Student Debt: How to Find Out How Much You Owe
There is a lot going on when you finish school. If you just graduated from law school, then you are probably focusing on studying for the bar and student loans are the last thing on your mind. However, eventually, you are going to have to sit down and figure out how much you owe in student loans.
Why You Should Know How Much You Owe – Even if You’re Still a Student
I know that thinking about your student debt isn’t fun, but it is important to know the details so you can formulate a plan to pay your loans back.
If you are still a student then you may not have reached your final amount of loans borrowed. However, knowing how much you owe could be a good motivator to start side hustling now and make payments. It doesn’t hurt to make a few payments to slow building interest on your loans.
If you recently graduated, then your grace period is likely coming to an end soon. This means you need to know how much student debt you have and decide on a repayment plan. Hopefully, you’ll be able to afford the standard repayment plan for your loans, but if not you don’t want to be blindsided. To avoid said blindsiding, you need to know how much you owe in total as well as how much you will owe each month.
How to Find Out What You Owe
You know you have student debt but you maybe don’t know which loans, if any, accrued interest while you were in school. Not to mention the exit process was probably a bit of a blur when dealing with finals, graduation, and finding a job. Fortunately, there are sites available to help you determine just how much you owe.
If You Have Federal Student Debt
To obtain federal loans, you applied for them using your FASFA ID. Depending on when you applied for aid you may also have a FSA ID. If you are like me and you did not have a FSA ID but rather a FASFA Pin, the FSA ID replaces Pin. You can easily apply for a FSA ID here. Having a FSA ID is important for using the National Student Loan Data System as well as another tool I’ll discuss later.
The National Student Loan Data System allows you to retrieve all of your federal student loan information at once. This is helpful if you have multiple federal student loans with different loan service providers. For example, some of my student loans are serviced by Navient others by FedLoan Servicing. Being able to see everything in one place makes it easier to see the big picture of your student debt.
If you have private student debt
Private student loan balances can be a bit harder to track down. The best way to find out what you owe is to contact the current loan service provider. If you don’t know the current provider, you can start with the company that issued the loan. From there it might be going down a path of providers depending on how often the loan has been bought and sold. However, you will eventually get to the end of the path and land at your current loan service provider’s “door.”
If you are having difficulty locating your loan provider (although chances are they have contacted you) you can take a look at your credit report. You can pull a free credit report once per year from three different providers. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are all required to provide you with one free credit report every 12 months. For this reason, it is recommended you pull one every four months so you can stay on top of your credit without incurring a charge. The FTC website has more information about pulling free credit reports.
If you have never looked at your credit report, one part of the report is a listing of your debts. Lenders provide information when you establish an account with them. If the loan has been transferred to another provider then you won’t see an outstanding balance with the previous lender.
Check each loan entry and see what lenders show you as having a balance. It is also a good rule to make sure and read through your credit report carefully and take action to correct any errors, they may be impacting your credit score.
Next Steps – Figuring Out the Right Repayment Plan for You
Once you know how much you owe, you’ll need to come up with a repayment plan that will work. What repayment options are available to you will depend on the types of loans you have. Different federal loans qualify for different repayment programs. Private loan repayment options will depend on the loan provider. However, private loans are also easier to refinance because you won’t be giving up any flexible repayment options.
For federal loans, the dashboard will approximate how much the payment will be each month. It will also tell you how long it will take to pay off the loans. Where different repayment options provide “forgiveness” of loans, it will estimate your tax liability.
For private loans, it will help you to decide if refinancing might be a good fit for you and your loans. Keep in mind that while right now you may not want to refinance it might be a good option later on. The reason you might want to wait is so that you can leverage a higher income for better rates.
To pull the dashboard report you’ll need your FSA ID and information on private loans you have, then the dashboard does all the work. And don’t worry, the dashboard is free. If you want to learn more about Student Loan Hero, you can check out this review I wrote.
Wrapping it Up with a Bow on Top
There are two ways to figure out how much you owe in student loans, depending on if you have private or federal student loans. For federal student loans, you can use the National Student Loan Data System, by signing in with your FSA ID. For private loans, check your credit report to see which lenders are reporting you as carrying a balance. Then make sure you stay on top of when your grace period ends and the repayment plans available.