When you graduate from college, you have just a few precious months to enjoy your accomplishment. Then, reality hits as your grace period ends and your student loan payments become due.
Many people take on several loans from different lenders while in school. Each loan can have its own interest rate and minimum payment. Worse, each loan might have a different loan servicer, so you’ll have to manage payments across several accounts.
“How much do I owe in student loans?” is a fundamental question. Without knowing how much you owe or to whom you owe it, you can’t start tackling your debt.
If you don’t know where to start, here are some tips for tracking down the answers that you need.
How much do I owe in student loans?
What you originally borrowed to pay for school is likely not what you owe now. Unfortunately, you probably owe much more.
Depending on the types of loans you have and their interest rates, your loan balance could grow. Thanks to interest charges, you could end up owing hundreds or even thousands more than you originally borrowed.
To find out what you owe with the accrued interest, the following tools for federal and private student loans can help.
Federal student loans
Figuring out how much you owe in federal loans is easy. The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), a database managed by the Department of Education (DOE), shows you how much you owe in federal student aid.
It also shows who your loan servicer is now. Servicers sometimes transfer loans to other companies, so it’s possible to end up with a new company than when you took out the loan.
The NSLDS collects data from schools, guaranty agencies, loan programs, and other DOE programs so that students can easily access their loan information. You can use the NSLDS to find information about your loan’s original amount, balance, loan servicer, interest, and payment status.
Once you log in, the database will list your loans and loan servicers. Keep in mind that the numbers might not be completely accurate; the listed balances can be as much as 120 days old.
It’s a good idea to use the NSLDS to identify your loan servicers and then follow up with your servicers directly to find out the current balance on your loans.
The database has three major limitations:
- It lists only some of your loans: It reports data about your federal student loans only. The NSLDS does not collect information about private student loans.
- It does not list old loans: The NSLDS does not have data on older loans — for example, ones borrowed in the 1980s. If you have loans that are from that time frame but are still in repayment, you’ll have to locate them by looking at your credit report.
- It does not list medical or nursing school loans: The NSLDS only reports data on Title IV-eligible loans. Medical and nursing school loans do not fit into that category.
Private student loans
Retrieving balances on private loans is a little trickier than finding information on federal loans. There’s no national database for private student loans like there is for federal loans. Also, the financial institution that originally issued the loan may outsource loan servicing to another group or sell your loans to a different servicer.
However, there are other ways to find your private loan balances:
- Check your credit report: Credit reports list all of your current and past lines of credit, including student loans. It will list the loan servicer and the amount you borrowed. You can use that information to contact the servicer to check on the status of your account or make payments.
You can get a free credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Ask your school for help: If you have trouble tracking down your loans, talk to your university’s financial aid office. They can help you identify who currently manages your debt.
- Ask your original lender (if your loan has changed servicers): Your original lender is always the best place to begin this search. Hopefully, you’ve kept your original loan documents with the lender’s contact information. One phone call should help you find out what company currently owns your loan.
5 ways you can pay off student loans faster
Once you figure out how much you owe, you can come up with a strategy to pay off your loans. Depending on your finances, you might be able to accelerate repayment and save money by doing the following:
- Use windfalls to pay down debt: If your budget is tight and there isn’t much left over for extra payments, you can still pay off your loans faster by taking advantage of any windfalls. If you receive a raise, bonus, tax refund, or a check for your birthday, use that money to make a lump sum payment on your loan balance. Those extra payments can add up and help you eliminate your loans ahead of schedule.
- Pick up a side hustle: For those who need more breathing room in their budget, launching a side hustle can be a great way to earn extra money for debt repayment during your spare time.
- Check with your employer for loan assistance: Some employers often student loan repayment assistance as part of their benefits package. Ask your human resources department if your company has that perk.
- Set up automatic payments: Setting up automatic payments can help prevent missed payments. But, it also can reduce how much you pay in interest. Some lenders offer a 0.25% discount on your interest rate if you sign up for automatic payments.
- Consider refinancing: If you have high-interest loans, refinancing your student debt can help you lower your interest rate and save money. You’ll lose out on some loan benefits if you refinance federal debt, but doing so can ensure more of your money goes towards paying down the principal rather than interest charges.
Managing your student loans
Navigating the student loan system is complex, and it can be confusing. “How much do I owe in student loans?” is an essential question, and figuring out the answer is the first step in managing your loans. Following the above steps can help you identify what loans you have and who services them.
Once you track down both your private and federal student loans, you can use the Student Loan Hero dashboard to learn about repayment options and track your progress.
Kat Tretina contributed to this article.
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