It can be easy to lose track of all of your student loans and your total balance, especially when you're busy in college. Many students receive multiple small loans per semester, which can be a mixture of federal student loans—such as Perkins, Stafford, and PLUS—and private student loans. While your school financial aid office may be able to help you find some basic facts and figures, there are other effective ways to find out your total student loan balance.
Finding Your Federal Student Loan Balances
You can always access student loan information through your My Federal Student Aid account, where you can find your federal student loan balances under the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). This is the U.S. Department of Education's central database for student aid, and it keeps track of all your federal student loans.
You'll need a Federal Student Aid ID username and password to log in to the site. The ID serves as your legal signature, and you can't have someone—whether an employer, family member, or third party—create an account for you, nor can you create an account for someone else. The NSLDS stores information so you can quickly check it whenever you need to, and it will tell you which loans are subsidized or unsubsidized, which is important because it can determine how much you end up paying after graduation.
If your loans are subsidized, the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest while you're enrolled in school; interest accrues during that time with unsubsidized loans. To qualify for a subsidized loan, you must be an undergraduate student who has demonstrated financial need. Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree students, and there are no financial qualifications in place.
How NSLDS Knows Your Student Loan Balances
The NSLDS receives information for its database from a variety of sources, including guaranty agencies, loan servicers, and other government loan agencies. When you enroll in a college or university, the school also sends information, including any student loan debt you took on, to the NSLDS. It notes when you took out the loan, when it was disbursed, when your grace period ended, and when you paid it off.
The NSLDS is useful because it gives a total picture of your federal loans at once, so you know right away how much federal debt you have. However, it doesn't include any information about your private student loans.
Finding Your Private Student Loan Balances
Finding information about your private student loans can be a bit more difficult than getting your federal loan balances since private lenders sometimes sell their loans to other companies. If you're not sure who your lender is for private student loans, call your school's financial aid office for help or call your original lender if you know it.
If neither of those options works for you, you can figure out your private student loan lenders by reviewing your credit report. The report should show all of your current debts and accounts, including all student loans.
You can safely get a free annual credit report from all three reporting agencies—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Why You Should Track Your Student Loans
While it might seem complicated, it is essential to keep track of your student loans and the amount of debt you owe, including knowing how much you borrowed and how much you owe once you add interest. This can be helpful while you are in college, and as you start your budgeting process after graduation. Many options exist for repayment plans, including the following:
- Standard plans: Payments are calculated to guarantee loans are paid off within 10–30 years.
- Graduated plans: These are designed to ensure loans will be repaid within a certain amount of time, but payments will increase gradually over time.
- Income-based: These repayment plans calculate your monthly payments based on how much you earn, with higher wages equaling higher payments.
Once you have a solid number to start with, you can begin to create a repayment plan to get rid of that debt as quickly as possible. You can develop a repayment plan that works for your salary and lifestyle and pays down the debt quickly to save you money over time. You can always contact your loan servicer to update your payment plan if your situation changes. This does not have a negative impact on your credit.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is my student loan balance increasing?
Because some federal plans allow for income-driven repayment, it's possible that you're only paying a portion of the interest owed each month. This unpaid interest gets added to your principal and causes your balance to increase.
How do I consolidate student loans?
The process for consolidating your student loans depends on whether you have private or federal student loans. If you have private loans or want to combine private and federal loans into one, you'll need to refinance them with another private loan. You can consolidate multiple federal loans into one new federal loan through a Direct Consolidation Loan, which you can set up through the Federal Student Aid website.
When do you have to start paying student loans?
Most federal student loans have a six-month grace period that begins when you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time status. That means you have six months before you must begin paying back your loans. Private loan grace periods vary by lender.