5 Best Places for Lawyers with Student Debt to LiveApril 7, 2023
Although law can be a high-paying and rewarding profession, there’s no getting around it: the necessary education can cause you to rack up a significant amount of debt. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 69% of law school graduates have student loan debt.
However, where you live can make your student loans easier to manage. In some states and cities, you can even get financial assistance to repay your loans.
5 Best Places for Lawyers to Live
Nationally, the average wage for lawyers was $148,030 as of 2022. But salary isn’t the only factor you should consider when choosing where to live. A state or city’s cost of living and the available loan repayment programs for lawyers can offset a lower salary.
We researched the available programs and identified the best places for lawyers to live based on their loan repayment assistance programs, cost of living, and average law salaries.
- Average annual wage: $129,390
- Cost of living rank: 32/50
Florida’s average annual wage for lawyers is lower than the national average. But the state has several features that could make living there worth it. For one, there’s no state income tax. Plus, the state has two loan repayment programs for lawyers:
- Florida Bar Foundation Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP): The Florida LRAP is for staff attorneys working for legal assistance organizations that receive funding from the Florida Bar Foundation. Eligible attorneys can receive up to $5,000 per year in student loan repayment assistance.
- Florida John R Justice Loan Repayment Program: The Florida John R. Justice program provides up to $10,000 in annual loan repayment assistance to state public defenders and state prosecutors that commit to continuing in their roles for at least three years.
- Average annual wage: $140,450
- Cost of living rank: 46/50
Maryland has a higher cost of living than most states on our list. But it has several programs that can make living in the state advantageous for lawyers.
- Janet L. Hoffman Loan Repayment: The Janet L. Hoffman Loan Repayment Program provides aid with student loans to individuals in select fields, including lawyers that serve low-income residents within the state. Award amounts range from $1,500 to $10,000 per year.
- Maryland John R Justice: Maryland’s John R. Justice program is for state and federal public defenders that make three-year service commitments. Recipients can get up to $10,000 per year, up to a total maximum of $60,000.
- Maryland SmartBuy: Although the Maryland SmartBuy program isn’t specifically for lawyers, the program can be especially beneficial to lawyers with student loan debt. Through the program, student loan borrowers can buy a home and get up to 15% of the home purchase price to pay off their loans, up to a maximum of $50,000.
- Average annual wage: $102,640
- Cost of living rank: 3/50
If you’re looking for the best cities for lawyers, you may want to give cities in Kansas another look. Through Kansas’ Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ) program, you can qualify for benefits like student loan repayment and tax credits.
The state of Kansas designated 95 counties as “rural opportunity zones.” If you move to one of those zones, you can get up to $15,000 in loan repayment assistance. By moving to a qualifying rural opportunity zone, you may also qualify for income tax credits that eliminate 100% of your Kansas tax liability.
Considering that Kansas’ cost of living is the third-least expensive in the country, your money can go farther there too.
- Average annual wage: $133,330
- Cost of living rank: 27/50
Pennsylvania operates two loan repayment programs for attorneys:
- Pennsylvania John R. Justice Loan Repayment Program: Through Pennsylvania’s program, full-time county and federal public defenders and federal or state prosecutors can qualify for up to $10,000 per year in loan repayment assistance.
- Pennsylvania Bar Foundation Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP): The Pennsylvania LRAP provides loan repayment help to lawyers that work full-time for non-profit legal services organizations. Award amounts vary by year.
- Average annual wage: $150,350
- Cost of living rank: 15/50
Although Texas is one of the 15 cheapest states to live in, its average wage for lawyers is higher than the national average. Plus, the state operates a loan repayment assistance programs for lawyers:
- Texas Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program (SLRAP): Administered by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the Texas SLRAP is for lawyers that work for legal aid organizations. It provides up to $6,000 per year in assistance.
What to Do If You Aren’t Eligible
Although moving to one of the best places for lawyers to live can be an excellent way to pay down your debt, relocating or changing your employment aren’t realistic options for everyone. If you don’t qualify for a state loan repayment assistance program, explore these alternatives instead:
Federal loan borrowers, including law school graduates that took out Direct Unsubsidized or Grad PLUS loans for their education, may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). If you work for a government agency or non-profit organization for at least ten years and make 120 qualifying monthly payments, the federal government will forgive your remaining loan balance.
Income-Driven Repayment (IDR)
If you took out federal student loans for law school and can’t afford your payments, consider applying for an IDR plan. These plans base your payments on a portion of your discretionary income. While you’re in the early stages of your career — or if you work for a lower-paying organization, such as legal aid offices — you can qualify for a reduced monthly payment.
Student Loan Refinancing
If you took out private student loans for law school or have high-interest federal loans, another option is student loan refinancing. As a lawyer, you likely earn a higher salary compared to other professions, and you may have good credit. If that’s the case, you could qualify for a loan with lower rates and more favorable terms than you have now, helping you save money.
Refinancing federal loans will cause you to lose federal benefits like loan forgiveness and IDR plans, so think carefully before refinancing federal debt.
You can use ELFI to view potential refinancing options online without affecting your credit score.