR): 4.66% – 11.79%
- Variable rates (APR): 4.85% – 11.87%
- Repayment terms: 5, 10, or 15 years
- In-school repayment options: Deferment, interest-only payments, and full repayment
- Grace period: 6 months
- Cosigner release: After 48 consecutive, on-time payments
- Discounts: 0.50% autopay discount
What stands out about PNC Bank’s bar study loan
PNC Bank offers bar study loans of up to $15,000 (subject to aggregate limits of $225,000 for all private and federal loans), with an online application process that takes just minutes. There are three repayment options to choose from and loans are disbursed directly to the student.
Who’s eligible for PNC’s bar study loan
Students who plan to take their bar exam within six months of graduation may be eligible for a PNC Bank bar study loan. Students will need to either be enrolled in an approved law school within six months of graduation, or have graduated within the last six months.
There are no minimum income requirements, but borrowers (and cosigners, if applicable) must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents and have lived in the U.S. for the previous two years.
How to get loans for bar study expenses
- Fill out the FAFSA. Before you take out any private student loans, you should always fill out the FAFSA and see if you’re eligible for any type of free federal aid. Since many bar study loan lenders have aggregate loan limits, you’ll want to take advantage of all alternate funding sources.
- Determine how much you need. The amount you’ll need for bar study depends on when you graduate, when you plan to sit for the bar, and whether you have any other sources of income for living expenses. Most lenders have limits of $15,000 to $16,000 for bar study, which might not last you more than a few months.
- Consider your timing. Bar study lenders will usually require you to be within a certain number of months of graduation (either before or after) to qualify for funding. If you’ve already graduated, you may find that you’re only eligible for certain loans.
- See which loans offer the best terms. It’s usually wise to apply with more than one lender, to see what terms and loan limits you’re offered. Then, you’ll want to choose the most affordable loan with the lowest APR, lowest fees and, if needed, the longest grace period.
Alternatives to bar study loans
If you don’t want to take out bar study loans, you have other options, including:
- Getting help from an employer: Some employers will pay for you to study for the bar exam if you are hired to come work for them after graduation. If your employer does this, you usually must commit to staying with the employer for several years.
- Working while studying: This is impractical for most people, but you could try to work while you are preparing for the bar so you don’t need to borrow money to live on. Just be sure that you have enough time to adequately study.
- Using leftover student loans: If you have money left from federal or private student loans obtained during the school year, you could potentially use it to fund your bar study expenses.
- Personal loans: You could take out a personal loan from a bank, credit union, or online lender to help fund your expenses. But you’ll need to be able to qualify first and you may have lower borrowing limits depending on your creditworthiness. See our picks for the best personal loans.
Frequently asked questions about bar study loans
Which bar study loan is the best?
The best bar study loan is the one for which you qualify, that gives you the funds you need, and offers you the best possible terms. This might be different from one borrower to the next.
If you’re looking to borrow the most money, Citizens Bank has the highest loan limits. If you’re looking for the longest study period, Sallie Mae gives you up to 12 months to take your exam, whereas other lenders may require you to sit for the bar in just six months.
Do I need a cosigner for bar study loans?
As with most private student loans, cosigners are encouraged if you don’t meet the lender’s income, credit score, and residency requirements. In many cases, a creditworthy cosigner can boost your chances of getting approved, or may simply unlock better loan terms and make your loan more affordable.
How much can I borrow with bar study loans?
Most lenders will allow you to borrow between $1,000 and $15,000 for bar study. Citizens Bank will let you borrow a bit more with a maximum loan of $16,000. If you need more, consider whether a personal loan with higher limits would better meet your needs.
When does repayment on bar study loans start?
Bar study loans generally have a grace period between six and 12 months. In most cases, this clock starts when you graduate from law school or your enrollment drops to below half-time.
What if I take out a bar study loan and don’t pass the bar?
On average, 39% of law students across the country won’t pass the bar on their first try. If you don’t pass the bar and need more time to study, you may need to consider how you’ll pay for living expenses during that time if you’ve already used up the funds from your loan.
Applying for another loan is possible, but may be difficult since the lender will see that you already have an outstanding balance on another loan that needs to be repaid.
On top of figuring out how you’ll afford more living and study expenses, you’ll need to be aware of when your existing bar study loan’s grace period ends. Once the grade period ends, you’ll be expected to make full principal and interest payments. Most grace periods are between six and 12 months after graduation.
If your grace period is due to end before you’ve passed the bar and have an income, reach out to your lender to see if it offers any deferment options while you prepare to sit for the bar exam again, especially if you are unemployed and/or have a financial hardship. And whether you pass the bar on your subsequent attempt(s) or never pass, you’ll still be responsible for repaying your student loan debt.
Author: Stephanie Colestock