If you want to go back to school, finance a house, manage your debt, or file for bankruptcy, you’ll want to find out how much you owe in student loans. It might feel like you need a degree in finance to keep track of your financial aid, but we’re here to help! Below, we detail how to figure out your federal and private student loan balance, how to manage your student loan debt, and what to do if you cannot stay on top of your student loans.
How Do I Figure Out How Much Student Loan Debt I Have?
If not, you’re not alone! Before you can manage your student debt effectively, you need to know what you’re working with. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to figure out how much student loan debt you have, who your loan servicer(s) is, and what your repayment history looks like.
Student Loan Debt by Loan Type: How Private and Federal Loans Differ
There are two main types of student loans: federal and private.
Federal student loans are loans that are made and serviced by the federal government. To get federal student loans and other financial aid like grants and scholarships, you fill out a FAFSA each year on StudentAid.gov. There are several kinds of federal loans. Currently, the most common type of federal loans are Direct Loans.
Private loans are offered and serviced by private lenders like banks, credit unions, and online financial institutions. Private loans aren’t as standardized as federal loans. Each private loan has its own loan agreement, which spells out the terms and conditions of the loan and its repayment.
Many individuals fill out the FAFSA and start by getting federal student aid, including loans. But the federal government caps how much money you can take out in student loans. When this happens but borrowers still need money to pay for tuition or other school fees, they often look to private student loans.
Here’s why all this matters: Figuring out how much you owe and who you owe looks a little different for federal and private student loans.
How Do I Find Out What I Owe on My Federal Student Loans?
By the time you graduate or leave school, you’re probably pretty familiar with StudentAid.gov — the site run by the Department of Education where you fill out your FAFSA each year. You may be less familiar with the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).
This site is also run by StudentAid.gov, and it's important because it stores all the information you’ll need to figure out how much you owe (student loan balance), how much you’ve paid, and who is servicing your federal loans. Alternatively, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC), your loan service company, or your school’s financial aid office to inquire about your loan amount and details.
Did you know? There are loan holders and loan servicers. The loan holder is the company that owns the loan. The loan servicer is a company that administers and manages the loan. The U.S. Department of Education is the loan holder of federal student loans, but it assigns loan servicing companies to help manage billing and other administrative tasks for student loan accounts.
How Do I Find My Private Student Loan Balances?
To figure out how much you owe on a private loan, you can call your loan servicer or check your account online. If you borrowed money from more than one private lender, you’ll have to call each lender to get the information you need.
Tip: If you can’t remember the name of your private student loan provider or service company, check your credit report. You can get a free credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Is There a Way To Make Managing My Student Loans Easier?
Getting a bachelor’s degree is expensive! Many student loan borrowers take out several loans over the course of their four years of study. Graduate students, or those who pursue continued higher education, will often take out even more loans. To stay organized, consider consolidating all your federal student loans.
When you consolidate your loans, you take out a new loan (usually a Direct Consolidation Loan), which repays all your other federal loans. Then you have just one loan to repay with one payment and one interest rate. The biggest advantage of this is that your loan repayment becomes much more manageable.
Before consolidating, consider how it’ll impact your interest rate. When you consolidate, the interest rate on your new loan is the weighted average of all your current interest rates.
To learn more, check out our article on Streamlining Your Student Debt With Loan Consolidation.
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How Your Credit Report Can Help You Find Your Loan Information
Your credit report includes the names of the banks or financial companies that have issued you loans or lines of credit. It also shows your payment history and your loan balances on past and present debt, including student loan debt.
It’s a good practice to check your credit report regularly to make sure everything is being reported accurately. You can get a free report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
While your credit report contains lots of useful information on your past borrowing, it doesn’t tell you your credit score. Many financial institutions will offer a free credit score as part of their services. Check with your bank, credit union, or credit card company to see if it offers this service.
How Can I Manage My Student Loans?
Managing your loans effectively can seem daunting. Start by answering the following questions:
How many student loans do I have?
Who are my lenders and loan service providers?
How and when do I make my student loan payments?
Do I have a grace period?
What is my interest rate on each student loan?
Are the rates of interest fixed or variable?
How long is my loan term?
Am I having difficulty paying my student loan? If so, why?
It can be beneficial to create a spreadsheet or document on your computer or write out this information in a notebook so you can see it all in one place. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember, you can streamline your loans by consolidating them. If you have private loans, you can’t consolidate them, but you could consider refinancing them.
Then, create a personal budget and review your repayment options. Here are nine great questions to ask to figure out the best way for you to repay your loans. Take time to make a workable plan to repay your loan based on your personal financial situation.
Can I Reduce My Student Loan Interest Rate?
Interest payments add up, so looking to reduce your student loan interest rate is smart. Federal student loan programs allow you to reduce your interest rate by 0.25% if you enroll in autopay. Many private loan servicers offer the same deduction.
Check out our guide to repaying your loans fast. The faster you repay your loans, the less you pay in interest over the loan term.
How Can I Pay Off My Student Loan Debt?
Student loan debt is a heavy burden to carry. Fortunately, you don’t have to start making payments the minute you receive your diploma. There is a six-month grace period for federal loans, which starts when you graduate or otherwise leave school. When the grace period ends, you’ll be entered into a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, but you can always change your repayment plan to one that better suits you.
What’s the Best Student Loan Payment Plan?
By default, you’ll be enrolled in the Standard Repayment Plan to repay your federal loans. This is the fastest, and ultimately the cheapest, way to repay your loans. But for many borrowers, the monthly payment is unaffordably high.
If that’s true for you, consider enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. These plans are based on your income and family size, and include the following options:
Formerly the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
After repaying your loans over the 20–25-year term on an income-driven repayment plan, the remaining student loan balance is eligible for student loan forgiveness.
How Can Deferment and Forbearance Help Me With My Student Loan Debt?
Two federal programs help you by temporarily pausing student loan repayment: deferment and forbearance. Most federal loan borrowers are familiar with this by now because everyone has been on administrative forbearance for the last three years due to the coronavirus pandemic. This administrative forbearance is unique in that it also reduced interest rates to 0%, which means interest did not continue to accrue on student loans.
This isn’t the case for most borrowers with standard deferment and forbearance programs. That said, if you have subsidized loans, the federal government will pay any interest that accrues during deferment.
How Do I Qualify for Loan Forgiveness Programs?
There are several student loan forgiveness programs, but qualifying for them can be difficult. One of the most popular forgiveness programs is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which can be utilized by individuals who work for a qualifying nonprofit or governmental organization.
You must work full time, make 120 qualifying payments over 10 years, and participate in an income-driven repayment plan to qualify for PSLF.
I’m Drowning in Student Loan Debt … What Are My Options?
If you’ve looked into all of the options above but you’re still struggling to repay your student loans, it may be time to consider filing bankruptcy to erase your student loans. While many believe that student loans aren’t eligible to be discharged in bankruptcy, this isn’t true. That said, you have to take additional steps to get your loans erased through bankruptcy.
You must meet certain eligibility criteria, and you’ll have to file additional paperwork in an adversary proceeding after you file your bankruptcy case. We know this sounds daunting, but you can take the first step right now by filling out our five-minute eligibility screener to see if Upsolve can help you for free. We have helped thousands of people erase over $600 million in debt, and you could be next!
If you want to learn more about what it’s like to file for bankruptcy, read our popular 10-Step Guide To Filing Bankruptcy. And know that there’s no shame in taking this step! Bankruptcy is a legal tool designed to help individuals overcome burdensome debt. Hundreds of thousands of Americans (not to mention many companies, too!) use bankruptcy to get a financial fresh start each year.