Loan Options

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There are three types of loan programs: Federal Direct Unsubsidized, Federal Direct Graduate PLUS, and private educational loan programs. The maximum amount you may borrow from each loan program is indicated on your Official Aid Notice. Please note this is the maximum amount a student may borrow, not necessarily the amount a student actually needs. Many students live well beneath the maximum amount the school allows. As debt levels increase, we encourage students to think hard about the choices they make with regard to housing, food consumption, and other personal expenses. We encourage you to consider whether you can develop a personal budget that is less than the University’s published student budget. Ultimately, however, it is up to you whether you wish to borrow the full amount of your eligibility.

Entrance and Exit Loan Counseling

Federal regulations require that students who borrow Federal Loans complete entrance and exit loan counseling. This counseling informs students of their rights and responsibilities with regard to borrowing under various loan programs. Even if you have received federal loans prior to matriculating at Duke Law School, you must still complete the entrance loan counseling session again. Please note that your federal loan applications will not be processed until you have completed entrance counseling.

Graduating Duke Law students must complete the exit loan counseling session online. Upon request, the Office of Financial Aid provides individual counseling on topics including loan repayment, debt management, and deferments or forbearances.

Loan Hierarchy

There is a fairly clear hierarchy that students should follow when considering the loan programs outlined below. If students need to finance their education and wish to use federal loans, they should first turn to the Federal Direct Unsubsidized loan program. Once the student has borrowed the maximum amount allowed through that loan programs, the student can borrow up to their full cost of attendance using a Graduate PLUS loan. If students are ineligible for federal loans or would prefer a different option, private education loans are also available. This is an important choice for a number of reasons, and thus will be addressed in detail later in this handbook.

Below is a chart that students may find helpful in gaining a general understanding of these loans.  The information is based on Direct Loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2019. Students should always confirm current loan interest rates on the Federal Student Aid website.

  Direct Unsubsidized Loan Direct Graduate PLUS Loan Private Educational Loan
Interest Rates 6.079% fixed rate 7.079% fixed rate Credit based
Eligibility No income restrictions No income restrictions No income restrictions
Annual Loan Limits $20,500 Cost of attendance less any financial aid awarded Cost of attendance less any financial aid awarded
In-School Interest Borrower Responsibility* Borrower Responsibility* Borrower Responsibility*
Grace Period Six-month grace period, during which interest will accrue

No grace period - Graduate/ professional student may defer payments while enrolled & request 6 month forbearance after graduation, during which interest continues to accrue.

Varies by lender and program
Repayment Terms Repayment begins after grace period

$50 minimum monthly repayment

Up to 10 years to repay, depending on amount owed
1st payment due within 60 days after loan is fully disbursed

$50 minimum monthly repayment

10-25 year maximum repayment term (based on total loan balance)
Varies by Lender
*Borrower has option of making interest payments while in school or waiting until repayment begins. Interest not paid during school enrollment will be capitalized one time at the end of grace period.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan

While the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan is federally guaranteed, payment of accruing interest (while the student is enrolled, and during the grace period) is not subsidized.

  • Eligibility: Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have filed a FAFSA.
  • Amount: Students can borrow up to $20,500.00 per academic year.
  • Cost: For current borrowers, the interest rate is fixed at 6.079%. Borrowers are charged a 1.062% origination fee on Direct Unsubsidized Loans. This fee is deducted from each disbursement of the loan. The borrower is responsible for accrued interest during the in-school deferment and the six-month grace period. Payments need not be made while the student is in school; and capitalization of interest is available.
  • Repayment: The standard repayment term is 10 years, and additional repayment options can extend the repayment period to 25 years.
  • How to apply: All students will automatically be sent information on how to apply for Direct Unsubsidized Loans with their Duke Law School Official Financial Aid Notice..

Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans

Graduate and professional degree students are now eligible to borrow under the PLUS Loan Program up to their cost of attendance minus other estimated financial assistance. The Graduate PLUS loan requires a credit check to ascertain that the applicant does not have an adverse credit history and carries a fixed interest rate of 7.079%. Applicants for this loan are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). They also must have applied for their annual loan maximum eligibility under the Federal Stafford Loan Program before applying for a Graduate/Professional PLUS loan.

