Credit and Consumer Debt

Eliminate Consumer Debt

Pay off credit card and other consumer debt prior to entering law school. The financial aid student budget cannot take into account any consumer debt payments.

Check and Maintain Credit

Get a credit report now to help identify any credit problems or errors. Certain loans – including Federal Graduate PLUS Loans and Bar Study loans require applicants to pass a credit check or have a credit-worthy cosigner.

Protect Against Identity Theft:

  • Be wary of any unsolicited request for personal information.
  • Don't use shared computers to conduct financial business.
  • Run virus protection software.
  • Beware of Phishing and other scams, such as questionable emails suggesting suspicious activity on your account and asking you to log in to confirm personal information.  The web address or link may look legitimate; do not use it. Contact the customer support number on a recent bill or statement.

Maintaining your Financial Records

Identify and keep the following records:

  • All student loan documentation. A complete list of federal student loans can be found at
  • Copies of Social Security card, birth certificate, and passport
  • Tax documents for three to seven years
  • Rental, loan, or lease agreements
  • Credit card and banking paperwork for a year
  • Major purchase receipts for one year or longer, if under warranty
  • Insurance and health documentation


  • Check credit reports once a year with  to check for fraudulent charges and inaccuracies on the report.
  • When shopping for a credit card, consider the following:
  • What is the annual percentage rate (APR)? hint -lower is better
  • Is the APR fixed or variable?
  • What are the fees?
  • Is it a "secured" or "unsecured" card? Secured cards are useful when consumers are trying to establish a credit history, but they require a deposit. Unsecured cards are usually obtained by people who already have a good credit history.
  • Review the disclosure summary that will discuss the grace period for repayments, annual fees, transaction fees, and other very important details.
  • Pay off credit card balances monthly or pay more than the minimum credit card payment whenever possible.

Helpful Links:

Federal Trade Commission - Information to help consumers deter, detect, and defend against identity theft

Identity Theft 101 - Identity theft consumer information

Cyber Security Tips - Advice from the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, for non-technical computer users - Compare interest rates; assess individual credit risk and net worth

Consumer Protection - U.S. Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection

Federal Reserve - Choosing a credit card

Better Business Bureau - Check out a business or file a complaint

Call for Action - International, nonprofit network of consumer hotlines

Consumer Reports - Find product ratings for best buys

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Financial Aid Office
American University Washington College of Law
Suite 505
202-274-4040 F: 202-274-4107