Student Loan Debt

Now with the internet, you don’t even need to spring for a nice plate to panhandle.

In the before times, in the long, long ago, there was no internet. There was no Shark Tank. There were banks and capitalists. You had to go to them with your business ventures, beg them for start-up money, and that’s the way the world worked.

Now, anybody can beg anybody else for money. There’s no dignity anymore. There aren’t eight Jewish bankers who control everything. You don’t have to borrow money for your house from Mr. Potter. You don’t need to promise eternal salvation before passing the hat around. Now, any idiot with a dream and a keyboard can go on the internet and beg people for money.

Kickstarter is at least a place where ideas beg for money. A tipster sent us a link to “Upstart,” where individuals ask you to fund them in exchange for a percentage of their future earnings. So far, four people with J.D.s think they’re so special you should give them money so they can do what they want…

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Regular readers of this blog know that you cannot discharge student loan obligations through bankruptcy absent a showing of undue hardship. If you go broke borrowing money for expensive cars, houses, and monkeys/butlers, no problem, file for bankruptcy and start over. But if you go broke trying to better yourself through education, the government will make you beg and prove that you are sad and hopeless. Wonderful system we’ve got here.

We’ve also talked about how many people who might be eligible for undue hardship on their student debts don’t even try. The system is daunting and complicated, and I’ve argued that prostrating yourself in front of a bankruptcy court and letting them invade your life to the point of telling you how much you should be spending on your cell phone is not something that comes naturally to people with pride and dignity. This might be hard to understand for people who have never been in this situation, but I’d much rather be a “deadbeat” and have my wages garnished with the discretion on how I spend the rest than have some old judge tell me how much money I should be spending on breakfast.

When trying to get your debts discharged through bankruptcy, there seems to be no limit to what a judge can take into account to see if you are really desperate. But a recent Ninth Circuit opinion upholding a discharge by reversing the district court put one boundary on what a court can look at to determine if you’ve tried to pay your debts in “good faith.”

The court can’t look at your household and suggest that you pimp out your wife. So at least that’s something…

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‘Another tuition hike? Time for a new car!’

If liberals are to be true to our professed values, we must critically examine our own conduct, however painful and embarrassing it might be. We cannot speak truth to power yet not to ourselves. [P]rogressive law professors, I charge, have profited from a system of legal education with harmful consequences to individuals and society — while claiming (and believing) that they were fighting the system.

– Professor Brian Tamanaha of the Washington University of St. Louis School of Law, criticizing his colleagues for remaining silent while law school tuition has soared. His remarks can be found in a forthcoming essay that will be published in the Stanford Law & Policy Review.


“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.”

— Allen Ginsberg, Howl

I am supposed to be paying something on the order of $2,500 a month in student loan repayments. I currently make a shade over $55,000 a year which, after taxes, comes out to a tick under $3,200 a month. Please don’t mistake me for a braggart, dear reader, as I am a man much like yourself. I get up every morning and slip my cheap suit on one pant leg at a time. Just like you! It’s just that, after my threadbare suit is hanging from my gaunt frame, I have dozens of dollars to my name. Dozens.

If you are reading this website, you are well-acquainted with the state of student debt in this country. Above The Law, once a bastion for bottles, models, bonuses, and benefits, covers the hangover now too. The hangover is a useful start for any consideration of debt in this country, as it turns out. Shot through with the morality that only the descendants of Puritans can muster, debt in this country is treated not unlike a sexually transmitted disease or pleated pants: it’s moral turpitude that led you here.

Remember kids, banks will never ever ever forget your student loans. They may forgive them, though. As if they’re handing out papal dispensations from on high, banks are passing moral judgment even when your duties as a debtor may be discharged.

This is the moral universe we currently reside in. And it’s one that has seriously warped consequences.

This story is about Nazis and sex slavery…

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With graduation fast approaching, maybe people are coming to the startling realization (what took you so long?) that they’re going to have to figure out a way to pay off their student loans. Sure, it was fun to have government monopoly money to play with while you were in law school — maybe you had a weekly shoegasm at DSW; maybe you repeatedly blew your wad at Game Stop — but now it’s time to face the music.