  • Amount: Students can borrow up to the cost of attendance per academic year, less any amount borrowed through the other Federal Loan programs and any scholarships awarded.
  • Cost: For current borrowers, the interest rate is fixed at 7.079%. Borrowers are charged a 4.248% origination fee on Graduate PLUS Loans. This fee is deducted from each disbursement of the loan. The borrower is also responsible for accrued interest during the in-school deferment period. Payments need not be made while the student is in school; capitalization of interest is available, though it may be wise to make interest-only payments if possible.
  • Repayment: Graduate PLUS loans go immediately into repayment upon graduation, however your loan servicer should apply an automatic 6-month forbearance. The standard repayment term is 10 years, and additional repayment options can extend the repayment period to 25 years..
  • How to apply: All students will automatically be sent information on how to apply for Graduate PLUS Loans with their Duke Law School Official Financial Aid Notice.

Private Educational Loans

The Duke Student Loan Office has created a Recommended Lender List to help students compare private loan options. You are not required to borrow from any of the lenders on this list.  If you choose to borrow from a lender outside the Recommended Lender List, The Student Loan Office will be happy to process it for you. Duke University will not discourage, refuse or delay certification.  

As a general rule, students should only consider obtaining a private educational loan if they have maxed out the Federal Loans. The fees charged by some lenders can significantly increase the cost of the loan. A loan with a relatively low interest rate but high fees can ultimately cost more than a loan with a somewhat higher interest rate and no fees. (The lenders that do not charge fees often roll the difference into the interest rate.) A good rule of thumb is that 3% to 4% in fees is about the same as a 1% higher interest rate.

Be wary of comparing loans with different repayment terms according to Annual Percentage Rate (APR), as a longer loan term reduces the APR despite increasing the total amount of interest paid. It is not uncommon for lenders to advertise a lower rate for the in-school and grace period, with a higher rate in effect when the loan enters repayment.

Private educational loans are credit-based loans so it is important to maintain your credit rating up to and throughout your Law School career. If you are late in paying any of your bills (e.g., credit cards, rent, phone bill, or medical bill) you may be disqualified from receiving private educational loans. The Law School does not have the resources to lend money to students with poor credit histories who are unable to borrow private educational loans. The Office of Financial Aid strongly recommends that you review your credit status. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. They provide free annual credit reports only through For a fee, you may also request a credit report from each individual agency (websites below.)

Credit reporting agencies to contact:

General information website about credit, and credit scores:

Private Educational Loan vs. Graduate PLUS Loan

Stafford loans are offered at very attractive interest rates and terms which private educational loans often cannot match. But because of their relatively low loan limits, most students need more assistance. Here, students have two primary choices for remaining funding: a private educational loan or a Federal Graduate PLUS Loan.

Both the Graduate PLUS Loan and a private educational loan have their relative benefits and drawbacks. The decision on which loan program to utilize may come down to your individual preference and comfort level with the interest rate environment. This is the same question home owners need to consider when they are looking at a fixed versus variable rate mortgage. It may help to look at historical information that can give you an idea of what interest rates have done in the past. Most lenders offer private loan interest rates based on either the most current 3 month LIBOR rate plus an index or the Prime Lending Rate. However, past performance is not a guarantee for how future interest rates will move in the future.

If you would rather sleep well at night knowing you have a fixed interest rate loan that will not go up, then a fixed rate Federal Graduate PLUS loan may be what you choose. If you feel that a variable rate will run consistent with a lower rate trend, then a variable rate private educational loan may be best for you. The interest rate is one component to consider. You should also consider other attributes of the loans.

