When you go to college and sign off on your financial aid package, you can easily forget or lose track of how much you may have taken out in student loans. This is especially so if you’ve never dealt with debt before and aren’t required to make interest payments. It might even seem like your student loans only exist in the abstract.
But if, in a moment of reflection, you find yourself wondering or even panicking about just how large your balance might be, it’s good to know how to go about finding out.
In this article, we outline where to find your student loan balance and tips and tricks for managing your student loans and planning for repayment.
Reasons to Check Your Balance
There are many reasons you may want to check your student loan balance. The first and most obvious is that you want to be aware of how much debt you’ve taken on so far.
But other reasons include using this information to make informed financial decisions. By knowing how much debt you have currently, you can reflect on how you will be able to pay it off once you graduate. Depending on your current loan balance, you may choose to take out fewer loans or search for other ways to fund the remainder of your education.
You may want to check your loan balance to get an idea of how much additional money you can borrow since there are limits on what you can take out in Direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans.
Whatever the reason, you first have to know where to look to find your student loan balance. This can vary depending on whether you have federal or private loans and how recently you took them out.
Checking Your Federal Student Loan Balance If You Know Your Servicer
A student loan servicer is a company that takes care of the loan repayment process. Once you take out a federal student loan, they assign you to a servicer. Federal student loan servicers include the following companies:
- FedLoan Servicing
- Granite State
- Great Lakes Educational Loan Services
- EdFinancial Services
- OSLA Student Loan Servicing
If you know who your servicer is, you can contact them or go to their website and log in or create an account. You should then have access to all of your loan information, including the current balance.
If you do not know who your student loan servicer is, then you can find out by logging into the Federal Student Loan (FSA) website, which is discussed in the next section and is another place you can find your loan balance.
Checking Your Federal Student Loan Balance If You Don’t Know Your Servicer
If you don’t know who your loan servicer is, another option for finding your loan balance is to call up your school’s financial aid office. They should have access to this information and be able to tell you.
However, if you have attended more than one school, your current school’s financial aid office may not have the total loan balance. In that case, you can go to the FSA website and check your loan information there.
On the website, click “Log In” if you already have an FSA ID. If you do not, then click “Create Account” instead. You will be asked to enter your information, including your Social Security number and other data. Once your account is set up, you can expect it to take one to three days before your information is verified and your loan information is viewable.
All federal student loan information is stored in the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). When you log into the FSA website, they retrieve your loan information from this source.
Problems You May Encounter With the NSLDS
It’s worth noting some limitations to how up to date or accurate your information in the NSLDS might be. Some problems you may encounter when trying to access information from the system include:
- Your full legal name, SSN, or date of birth was not an exact match to records. (To fix this, you will need to contact your loan servicer.)
- Information about loans may not show up for as long as 90 days. So, keep in mind that if any changes to your loans — payments or disbursements — have been made in that time frame, the loan data you see may not be current.
- You will only see the loans that you are legally responsible for paying. So, Parent PLUS loans taken out on your behalf will not be included.
Note also that the NSLDS will only show your federal student loan debt. It will not include any private student loans you may have taken out.
Checking Your Private Student Loan Balance
When it comes to checking the balance on any private student loans, there is no convenient national database like there is for federal loans. If you remember the name of the lender for your private loans, you can contact them directly, and they should be able to help you out.
If you do not remember who the lender or servicer is for your private student loans, you can obtain a list of your outstanding debts by getting a copy of your credit report. You can get a free copy of your report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus once a year.
Keeping Track of Your Total Student Loan Balance While in School
It’s always a good idea to keep track of your student loan balance as you go through school. After all, you don’t want to end up with a surprise upon graduation.
As you borrow money, you should never borrow more than you need. If there are other ways to fund your education through scholarships or grants, or even savings from a summer job, it can save you considerably in the long run.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of which loans are subsidized (meaning the government pays the interest on them while you are in school) or unsubsidized. This is because unsubsidized loans gain interest, and after several years in school, that interest might be considerable.
When it is time to start repaying your loans, all unpaid interest becomes capitalized, meaning it is added to the total loan balance and will gain interest itself.
To avoid interest accrual and capitalization on your unsubsidized loans, you may want to pay off the interest as you go. Then, the balance will not grow while you are in school and be more manageable after graduation.
Planning for Repayment
When you leave school, your federal student loans go into repayment. Luckily, the government grants a six-month grace period. This means you have six months after graduating or dropping below half-time enrollment before your first payment is due.
During the grace period, or even before, you may want to find out which repayment plan you will want. If you do not pick one on your own, you will be automatically placed in the Standard Repayment Plan, which pays off your loan balance in 10 years with fixed payments.
While the Standard Repayment Plan usually results in the least amount of interest paid during the lifetime of the loan, it is also associated with the largest monthly payments. When you are just starting, depending on your total balance, you may not be able to afford them. However, there is an assortment of extended and income-driven plans to choose from.
It’s always worth keeping an eye on the changing political landscape since various candidates have been proposing significant changes to federal student loan programs. You don’t want to be caught by surprise if a repayment plan you were counting on is no longer available, and you also don’t want to miss out if additional forgiveness opportunities arise.
Stay on Top of Your Student Loans
At CollegeFinance.com, our goal is to provide you with all of the information you need to stay informed about financing your education. Whether you are planning, borrowing, or repaying, we have the resources to help you make informed decisions in your financial best interest.
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