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The “R Word”–Repayment

I cannot believe it’s been so long since I posted to this blog.  I feel so neglectful.  I did think about blogging a few times and then decided against it.  Mostly, I’ve just been way too busy and way too tired.  Work has been very stressful with lots of unwarranted and unwanted projects that just add to my daily craziness.

ExhaustedPoseGenerally speaking, the month of December flew by.  However, the closer it got to the Christmas break the more it seemed to screech to a grind; that last week was brutal.  I was in a foul mood most of that week and then it finally hit me that my upcoming (paid) vacation would be my first since 2007.  Seriously, other than a day here or there (not paid), I have been in school, working, or in school AND working since the summer of 2007.  That’s every spring break, every summer, every break between semesters.  Most times I was finishing up my finals one day and starting work the next, or leaving my job on a Friday and starting a new semester on Monday.  Insane.

Well, I had a good run…5 solid years of working/studying/studying/working and it finally caught up to me.  So, I wasn’t too hard on myself this last week when I was done and I mean DONE with work for 2012.  I practically ran out of the office on Dec. 21—I hope my plants held on to the water I gave them because I still have another five glorious days off.

Another thing that’s been stressful is what every former law student will come to know as “transitioning into repayment status.”  I cannot tell you how my stomach knots up every time I go to the mailbox lately and there’s ANOTHER letter from fedloan, DirectLoans and the latest, SallieMae.  It seems like a I get a letter every other day.  One letter says one thing and then next say something totally different.  I have called fedloan and DirectLoans multiple times since October; I should have them on speed dial.  This latest, SallieMae just joined the party this week and now I’m all confused.

As I sort through all these letters from all these companies I keep reminding myself that I am a lawyer, an educated person, I should be able to make heads and/or tails of these notices, but yet, the thought of dealing with this mess makes me cringe.  All I want to know is how much, HOW MUCH do I pay and to whom, that’s all.  But, it’s not that easy.

Some loans are with this servicer, other loans are with that servicer.  I also qualify for Loan Forgiveness credits because I work for  a public entity and turns out only ONE servicer handles that, so I needed to move (consolidate) the loans to the one servicer that will track my public service credits.  Standard loan repayment would be equal to approximately 25% of my monthly Forgive-Student-Loan-debtGROSS income, so that was definitely not happening. I applied for a modified payment plan and then I had both that application and the consolidation going at the same time…with two different servicers.  Meanwhile, I kept getting notices that my payments were coming due (for the standard repayment) and I kept calling them to say, “Hey, I can’t pay this…where in the process is my paperwork?”  I keep getting assurances that it’s proceeding and issuing a “forbearance” is quick and easy, so they keep telling me that I’m ok.  And still I’m getting notices in the mail and via email that my payment is past due.  I check my online account which confirms “forbearance” and get the distinct impression that the left hand has no flippin’ idea what the right hand is doing.  This does not inspire great confidence on my part. If this sounds confusing, it is.  If it sounds stressful, it is.

Then SallieMae came on the scene and supposedly is handling all of the above for me and my (reasonable) payments won’t start  until March—at least according to my phone call to them yesterday.  TODAY, I get notice in the mail that says something completely different.  Sigh…my stomach hurts.

My only advice to those who eventually arrive at this point:  Get a notepad and document, document, document every time you call one of these places, the date, time, who you spoke with and what they said.  It’s the only lifeline I have in this crazy nightmare.

If I could get all this straightened out my life would be so much better.  I hate this not knowing what my finances are from month to month.  I just want to have all this settle down and get to paying off these loans.  I know I will probably be paying on these loans for a long time…at least 10 years, but I’m fine with that.  I don’t care about being in student loan debt, to me it was worth it.  I have no regrets.

SallieMae and I are going to be good friends for a long, long time.

I still have to let off a little more steam before the new year officially arrives though, so I’m planning a board game night with some of my friends for New Year’s eve.  Nothing elaborate, just good friends, good food and then…GOOD NIGHT!  Needless to say, SallieMae is NOT invited.

Happy 2012–Here’s to returning the favor to the federal government and beginning my loan repayment.  Cheers!

Spring Breaking Down the Bar Exam

Well, it’s law school Spring Break.  My last Spring Break.  Ever.  Although, I can’t recall any of these last four Spring Breaks when I actually took a “break,” it is what it is.  As per usual, I have a laundry list of things to do this week and I’m loathe to get started.  It’s been raining consistently for the last three days and all I want to do is sleep.