  Federal Graduate PLUS Private Educational
Borrower Loan is made to you (the graduate/professional student), an endorser may be required. Loan is made to you; however, a creditworthy co-borrower may be required.
Credit Requirements Credit approval based on federal standards, not credit score. Endorser option if you do not meet credit requirements Credit approval based on credit score and history
Loan Limits Cost of education minus aid Cost of education minus aid
Origination Fee 4.248% Varies
Interest Rate Federal Grad PLUS interest rate is fixed at 7.595% Variable interest rate based on LIBOR, up to a maximum of 18% (the rate may change quarterly). May be based on your credit and/or co-borrower
Federal Consolidation Eligible for Federal Consolidation programs Not Eligible Federal Consolidation programs
Deferment/Forbearance Options Federal deferment and forbearance options exist Forbearance may be available; is generally less flexible than Federal loan deferments
Repayment Options Up to 25 years, standard principal and interest, interest only, graduated and extended repayment options Up to 20 years, options for interest only during early years of repayment
Death/Disability Grad PLUS loans can be discharged upon death of borrower. Loan can also be discharged if a borrower becomes totally and permanently disabled Most private educational loans are NOT insured against death or disability
Loan Forgiveness Grad PLUS loans are eligible for forgiveness under the provisions set forth in The College Cost Reduction And Access Act (H.R. 2669) Private educational loans cannot be forgiven under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act
You may prefer the Federal Graduate PLUS Loan:
  • You like the certainty that a fixed-rate loan provides.
  • Your credit is good, fair, or poor, your cost may be lower with Federal Graduate PLUS.
  • You like the protection of greater deferment and forbearance options.
  • You may work in the public interest sector and will qualify for Federal Loan forgiveness through the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA)
You may prefer a private educational loan:
  • You are comfortable with the possibility of interest rates increasing beyond the interest rate cap of the Federal Graduate PLUS loan.
  • You have top-tier credit. Borrowers with great credit scores may be charged less interest now, but if interest rates continue to climb, it could cost you more.
  • You believe that there is very little possibility that you may use the deferment or forbearance options.
  • You plan to borrow the loan only for a short time.
  • You do not plan to work in public interest sector.

Federal Loan Forgiveness

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 provides a loan forgiveness program for public service employees. The federal loan forgiveness provisions require borrowers to have borrowed Direct Loans or to have consolidated their federal loans through the Federal Direct Consolidation Program. Please note that only federal loans are eligible for the forgiveness program. As such, we advise that borrowers carefully consider the available educational loan programs (private educational versus federal Graduate PLUS) to ensure that their individual loan borrowing fits into their long-term financial planning. While borrowing through private educational loan programs may provide better loan terms, it will prevent you from taking full advantage of the Federal Loan Forgiveness for Public Service Employees program. While we encourage loan borrowers to refer to the detail of the actual legislation in determining all relevant issues, the Office of Financial Aid is available to address individual concerns. 

Federal Loan Consolidation

After completing their studies, students who borrow Federal Perkins, Staffords, and Graduate PLUS loans, may be eligible to consolidate these federal loans. Consolidation involves having one lender purchase any outstanding federal loans from all other lenders and make a single new loan. The consolidated loan carries a fixed interest rate for a loan period ranging from ten to thirty years, and assuming credit worthiness, can be obtained at any time in which the borrower is in the grace period or in current repayment on federal loans.

No extra fee is charged for consolidation. The interest rate of the consolidated loan is fixed at the weighted average of the component loans. Most lenders who offer federal loans also offer consolidation loans. Consolidation loans are designed to help individuals who have a high monthly student loan payment. Please note that you can consolidate all or some of your outstanding education loans even if you have more than one lender. The Federal Consolidation Loan creates a single, new loan with one monthly payment. The relative benefits or disadvantages of consolidation change with larger market trends, thus students who are unsure about the consolidation process are encouraged to contact the Office of Financial Aid for assistance.

Information on Student Loan History

You can locate your prior and current federal loan history by visiting the National Student Loan Data Systems (NSLDS) at: To access your records at this site, you will need to provide the last two letters of your last name, your social security number, your date of birth, and your FAFSA PIN number.

Loan Repayment

Students preparing for graduation should also prepare to begin repayment on their loans. The first step is to review the student copies of the loan applications and promissory notes to ascertain the beginning payment dates and amounts. Some loans do not have any grace periods, and repayment begins immediately after graduation. Most loans, however, have grace periods during which payments are not needed.

The student is responsible for notifying lenders of their current address. Failure to do so may result in a great deal of confusion for both the student and the lender. This could lead to default and legal action. The burden is on the borrower to notify the lender of a change in address.

The summer following graduation is often spent studying for the bar exam and not working. If repayment is due, students should notify their lenders and request forbearance until they begin receiving salaries. Lenders will often allow up to six months of forbearance or interest-only payments. Most lenders are interested in receiving their money and are willing to work out different payment schedules with borrowers, but can only do so if they know the borrower’s circumstances. As always, the Office of Financial Aid is available to provide guidance to its students and alumni.

Educational Lending Code of Conduct

The University's Educational Lending Code of Conduct can be found here.