Reducing Your Student Debt (Or Why You Shouldn't Go to Law School)

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —Have you ever wanted to change a stranger’s life? That was what happened to me one night over beers with some colleagues from firm. When our waitress overheard that we were all practicing attorneys, she mentioned that she was applying to law schools herself and asked if we had any advice.

“Yes,” my friend Kate said. “Don’t go.” Our waitress laughed. We did not.

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According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education as many as six out of ten lawyers urge young people to stay away from their profession, and in the four years since graduating myself, I’ve only ended one conversation by telling the applicant he’d made a good decision. Yet most of us continue to practice anyway, grinding away at the very job from which we so strongly urge others to save themselves. Why is that?

In a word, debt. Nationwide student loans are crushing young graduates, pushing back plans to buy homes, start families or take professional risks. According to the nonprofit group American Debt Assistance, nearly 37 million Americans have outstanding student loans, and the problem is growing. Debt manager Steve Blutza of the Chicago-based Heartland Financial Services says that he’s seeing student debt become an increasingly large section of his practice, particularly as more and more loans are privatized.

“If it’s federally guaranteed, we can pretty much guarantee they’ll walk away with a smile,” Blutza says of his work helping people with student debt. “Even if they’re in default, with federally guaranteed loans we can pretty much make them virgins again.” With private loans, however, “it’s a different ball game.”

So what can we do?

For many of us, the answer usually boils down to throwing more money in the hole and hoping to fill it up. This isn’t fun, or even necessarily economically efficient, but it’s clear and stops the collection calls for another few weeks. Happily there are better solutions out there than just pay and pray, ways to make your student loans maybe a little bit more manageable over the long haul.