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How To Tell If Your Student Loans Are Private or Federal

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

How To Tell If Your Student Loans Are Private or Federal

Do you know if your student loans are private or federal? It’s an unfortunate fact that many college graduates don’t completely understand their student loans. You might not know who your student loan servicer is, or why the difference between private and federal student loans matters.

Let’s review a few methods you can use to determine if your student loans are private or federal, what makes each different, and why knowing what type of loan you have is important.

What Makes Federal and Private Student Loans Different?

In case you’re not sure why you should know whether your student loans are federal or private, let’s briefly go over the differences between the two.

Federal student loans are offered through programs funded by the federal government to those that demonstrate a need for financial aid. Typically, these loans are easy to qualify for – in most cases, your credit isn’t even checked.

There are two different federal student loan programs available:

The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program: The lender under this program is the U.S. Department of Education. This program consists of 4 loan types – Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, Direct PLUS, and Direct Consolidation. If you’re an undergraduate, you’ll only have Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans.

The Federal Perkins Loan Program: The lender under this program is actually your school, and this is for students with an exceptional need for aid.

Individual banks or credit unions, such as Chase, Wells Fargo, Sallie Mae, Discover, Citizens Bank, etc, make private student loans. There are many lenders that offer private student loans, but the terms aren’t as favorable as those for federal loans. Private loans also require a credit check and may be harder to qualify for.

Additionally, federal student loans come with guaranteed benefits, such as being able to enter a period of forbearance or deferment with your loans (temporarily stops payments), income-based repayment plans, and loan forgiveness. Private loans don’t guarantee these benefits, and different lenders offer different benefits.

How To Determine if Your Loans Are Federal

The first thing you should do to see if you have federal loans is log onto the National Student Loan Data System. The only loans listed here are federal.

If you’ve never used the NSLDS before, you’ll want to click the “Financial Review” button on the homepage, hit “Accept,” and then enter your credentials.

If you have an FSA ID, you can enter it here. If not, there’s an option to create one. In May of 2015, the government redesigned its student loan system. You can use your FSA ID to log into multiple government sites now. However, if you haven’t logged on in quite a while, you might need to create one.

In the event you forgot your credentials, you can click on the “Forgot my username/password” button and have the information emailed to you, or answer a challenge question. You’ll just be required to enter your Social Security Number, last name, and date of birth.

I had to go through this process myself and create a new ID as it had been a few years since I had last applied for FAFSA. The process is very simple. After entering your information to create an ID, you just need to link your PIN to your FSA account (you should have a PIN if you applied for FAFSA). If you’ve forgotten it, you can answer a challenge question to have it imported. You also need to confirm your email by entering in a secured code that’s sent to you.

Once you log on, you’ll see a list of all the student loans that were disbursed to you.

This page will also show you what your original loan amount was, and how much you currently owe.

Click on the numbered box to the left of your loan to determine your loan servicer. This will display all the information about that particular loan. Your loan servicer will be listed under the “Servicer/Lender/Guaranty Agency/ED Servicer Information” section. The name, address, phone number, and website should be displayed.

Additionally, this page will also inform you of your loan terms. Along with your original loan balance and current outstanding balance, it will tell you what type of interest rate you have (fixed or variable), your interest rate, and the current status of the loan.

[How to Set Up Income-Driven Repayment Programs]

How To Determine If Your Student Loan is Private

Private student loans are loans not made by the government – banking institutions such as Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, Chase, Citizens Bank, etc make them.

As a result, there are more lenders to look out for when it comes to private loans. Unfortunately, there’s no central reporting system for private loans like there is for federal loans, which makes them tricky to track down.

Your first stop should be the NSLD to at least see if you have any federal loans. In 2012, only 20% of graduates had private loans, so chances are good at least some of your loans are federal.

Another way to check is to take a look at your credit report. You don’t have to pay for one if you haven’t ordered your three free reports from www.annualcreditreport.com. You can get your credit score within minutes of filling out your information on there.

Some lenders may not look familiar to you. Just conduct a Google search and see what comes up. Further investigation via phone may be necessary to obtain your loan information if you don’t remember making a login for your lenders website.

If you see “Federal Direct Loan,” “Federal Perkins,” “Direct Loan Consolidation,” or “Stafford” on your report, ensure it matches up with what’s on your NSLD account. These are federal loans.

You might also be able to call your school’s financial aid office to see if they have any records of your loans. Otherwise, hopefully you have your own records of the loans you took out.

What Should You Do Once You Find Out?

Knowing whether your student loans are private or federal will help if you ever decide to refinance or consolidate your student loans. The process is slightly different if you want to consolidate your federal loans under a Direct Consolidation Loan (through the federal government), or if you want to refinance through a private lender.

Additionally, if you have federal student loans and you’re experiencing difficulty in making payments, you might be eligible for one of the income-based repayment plans offered. Not knowing what type of loan you have means not knowing the repayment assistance options available to you. You can learn more about the three types of income-based repayment plans here.

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Sample Goodwill Letter to Remove a Late Student Loan Payment from Your Credit Report

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Businessman Holding Document At Desk

If you’ve pulled your credit report recently and discovered that there’s been a late payment reported on your student loans, you might be wondering what you can do to recover. Late payments can damage your credit, especially if you stop paying your loans for an extended period of time.

We’ve already gone over the repercussions of delinquency and default, but now let’s take a look at another method of repairing your credit report — sending a goodwill letter to your creditor.

What is a goodwill letter?

A “goodwill letter” is a simple way to repair your credit report, and it can be used for both federal and private loans. The purpose of a goodwill letter is to restore your credit to good standing by having a lender or servicer erase a lateness on your credit report.

Typically, those who have experienced financial hardship due to unexpected circumstances have the most success with goodwill letters. They allow you to ask if your student loan servicer can empathize with the situation that caused the lateness and erase it from your report.

