How to tell if your student loans are federal

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The vast majority of borrowers – over 90% – take out federal student loans to pay for their education. If you’re unsure whether your student loans are federal or private, there are several ways to check.

Federal vs Private Student Loans

loan administratorUS Department of EducationBanks, credit unions, and online lenders

Interest rate Fixed, set annually by Congress Fixed or variable, set by each lender
When you start paying After a grace period of six months after graduation; when you drop below half-time registration While still in school; some lenders allow you to defer until you graduate
Credit check Not for most loans Yes, requirements vary by institution
Postponement, patience, forgiveness Yes, most allow you to suspend payments if you are having difficulty and cannot repay; only federal loans are eligible for forgiveness Some have hardship plans, but they are offered on a case-by-case basis; can’t get private loans canceled
Repayment plans Several options, including a few based on income Varies by institution, but most set your payment based on the amount you borrowed, not your current income

Federal student loans

Federal student loans are distributed by the federal government and assigned to a lender through the Department of Education.

When you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you are also applying for federal student loans, as some of them are need-based. You receive an FSA ID and can log in to check all your financial aid, including federal student loans. You can do this anytime throughout school as well as when you graduate.

Once you graduate, your loans are automatically enrolled in the standard repayment plan. You can change your payment plan at any time to the one that best suits your needs. For example, you can enroll in an income-driven repayment plan where your loan repayments are based on a percentage of your discretionary income and your household size.

Private student loans

Private student loans come from private institutions, like banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

You can take out private student loans at any time during your studies, but the vast majority of lenders require a credit check to borrow. If you don’t have a strong enough credit score, you may need to ask a relative to co-sign. Once you graduate, you and your co-signer become responsible for your loans.

Private lenders base their payments on your credit score and the amount you borrow. Payments can be due while you’re still in school, although some offer deferment plans that allow you to pay once you’ve graduated.

Interest rates tend to be higher for private loans than for federal loans, but private lenders offer variable and fixed interest rates. Private loan repayment terms are shorter – ranging from five to 20 years – which means you will have larger monthly payments.

How to know what type of loan you have

You can log into the Federal Student Aid website using your FSA ID to see a list of all of your federal student loans. On your account dashboard, you can find “My Loan Servicers” or view the National Student Loans Program system. If you make payments to a lender that is not listed, your loan may not be federal.

Current Federal Student Loans Officers

If you’re not sure if your loan is federal or private, log into your lender’s account – or wherever you make your monthly payments. The current federal student loan managers are:

  • FedLoan Service (PHEAA)
  • Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc.
  • HESC/Edfinancier
  • MOHELA
  • Nelnet
  • OSLA interview
  • ECSI
  • Default resolution group

It’s also possible that you have federal student loans through a lender that no longer works with the federal government. This means that your loan has been transferred to another lender on this list. Many loans change hands throughout their lifetime, so it’s not uncommon to have a different lender now than when you graduated.

How to know if your loan is federal

If you’re still unsure how to tell if your loan is federal, you can check the following:

  • It says “Direct”. All federal loans will have “Direct” in their name, such as “Subsidized Direct Loan”, “Direct Loan PLUS” or “Direct Consolidation Loan”, for example. For PLUS loans, you may see specific titles, such as “PLUS Parent Loans”. Former student loan names include Perkins, FFEL and Stafford.
  • You do not make payments. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a moratorium on federal student loans. Payments were suspended and interest rates were set at zero. Many private lenders have suspended payments on a case-by-case basis and only upon request.
  • Your credit report says so. When you check your credit report, it shows who your student loan lender is. This could be the Department of Education or the lender servicing your loan, which could be one of those we have listed above. If you have a lender that handles both federal and private student loans — like Nelnet — you may need to call to see what type of loan you have.

About Judith J. George

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