Instead, I know I should be outlining my Advance Torts class as that is my main goal for the week.  I also need to start organizing my bar study wall calendar, making flash cards for the P&E (Procedure & Evidence) portion of the bar exam, and listening to my law CDs so I can start committing the rules of law….for EVERYTHING…to memory.  Wow.  Now I want to sleep even more.  I’m tired just thinking about it.

We’re plodding along in my Passing the Bar class and I’m feeling more and more pressured.  I know how I am.  Everything has to be organized and ready to go for me to study.  I am the person that has to have a clean and orderly study space or I can’t even think straight.  Sure, all semester long my office gets more and more cluttered, but twice a semester:  at the beginning and just before finals, it MUST be organized or I can’t focus.

Problem is, I know that when bar prep starts I can’t waste precious time tidying up and getting “ready” to study.  So I want all of it done now and there’s just so much to do; I guess I’m immobilized by the tasks at hand.  What a vicious cycle. I have got to get it together.  I guess part of the problem is the vast array of unknowns at this point.

Here’s what I mean:  We were asked to fill out a survey in my Passing the Bar class.  The survey was meant to help identify our weak areas of law.  Once we fill this out, our professor has all kinds of hand outs, supplements, and study aids that can help us fortify those specific areas in which we need remediation.  It’s so daunting.

So I did my survey and met with my professor this week.  Once I had it all on paper I was not surprised to find out that the areas I’ll be focusing on most are those that I didn’t care for in law school (or that didn’t care for ME) and those that I avoided altogether.  In short, business law courses:  Agency, Partnership, Payment Systems, Business Associations.  Meh.

Also, I knew I’d have to go another round with Con Law (although, I did just fine in its companion course, First Amendment) and of course, the bane of my existence: Property (to include Marital Property).  Note that only first semester property was horrific (Read: Future Interests and the RAP) and once we got to more sane areas of property like mortgages and equal lending and housing practices I was much better!  I cannot blame my first semester disconnect on my professor, either.  Nope, he is great–it’s the subject matter that fries my brain.  Sigh.

There were other parts of the survey that I just couldn’t answer yet.  I couldn’t put down on paper how many hours I planned to devote to bar prep.  I couldn’t list my planned daily schedule.  I couldn’t break any of this down because #1) I don’t know what bar prep course I’m going to take, # 2) I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it ($2K+) and #3) because of #1 and #2 I have no idea what portion of my day is pre-planned with lectures and what remains of the day for me to follow the rest of the bar prep schedule.

And, BTW…what does that bar prep schedule look like????  I feel like there are 25 balls juggling in the air at once and before I can get any of them into a rhythm one is gonna have to start falling down to begin the sequence.

I applied for a bar prep scholarship that our school has given out for the last seven semesters.  I guess they started this shortly after I began law school in 2008.  I know in the past the scholarship committee has been very generous and most everyone that applied got some sort of assistance.  I can only hope that this trend continues.  I need that scholarship bad.  We’re supposed to find out towards the end of this month.  So please send prayers that this works out.   Once I know about this, the rest of the pieces I need to plan and prepare will fall quickly into place.  I just need to do what I can to get as much organized as I can in the interim.

I don’t know how people would have any idea of how to approach taking the Bar exam without taking this class I’m taking now.  Think of it as a Prepping for the Bar Prepping Class.  So I guess I’m somewhat relieved that as frazzled as I am right now, I’d rather be having this BEFORE actual bar prep as opposed to on top of bar prep.   Thanks to my professor I’ve got a plan.  The following is from his handout:

EARLY BAR PREPARATION:  A STEP-BY-STEP STRATEGY

1)  ESSAYS:  The goal is to develop a base of knowledge that is similar to what I have in classes in which I made a grade of at least a B or higher, and to create an outline for the most commonly tested topics.

2)  MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) The goal is to get a good deal of law under my belt and to shore up or radically alter how I answer multiple-choice questions, which ever approach is applicable.

3)  P&E (Procedure & Evidence) The goal is to learn the rules for the most highly tested ares of law and to learn how to write concise answers to the P&E short answer questions.

4)  MPT (Multistate Performance Test):  The goal is to learn how to systematically deconstruct my task and construct the required answer within 90 minutes.

And that’s just the EARLY bar preparation.  During the course of bar prep (approx. 10 weeks) it is expected that we will spend a minimum of 8 hours a day studying for the first few weeks, then we will transition into 12-14 hour days, then as the exam gets closer we are supposed to kick it back down to 5-8, so that we aren’t dead before show time.

