Michigan's 'Debt Wizard' offers law students a glimpse of their futures
The National Law Journal
If you take a government law job in Dallas that pays $70,000 after borrowing $110,000 to go to law school, you can expect that about 55 percent of your net income will go towards your housing and debt repayment under a traditional, 25-year repayment plan.
That is one of 11,000 law school loan repayment scenarios ripe for exploration using the University of Michigan Law School's new "Debt Wizard" tool. Michigan developed the online calculator to help law students and prospective enrollees better understand student loan obligations and how they fit into various legal career paths, dean Evan Caminker said.
The school is attempting to be as transparent as possible about post-graduate employment and finances, he added. "Michigan understands and appreciates why people today ought to be as well-informed as possible with information that pertains to the financial value proposition of law school."
The Debt Wizardthe brainchild of senior assistant dean Sarah Zearfossasks users to enter three types of information. For employment, they may choose from academia, business, government, private practice or public interest. Then they enter the amount of their prospective federal loan debt and choose one of 11 metropolitan areas where they hope to work.
The tool then generates a chart detailing an array of possible annual gross incomes. Each level offers an idea of the percentage of net income that likely would go towards paying for their loans and housing, under four loan repayment plans: 10 years; the standard 25 years; income-base repayment; and Michigan law's loan repayment assistance program.
While the Michigan repayment program information is specific to the Ann Arbor school, the tool was designed to be relevant to potential students anywhere, Caminker said.
The Debt Wizard highlights the reality that graduates with large amounts of student debt who take low-paying jobs likely will end up with little surplus after paying for housing and loans. But that should not necessarily dissuade people from pursuing their ambitions, Caminker said.
"This might be a wake up call in terms of, 'Gee, if I'm going to do this job, I might not be going out to expensive restaurants every night,' " he said.
The Debt Wizard isn't designed to help prospective students determine how likely they are to proceed down any particular job path, but rather to help them understand what those options may mean for them financially, he added.
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