The Journey to Getting out of Student Loan Debt

Jeena Cho, JC Law Group PC

The headlines says it all, “Student Loan Debt Hits $1 Trillion.” As a bankruptcy lawyer, I get to talk about a subject that’s rarely discussed — debt. What’s missing from the headlines are discussions on ways to practically manage debt.

For many law school graduates, the reality is that this loan balance will increase due to deferment and/or forbearance from needing time off to study for the bar, waiting for bar results and the job search.

If you’re in this situation, I feel your pain. Even though I’ve been out of law school for 10 years, the truth is that I didn’t aggressively start attacking my student loan debt until a few years ago.

In order to get out of debt, you must (1) earn more, and/or, (2) spend less. If you’re like most associates, working more is probably out of the question, which leaves option 2.

Here are some practical tips for managing your student loans.

reality-checkReality Check
Start by grabbing your most recent student loan statement or log into your account and figure out how much you owe, the repayment terms, and the interest rate. If you’ve been avoiding looking at the balance, give yourself credit for taking this difficult step.

battle-planBattle Plan
The next step is to run various repayment scenarios. For example, if you owe $100,000 at 6%, interest, repayment over 25 years will be $640 per month. However, you’ll pay $93,000 in interest. Reduce the repayment term to 10 years and your monthly payment increases to $840, but your total interest payment will drop to $52,000. You can use a loan repayment calculator, or use tools like Ready For Zero to crunch the numbers for you.

budgetYou Need a Budget
Yes, everyone needs a budget. Luckily, there’s an app for that. Go to: www.youneedabudget.com. There are many others out there, including Mint and Quicken. You can also use the old fashioned method and grab a pencil, paper and a calculator.

FRUGALBe Frugal
There’s a perception that lawyers should have nice homes, nice cars, and a wardrobe to match. When your co-workers are going out to that expensive dinner or carrying that designer purse, you don’t want to feel left out. There’s a sense that “frugal” is a dirty word.

Consider for a moment where you’d like to be financially 10, 20, or 30 years from now. Would you rather be spinning your wheels, trying to keep up with the Joneses or would you rather be debt free? What are your core values? What will really make you happy?

About the author:

Jeena Cho is a San Francisco bankruptcy attorney with JC Law Group PC. She’s working on her second book, The Anxious Lawyer, for the ABA. She will be speaking at upcoming BASF CLE event, Student Loan Solutions on January 13, 2014 at 12:00 p.m.. Email her at jcho@jclawgroup.com or follow her on Twitter @jeena_cho.