No point in starting to panic now.  The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  Like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” all I can do is just keep swimming!

You Too Can Be A JurisDebtor!

So today I was working on reviewing the institutional catalog for one of our* medical campuses.  This is the first time I’ve ever done this type of work and although it’s not too complicated, it can be somewhat painstaking.  Basically, I was looking at the campus’s student catalog and checking to be sure that it complied with all the requirements set out in our checklist to include legislative, statutory, and regental policy changes.  There’s a lot of cross-referencing between all these documents which makes it easy to get lost in the layers.

One part that I reviewed today pertained to tuition for attendance at the medical school.  Here’s the line that caught my attention:  “The designated tuition fee is $8660 per academic year.” My mind immediately started ticking:  Hmmm, so one could go to medical school for a year and spend roughly a third of what it costs to go to a private** law school for that same year!  Nice.

I have to admit I never really thought too much about the expense (Read: Debt) of law school before deciding to attend.  Why?  For me, there was no point.  I knew that I wanted to become a lawyer…that meant I had to go to law school…that meant that I’d go into debt.  So be it.  But seeing the stark difference between what it costs to become a doctor versus a lawyer, I have to cry: OBJECTION!!!!

You would think that with what it costs for a legal education (and the beat down one endures to get licensed) that lawyers would be held in higher esteem.  Maybe if we didn’t have 3x the debt of doctors, legal fees wouldn’t be so out of whack.  I don’t know, I’m just speculating.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any undergrad debt to carry forward into law school which wasn’t anything I planned; it just happened that way.

In discussing this whole issue of debt repayment with one of my recent law school grad friends (we’ll call her “Gina” just because I know no Ginas and it’s a lot easier than saying “one of my recent law school grad friends”)—I found out two important things:  1) There is a cap on the amount they can set for your monthly payment and 2) You only have to repay for 25 years.  These are both good things to know.

So in a nutshell (and according to Gina) these two rules are pretty clear.  I went on this website to further investigate and it’s not nearly this cut and dried. We are, after all, talking about government loans and so there are the requisite caveats and categories, all with different rules. What I did discover is that there are several options available and that in all probability I won’t have to be destitute to pay these loans off.

Gina was right about the 25 years, which if you’re paying off loans that long, let’s face it, you’ve long since paid off the actual money you borrowed and what they are “forgiving” is the interest*** they were still squeezing out of you.  That’s generous.  However, they do note that you might have to pay taxes on the amount discharged.  So don’t plan that trip to Tahiti just yet.  They’ll get it out of you one way or another. (I find this just hilarious:  So the federal government Dept. of Education “forgives” the remainder of your interest (Uh, I mean “loan”) and the federal government IRS collects taxes on what you were forgiven.  Sneaky!  Thankfully, the IRS does not run heaven since they clearly misunderstand the concept of forgiven!)

There are, of course, options to get portions of your loans forgiven if you work in public interest, which, it turns out, is something that I am seriously considering. 

Also, Gina’s information about a cap on the amount you can pay is, I think, generally correct under the section pertaining to Income Contingent Repayment plans which calculates your monthly payment based on your  adjusted gross income (AGI, plus your spouse’s income if you’re married), family size, and your total loan amount.  So each month you’ll pay the lesser of:

1.      The amount you would pay if you repaid your loan in 12 years multiplied by an income percentage factor that varies with your annual income, or

2.      20 percent of your monthly discretionary income.

They have a handy little calculator on the website so you can plug some numbers in and play around with various scenarios.  Here’s another link to a blog that has interesting information on Income-based Repayment, which may or may not be the same as Income Contingent Repayment from the Dept. of Ed. website.

Either way, it’s not pretty, by any means.  You could probably buy a fully loaded Hummer and pay less monthly, but I seriously doubt a Hummer will get you as far in life as a good legal education and a law license.  I could be wrong, but since I will have the latter before I can ever hope to have the former, we’re just gonna go with that.

Like I told another of my recent law school grad friends, whom we’ll call, Denny, he knows why…  There’s always a bright side and the bright side to law school student debt is indeed the 25-year rule.  I find comfort in knowing that my ENTIRE social security check will be mine.  Then, I might go to Tahiti.  🙂

Footnotes:

* I still say “our” even though I haven’t been a regular full-time employee here in four years!

** BTW, it’s not much cheaper to go to a public school.  I’d say the numbers I was looking at put it at about $6K/year less.

