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How Much Do I Owe in Student Loans?

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In a Nutshell

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. Keep reading to learn about how you can find out how much you owe on your student loans and how to effectively manage your student debt.

Written by the Upsolve TeamLegally reviewed by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated May 15, 2023

If you want to go back to school, finance a house, manage your debt, or file forbankruptcy, 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. Keep reading to learn about how you can find out how much you owe on your student loans and how to effectively manage your student debt.

Find Out Your Total Student Loan Debt

Student loans can be private or public loans. Public student loans are serviced by the federal government. (You might remember filling out a FAFSA to receive a federal loan.) Private loans come from private companies, such as banks, credit unions, and certain state agencies. You could have public loans and private loans. Your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) could have also helped you get grants that you won’t have to pay back. Loan statements aren’t always mailed out when you’re in school, so it can be hard to keep track of how much you owe.

Determining your total student debt will be different for public and private student loans. The easiest way to start is to clarify your federal student loan balance. TheNational Loan Student Data System reports over $1.5 trillion of student debt was outstanding at the end of 2020. That same data system can help you find out how much you owe in student loan debt.

How To Find Federal Student Loan Balances

The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is a massive database that stores information about federal loans, including yours. The system manages data on Federal Perkins Loans, Federal Family Education, and William D. Ford Direct Student Loans and is used to develop policies for student loan programs.

You can go to thewebpage for the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), sign in with your account information, and look up the balance for each of your federal loans. The NSLDS system is a part of the Department of Education and is updated regularly. Update frequency depends on the schools, loan service providers, and government agencies submitting new information, so updated local and federal information won’t always coincide. 

You can alsocall the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) or your loan service company for more information about your loan. The Federal Student Aid Department website has a list of federal student loan service providers and their phone numbers. You can also ask your school’s financial aid office for information on your loan amount.

How To Find Private Student Loan Balances

To figure out how much you owe on a private loan, you can call a loan service company or visit a company website for information. An accessible database like the NSLDS isn’t available to private student loan borrowers. If you borrowed money from more than one private lender, you’ll have to call each lender to get the information you need.

Some popular private lenders are Discover, Sallie Mae, PNC, and College Ave Student Loans. Keep in mind, there are loan holders and loan servicers. A loan holder is an owner of a loan, and a loan servicer is an administrator of a loan. The U.S. Department of Education is the loan holder of federal student loans, but they assign loan servicing companies to help manage billing and other administrative tasks for student loan accounts. If you can’t remember the company names of your private student loan provider or service company, information provided on your credit report can help you on your quest.

Get Your Free Credit Report

Your credit report includes company names, payment history, and loan balances on past and present debt, including student loan debt. It does not include your credit score, but it’s the good start you need to determine how much you owe each creditor.

A federal law (Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)) permits everyone to get a free report every year from each of the major credit bureaus. You can call 1-877-322-8228 to get a copy of your free reports. You can also order your free reports online from annualcreditreport.com — the only website authorized by the Federal Trade Commission for free credit reports.

The three major credit bureaus are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. There are also specialty consumer reporting agencies. Not all companies will send you a free report every year, but Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion must send you a copy of your credit report if you request one and you haven’t received a previous report during the year. They also have a legal duty through the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws to provide accurate information about your borrowing history and payment history. Agencies that provide information to credit bureaus also have a legal duty to report accurate information.

Review your credit history and look for your student loan service providers. Double-check the dates and payment amounts for accuracy, it may be incomplete or inaccurate. If there are mistakes, report them to the credit bureau for correction.

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Student Loan Interest Rates

The balance on your student loan changes regularly because of student loan interest. Public student loans charge daily interest, and this affects the balance of your total loan debt. The government looks at your unpaid balance and the number of days since the last payment when it’s tallying up the amount you owe. Federalinterest rates for student loans use the following formula:

Interest Amount = (Outstanding Principal Balance × Interest Rate Factor) × Number of Days Since Last Payment

The rates of interest on federal student loans run in the 2.75% to 5.30% range. Rates are lower for undergraduate loans and higher for parent loans and graduate loans. The low interest rates on federal student loans could save you thousands of dollars compared to a private loan or paying for school using credit cards. Private loans can run from under 2.5% to over 13%. According to U.S. News and World Report, most student credit cards have rates between 15.27% and 23.17%. Student loans are typically long-term loans that give you 10-30 years to make payments. Interest adds up. 

Federal student loans have fixed rates of interest, which means the rate will stay the same if you stick to the loan agreement. Private loans often have variable interest rates. Variable interest rates fluctuate with the economy and government policies. You could sign your agreement and start off paying 3% interest but end up paying 7% interest a few years down the road.

To figure out how much you owe, look at your loan contract (promissory note). It has the details of how much you borrowed and the rate of interest you’ll be charged initially. Just make sure to double check that your interest rates haven’t changed over time.

Why Should I Make Interest Payments While I’m In School?

