Can a Poor Credit Score Deny Admission to the Bar?

by Craig Berman ; Updated June 13, 2018
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Law school can be an expensive roadblock on the way towards a career, both in terms of tuition and the living expenses needed while in school. If the result is a law degree that comes with a lot of debt and a low credit score, that achievement may not lead to the hoped-for job prospects. A poor credit score can be the cause of the denied admission to the bar, though that isn’t common as a sole reason for rejection.

Financial Fitness a Factor

While each state bar has its own standards for admitting members, many require candidates to attest to their character and moral fitness as part of their application, and a review of financial records may be a part of the evaluation. Rules governing admission to the bar in New Mexico, for example, require as part of the application process "a credit report from one (1) of the three (3) major credit reporting agencies printed within thirty (30) days of submission of the application for admission."

Investigation Risk

A poor credit score alone likely won’t be sufficient to deny admission to the bar. States recognize that law school is an expensive proposition and can easily lead to debt, both in school loans and consumer credit accounts. A low credit score can, however, be a trigger that warrants further investigation. Should that happen, the state bar will examine financial records in more detail and conduct a hearing to investigate. These hearings can be formal or informal.

Handling Debt

State bars are less likely to be as worried about the credit score or the size of the debt than about how recently the debt was acquired, whether the circumstances that led to the debt were beyond the applicant’s control, what the applicant has done about it and if there’s a plan in place to pay it off. If the applicant’s score has been dinged by older debt that’s been paid off, that’s unlikely to be a problem. Nor is it likely to prevent admission to the bar if you can demonstrate an eagerness to pay or settle your balances, such as through payment arrangements with creditors.

Action Is Important

If the state bar determines that you could have paid the debts but elected not to do so, or has a callous disregard or indifference toward paying them off, that may be a negative factor. For example, if you have $100,000 in consumer debt and investigators find that you have taken tropical vacations while not paying outstanding accounts, you will have some explaining to do. A low credit score can be a greater negative when combined with a lack of candor. If an applicant misleads investigators about how the debt was acquired or his efforts to pay it back, that dishonesty will be a further indication that he’s not fit to practice law.

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