***I have to point out that by the time you’re “forgiven” you’ve probably already paid more than a few years worth of interest.  I’d not want you to think they let you fully off the hook.  No, they get interest out of you, it’s just a matter of how much.  So student loan forgiveness is more or less akin to the “mercy rule” in baseball–they’ve beaten you so long and so hard that it’s no longer fun, so they walk away.

MPRE…the Pre-Bar Exam…Sort Of

ORIGINALLY POSTED 9/21/11 (Additional comments added 11/12/11)  Alright, I can finally talk about it: MPRE scores came out.   Praise God, I passed with flying colors!  To pass in Texas you need a score of 85–I got 101.  I wonder if the State Bar would consider banking those extra points for me to use on the bar exam.  You think?  Hmmm, me neither, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

I would have been surprised to fail, but you never know. In my mind this was “the state of TEXAS” standing between me and a passing score and I really wanted to pass the first time. I’m so glad this is done. I’m starting to see signs around school about prep classes for the November exam and I just smile.

My 3L bar card arrived, so I’m official! I promptly filed my first law suit a few days later. Then I called the client, introduced myself, and discussed the status of her case. She was very happy to hear from me and I was amazed at how easily “I’m the lawyer working on your case,” just rolled off my tongue.  Next I’ll prepare the medical billing affidavits and begin reviewing another case set for trial in October.

A heartfelt thank you to: Emily, Doug, Julie, Gloria and Ruth. These folks in Admissions, Financial Aid, and Student Services made it possible for me to timely complete a complicated scholarship application. I needed so much documentation that I doubted I’d make the deadline, but when I asked for help I was received warmly and with a smile. I don’t know that they realize how much their efforts are appreciated, especially when one of us students comes running in needing something done fast. This, my friends, is when it pays off to be in a small school where people know and care about you.  It’s not just a job, it’s a family.

2011 Mike Eidson Scholarship Winner

ORIGINALLY POSTED 7/27/11 (Additional comments added on 11/12/11) –NYC went by so fast, but my mom and I had a wonderful time and saw lots of the City.  As a bonus, Derek Jeter got his 3000thhit the weekend we were there. Awesome!

NYC billboard celebrating Jeter's 3000th career hit.

Our main event at the AAJ Convention was a Sunday morning brunch hosted by the Women Trial Lawyers Caucus. I met many talented female trial lawyers who took time to chat and personally encourage me in my law school journey. Just at my table of eight there were three U.S. Congresswomen with whom I had breakfast! At the breakfast I received the Women Trial Lawyers Caucus Mike Eidson Scholarship for $5000.  This is an annual scholarship that the Caucus gives away to one female law student in the country.

I was speechless when I got the call and just honored beyond belief to be selected, especially because when I first considered applying for the scholarship I thought I didn’t qualify.  The award is for a female law student who aspires to be a trial attorney and has taken affirmative steps to reach that goal.  In my mind, that meant you should have joined mock trial or moot court.  Because of my crazy commuting schedule and the fact that these two organizations practice countless hours outside of class, I just couldn’t make it work.

I blew off applying for the scholarship and weeks later had a dream that told me not only that I should apply and what I should say in my essay, but assured me that I would win.  The dream literally walked me through an examination of what I’d done in and out of law school and how these things were relevant to becoming a trial lawyer. I woke up with a plan, but unsure if I’d missed the deadline.  Turns out I had just over a week to complete my application, which I did.  The rest is history.

Receiving the 2011 Mike Eidson Scholarship

I can’t tell you how many successful and prominent people walked up to me at the brunch and commented about how my essay just impacted them.  I was asked specific questions about my submittal such that I knew they had read my application with interest and admiration.  I was repeatedly told that my application was by far the best they received. Wow.  I want to especially thank Marianne LeBlanc and the Women Trial Lawyers Caucus for an unforgettable experience.

Meanwhile, I have to shelve my future lawyer dreams temporarily and focus on completing my legal education. Even though the new semester is still three weeks away, I have a major test coming up. Next Friday I will take the MPRE (Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam) which is the ethics portion of my State Bar exam; a passing score is required to practice in Texas. Seeing as many of my friends are taking the BIG bar exam this very week, the MPRE seems tame by comparison.  Nevertheless, it is a challenge I must conquer before taking my own bar exam next July, so it’s kind of a big deal.

I’ll be in Fort Worth this weekend to take an MPRE review class at school, so my Saturday is pretty much toast. That’s ok; my friend Lyndsay (another blogger) will be there, so we’re in this together. Wish us luck!

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