To say college tuition is costly is one big understatement for sure – 2016 graduates who took out student loans will leave school with a record average of $37172, in debt.
When faced with a loan balance that high, you’d think preparing to pay it off would be the first thing on most students’ minds (next to final exams and landing a job). Not so: Fifteen percent of graduates in a recent survey by Citizens Bank indicated that they had no clue what their student loan balance is. And 37 percent reported being totally unaware of their loan interest rates.
If you’re part of these statistics, it’s okay to admit that you haven’t given much thought to your loans. But they need to become a priority now, since staying in the dark won’t make them go away (if anything, you’ll end up with even more debt). Figuring out what you owe can get you started down the right repayment path.
Know what you owe: how to check student loan balance
1. Find your federal student loan balance
The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the main source for finding out everything you need to know about your federal student loans and how much you may owe on them.
The Department of Education-sponsored database gives borrowers a comprehensive view of each piece of financial aid they have. You’ll see an itemization of all your federal loans, the outstanding balance owed, interest rate, your payment plans and loan servicers, along with other loan status and enrollment information.This goes for any outstanding graduate loans in your name, too.
You’ll need to create and enter a Federal Student Aid ID to log in and use the site.
You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID. A counselor should be able to help you figure out what loans you have if you’re having trouble with the database.
2. Track down what you owe in private loans
Unfortunately, there’s no one-stop spot for private loans equivalent to the NSLDS. Here, you’ll need to do some detective work to tally up the different loans in your name and the balances on each.
One of the best ways to confirm your private loans (and other forms of credit, such as credit cards, auto loans, etc.) is by obtaining your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. You can get these reports once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com.
Keep in mind, your credit reports won’t list your loan balances, but they will give you the names of your private loan servicers, who you can contact directly for information. You might also try the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for assistance from a private student loan ombudsman.
3. Go back to school
No, you won’t have to go back to class (unless you’re still enrolled). But if you hit any roadblocks – or simply want to double check your loan information – you should check in with your alma mater’s financial aid office. They may have extensive info at hand on your federal and private loans, who’s servicing them, and even the total balances.
4. Contact debt collectors
Hopefully, your student loans haven’t been put on the back burner so long that they’ve already been sent into collections. But if that has happened, the time is now to get on track.
Debt collectors want you to pay what you owe, so contacting them for info on your outstanding balance is something they’ll be happy to provide. It could help avoid spiraling into debt and wrecking your credit.
Ultimately, the most important step you must take in verifying your student loans is to contact your loan provider(s) directly, since the NSLDS, your school’s financial aid administrator, and/or your credit report may contain outdated data. Once you know who you owe, make a plan to tackle that debt.
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