Unfortunately, when it comes to debt repayment, the soundtrack that’s playing on an infinite loop in your mind is from the shower scene in Psycho.

Whether or not you’ve got a job lined up, you know for sure that your starting salary is nowhere near high enough to allow you to both live indoors and make monthly payments to your loan servicer. You’re scared that you’re going to have to moonlight in retail, or worse yet, move back in with your parents.

All you know is that you really, really don’t want to default on your loans. Your credit will be shot. Your phone number will be scrawled on the bathroom walls at collections agencies. Your life’s work will be all for naught. What the hell are you going to do?

Don’t worry, friends. Your loan servicer has a secret to share on how to avoid the disaster of default….

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It doesn’t have to be this way.

If someone asks you whether they should go to law school, here is a very safe response: “Sure, provided that you get into a top law school and can go for free.” Even the biggest critics of legal education would admit that, assuming you want to be a lawyer, going for free to an elite law school is not a bad idea. See, e.g., Professor Paul Campos, Don’t Go To Law School (Unless) (affiliate link).

How can this be achieved? It’s not impossible. As we’ve mentioned before, more than 10 percent of law students graduate with zero debt, and another 5 percent or so graduate with less than $20,000 in student loans. Some of these students receive generous scholarships from their schools; others have savings or come from well-to-do families.

But there are other options. For example, does your employer offer tuition reimbursement?

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Yesterday we asked you to advise a prospective law student choosing between NYU Law School, at full sticker price, and UVA Law School, at half price. You overwhelmingly voted in favor of UVA. (Some of you suggested in the comments that he try to use his UVA scholarship to wrangle some scholarship money out of NYU; he did, but NYU said no.)

Today we bring you another 0L choosing between some excellent law schools. This individual has narrowed his decision down to three places: UVA, Northwestern, and Minnesota. For those of you who slavishly adhere to the U.S. News rankings, the three schools check in at #7, #12, and #19, respectively.

So what makes this choice more challenging? The differing scholarship amounts they’re offering this candidate….

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Going to law school is a smart choice for many people. It’s not a smart choice for all people or probably even the majority of people who end up going, and it’s not a decision to be entered into lightly. But if you want to be a practicing lawyer, based on an informed view of what lawyers actually do, and if you’ve concluded that law school is right for you, after a rigorous process of psychological and financial self-examination, then by all means, matriculate.

(We are not uniformly anti-law-school here at Above the Law. I’ve written many times in defense of going to law school, provided you’ve done your research. See, e.g., here, here, here, and all of these law school success stories. And Elie’s on vacation this week, hahaha….)

The question then becomes where you should go to law school. It’s a timely topic, since now is the time of year when prospective law students or “0Ls” must decide where to put down their deposits. So help a brother out and offer some advice on the following situation….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Decision: NYU Law v. UVA Law at Half-Price Tuition?”

Last week, in Morning Docket, we mentioned that one law school was thinking about lowering tuition. My colleague Staci requested less thinking and more doing.

As it turned out, the law school in question went ahead and reduced tuition, by significant amounts. How much are we talking about? And could this positive trend spread to other schools?

Maybe — especially if law students do their part and speak out….

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‘I’d be happier if I weren’t poor.’

A little more than one year ago, Elie and I asked our readers what they would have done if they hadn’t gone to law school. The answers in the comments were varied, but in light of the state of the job market for entry-level lawyers, this was the one that stood out the most to me then, and stands out even more to me now:

“Shoot myself. It would have been quicker and less painful.”

While that may be incredibly depressing, it speaks to the feelings of a new generation of lawyers, many of whom have been languishing in unemployment and drowning under heavy student debt loads for months, and in some cases, years. Now, if you’re lucky enough to be complaining about the size of your Biglaw bonus, these circumstances aren’t applicable to you. But unfortunately, as we all know, money can’t buy happiness. Regardless of your standing in life, law school still might have been a bad decision for you.

Which brings me to this question: all things considered, are you still happy you went to law school?

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