Unsubsidized Federal Direct Loans don’t require you to make payments while you’re in school (or have a deferment, forbearance, or six-month grace period), but you’ll save money if you can manage to pay the interest payments on your loan during that time. Interest gets tacked on and accumulates from the minute your loan is disbursed.

When it’s time to make payments on your loan, the interest from the years or months that you didn’t pay will be added up and become part of the principal balance. From then on, you’ll be charged interest on that new principal balance that includes your old interest charges.

The process of adding interest to the principal balance is called capitalization, or compound interest. If you pay off your interest while you’re in school, that money won’t be added to the principal balance and you won’t be charged interest on interest charges. 

Subsidized Federal Direct Loans are different because they help students in need financially. If you have subsidized loans, you won’t need to pay interest while you’re in school because the U.S. Department of Education covers the interest payments. 

The interest terms of a private school loan will depend on the lender and the details of your specific contract. Generally, private school loans accrue interest and it’s best to pay down the interest while you’re in school.

The balance of your student debt could be different on any given day if your loan is accruing interest. Whether you have public or private student debt, you can call your loan service company to find out your current balance and the total amount due that would allow you to pay off your student debt in full..

Can I Reduce My Student Loan Interest Rate?

Federal student loan programs allow you to reduce your interest rate by 0.25% if you enroll in automatic payments. Many private loan servicers offer the same deduction. This could save you a few hundred dollars if you have a ten-year loan term. Think about what you could do with that money!

Paying Off Student Loan Debt

According to U.S. News and World Report,the average student borrowed over $30,000 for student loans in 2019, and the Federal Reserve reports that the average student loan debt was more than $37,000 in 2020. Student loans can be heavy burdens 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 public loans. The grace period starts when you graduate or when you stop going to school. When the grace period ends, you’ll be entered into a standard payment plan.

The standard plan could be too high for you to manage. But don’t worry, there are repayment options available for federal loans. If you can’t make your student loan repayments, you can choose to repay your loan with an income-based plan, a graduated plan, or ask for a deferment or forbearance.

Several payment plans consider your income. For instance:

The Revised Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE) allows you to pay 10% of your discretionary income.

To qualify for the Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR), you must have a high debt to income ratio. In this plan, your repayment option could be 10% or 15% of your discretionary income. Your regular payments won’t last longer than the ten-year standard plan.

There is also an Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR) option if you took out a Direct Loan. With this option, you’ll pay 20% of your discretionary income. If you have a parent borrower, you’ll have consolidation options with Parent PLUS loans.

The REPAYE, IBR, and ICR work with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF).

Graduated repayments: With graduated repayments, you’ll start with lower monthly payments and your payments will gradually increase every two years.

For most of the income-based options, you’ll end up paying more at the end of your loan than if you repaid your loan on a standard plan.

Deferment and forbearance options let you temporarily postpone payments. The interest will continue to accrue, so it’s best to make the interest payments during any time period that you’re using these options. You can only defer your loans or enter into a forbearance so many times, so don’t enter into these options lightly. There are alsoloan forgiveness programs for public service workers and teachers. These require you to be employed with certain employers or types of employers, work full-time, make 120 qualifying payments, and participate in a qualifying plan to repay your loan.

Refinancing Student Loans

When you refinance a student loan, another loan servicer will take over and you’ll have new monthly payment amounts, a new rate of interest, and new loan terms. With good credit, you’ll have the option to refinance your private student loan at a lower rate of interest and save money. You can refinance a federal student loan, but you’ll lose the safety net of benefits a public loan offers. The income-based payment options, grace periods, deferment, and forbearance options that come with a public loan are not popular with private lenders. Think ahead ten years if you’re considering refinancing a student loan.

How Should I Manage My Student Loans?

Managing your student loans properly and making interest-only payments while you remain in school, deferment, or forbearance, could save you thousands of dollars. Consider proper loan management a savings plan. (What would you like to buy in ten years?) Managing your loans effectively can seem daunting, but you can start by taking the actions we mentioned earlier in this article and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many student loans do I have?

  • Who are my lenders and loan service providers?

  • What types of student loans I have (public or private)?

  • How do I make my student loan payments?

  • When do I make payments?

  • Do I have a grace period?

  • What is my interest rate on each student loan?

  • Are the rates of interest fixed or variable?

  • What is the principal on each student loan?

  • How long is my loan term?

  • Why am I having difficulty paying my student loan?

Gather the paperwork that answers those questions. Once you answer those questions, create a personal budget, and review your repayment alternatives. Then, take time to make a workable plan to repay your loan based on your personal financial situation.

Let’s Summarize...

Finding out how much you owe for public and private student loans can be time-consuming. But, if you break down the process into small steps and start your research with a website visit or a phone call, you’ll be able to determine your total student debt with a little effort. Once you know how much you owe, you can repay your student loans with a plan that works for you. 

Written By:

The Upsolve Team

Upsolve is fortunate to have a remarkable team of bankruptcy attorneys, as well as finance and consumer rights professionals, as contributing writers to help us keep our content up to date, informative, and helpful to everyone.

Attorney Andrea Wimmer


Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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