Students who are about to graduate and those who have recently graduated may have a grace period during and just after college before the bills start rolling in. But this time can pass quicker than expected. Before you open your first student loan payment notice, it is imperative to understand how much you owe on your loan as a whole.
Understanding how to check the amount of student loan debt you will repay is essential — not just for recent or soon-to-be graduates, but for anyone thinking about returning to school, those who need to adjust their payments or those who may take on more substantial debt in the future.
But how do you find out how much you owe in student loans? This depends on which loan provider gave you the loan: the federal government or a private lender.
Methods to Find Out How Much You Owe in Student Loans
There are two basic methods for understanding how much you owe in student loans, depending on which lender you use.
- Federal: Any question about your current federal student loan balance and payment schedule can be found through the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). This database gathers information from schools, federal loan programs, and other tuition-related programs offered through the U.S. Department of Education.
Since all of this information is centralized, it is easy for you to find out how much you owe in student loans, how much the original loan balance was before interest, the interest rate, and the type of loan. This also allows you to ask any questions or get help adjusting your payment plan if needed. To do this, you will need to contact the loan servicer, which is often a separate company like Nelnet or Navient.
Most federal loans have a six-month grace period starting from your date of graduation. This time allows students the ability to find employment and housing before they must begin making monthly payments. However, you could still be accruing interest during the grace period if you have an unsubsidized federal loan. Subsidized loans, in contrast, do not accrue interest during the grace period or economic hardship deferments.
To get information about your federal student loans:
- Go to the NSLDS website.
- Use your federal student aid ID and password, or create these.
- Keep this information in a safe place.
- Private: Since there are numerous private lenders, the government does not manage a database, and there is not a central database program. Instead, the simplest way to check on your private student loans is to get a credit report. You can request a free credit report from several agencies once a year.
Often, private lenders start reporting your student loans to credit reporting agencies while you are still in school, especially if the terms of the loan require you to make payments immediately. They are also reported while the loan is in deferment, if you had to stop making payments, or adjust your payments.
Credit reports will feature information about your federal student loans. Information you can find about your federal student loans through a credit report include:
- The loan balance.
- The loan servicers.
- Their contact information.
- The original amount borrowed.
Of course, if you have a few private student loans, you can also work with each private lender directly to get information about how much you owe. If you took loans from several companies, you can get a list of these companies from a credit report, and then contact them individually with questions or requests for accommodation during financial hardship.
Many credit reports provide contact information for these student loan providers to make this easier. Once private loans are paid off, your credit report will no longer show this information.
You can request a credit report for free once a year. If your credit report does not have the information you need, you can call your school for help getting contact information for the loan servicer.
Approaches to Repaying Based on Lenders
Only a quarter of student loan recipients are paying money on the principal of their loan, according to the Secretary of Education. Most monthly payments are set so low that the money only goes toward interest, not the loan itself. If you do not check on how much you owe on your student loans, you may be in a spiral of paying far too much in the long term because of interest-only payments.
If you have a private loan, which cannot be viewed in the NSLDS, it is vital to keep in contact with your loan servicer. This helps you stay informed about how much you owe on your loans. You can also get help adjusting them, setting up a deferment, or asking for hardship exceptions. You can consolidate your loans if you have federal loans, or you can refinance your private loans, federal loans, or both.
For unsubsidized federal loans, you may have the option of making the bill less burdensome with volunteer work or working in a field that gives back to the community, like teaching. You can ask about income-driven repayment once you have a steady job or if you have trouble maintaining more than part-time or seasonal employment.
Deferring your payments can help a great deal, but typically, you will still accrue interest on those loans, so you should consider repaying the interest while the loan is in deferment. According to financial experts, 3.4 million student loans were in deferment as of the first quarter of 2019.
Understanding your loan balance should be something you do before graduating. Even if you have a lengthy grace period before you need to begin paying, thinking about the best payment plans for you, how you can set money aside to repay your loans, and deciding what you are willing to do to manage these loans will help you avoid defaulting. Keep in mind, creating a solid payment plan before you have a job can be challenging, but defaulting on your loans can cost you more in the long run.
Since the U.S. national student debt has reached over $1 trillion, schools are offering financial counseling to help students avoid defaulting on their loans. This counseling also helps students maintain their credit score and avoid falling into other significant debts.
Lenders want you to repay your loans, so they will offer options to help you manage these payments. The ideal situation would be to pay off the interest and some of the principal every month, but this may not always be possible since employment can fluctuate, and few recent graduates quickly find work once they leave school. For many, it can take years to end up working in their chosen career field.
Even though interest will accrue over time, lenders can help you manage payments, so you can focus on finding a good job and maintaining financial stability.