It can also be used when you think the late payment is an error — for example, if you were in deferment or forbearance during the time of the late payment and weren’t required to make any payments, or if you know you’ve never been late on a payment before.

What makes a convincing goodwill letter?

If you’ve been looking for a goodwill letter that will work well, we have some tips on what you should include in your letter:

1. An appreciative tone

It’s important that the entire tone of your letter comes off as thankful and conscientious. If you were actually late on your payments due to extenuating circumstances, taking an angry tone probably won’t help your case.

2. Take responsibility

You want to be convincing and honest. Take responsibility for the late payment, and explain why it happened. They need to sympathize with you. Saying you just forgot isn’t going to win you any points.

3. A good recent payment history

Besides sympathy, you want to gain their trust that you will continue to make payments. If your lender sees payments being made on time before and after the period of financial hardship, it might be more willing to give you a break. When you have a pattern of late payments, on the other hand, it’s more difficult to convince them that you’re taking this seriously.

4. Proof of any errors and relevant documents

If you’re writing about a mistake that occurred, still be friendly in tone, but back up the errors with documentation. You’ll need proof that what you’re saying is true. Unfortunately, errors are often made on credit reports, and it may have been a clerical error on behalf of your servicer. If you have any written correspondence with them, you’ll want to include it.

5. Simple and to the point

The last thing to keep in mind is to craft a short and simple letter. Get straight to the point while telling your story. The people reviewing your letter don’t want to read an essay, and the easier you make their lives, the better.

Sample goodwill letter No. 1

Below is a sample goodwill letter for student loans to give you an idea of how to structure your own:

To whom It may concern:

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this letter. I just pulled my credit report, and discovered that a late payment was reported on [date] for my account [loan account number].

During that time, my mother fell terminally ill, and I was the only one left to care for her. As such, I had to leave my job, and my savings went toward her health care expenses. I fell on very rough times after she passed away, and was unable to make my student loan payments.

I realize I made a mistake in falling behind, but up until that point, my payment history with you had been spotless. When I was able to gain employment once again, I quickly resumed paying my student loans, making them a priority.

I’m not proud of this black mark on my record, but it’s the only one I have, and I would be extremely grateful if you could honor this request to remove the lateness from my credit report. It would help me immensely in securing other lines of credit so that I can further improve my credit score.

If the lateness cannot be removed entirely, I would still be appreciative if you could make a goodwill adjustment.

Thank you.

Sample goodwill letter No. 2

If you’re writing a letter because the lateness on your credit report is inaccurate, then try something similar to this:

To whom it may concern:

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I recently pulled my credit report and found that [Loan servicer] reported a late payment regarding my account [loan account number].

I am requesting that this late payment be assessed for accuracy.

I believe this reporting is incorrect because [list the supporting facts you have]. I have included the documentation to prove that [I made payments during this time / that my loans were in forbearance/deferment and didn’t require any payments].

Please investigate this matter, and if it is found to be inaccurate, remove the lateness from my credit report.

Thank you.

Make sure you provide as many personal details as possible — without making the letter too long, of course. You should also include your name, address and phone number at the top of the letter in case your loan servicer needs to reach you immediately.

Where to send your goodwill letter

Now that your letter is written, it’s time to send it. This can be done either by fax or by mail. Most student loan servicers have their contact information on their website, but you can also look on your billing statements to see if they specify a different address.

Additionally, you can try calling the credit bureau where the lateness was reported to see if they can give you the contact information you need.

It’s important to mention that goodwill letters are not a means to immediate success. Unfortunately, it often takes several attempts to correspond with servicers and lenders to get them to acknowledge that they received a letter from you.

Your best bet is to get a personal contact at the company who has the power to erase the late payment from your credit report.

If all else fails, try as many different communication methods as possible. Phone, mail, fax, live chat (if your servicer offers it) and email them. Several people who have tried this report that it’s possible to wear your servicer down with a decent amount of requests.

Addresses and fax numbers to try

Here are some addresses and fax numbers for several of the larger servicers, as listed on their websites. Again, it may also be worth phoning your servicer to get the name of someone there that can help you. If you have federal student loans, you can also check this Federal Student Aid page for more contact information.

Nelnet

Documents related to deferment, forbearance, repayment plans or enrollment status changes:

Attn: Enrollment Processing

P.O. Box 82565

Lincoln, NE 68501-2565

Fax: 877-402-5816

Great Lakes

Great Lakes

P.O. Box 7860

Madison, WI 53707-7860

Fax: 800-375-5288

Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae

P.O. Box 3229

Wilmington DE 19804-0229

Fax: 855-756-0011

Navient

For anything other than federal loans, check here

Navient – U.S. Department of Education Loan Servicing

P.O. Box 9635

Wilkes-Barre, PA 18773-9635

Fax: 866-266-0178

Cornerstone

P.O. Box 145122

Salt Lake City, UT

84114-5122

Fax: 801-366-8400

FedLoan

For letters and correspondence

FedLoan Servicing

P.O. Box 69184

Harrisburg, PA 17106-9184

Fax: 717-720-1628

EdFinancial

For FFELP and private loans, check here

Edfinancial Services

P.O. Box 36008

Knoxville, TN 37930-6008

Fax: 800-887-6130

Documents to include with your goodwill letter

Don’t let your efforts go to waste by forgetting to send documentation with your letter. Here’s a quick checklist of what you should include:

  • The account number for your loan
  • Your name, address, phone number and email
  • Statements showing proof that you paid (if you’re disputing a late payment)
  • Documentation showing that you’ve paid on time at all other points aside from when you experienced financial hardship (if that’s the case)
  • Identifying documentation so your servicer knows you sent the request

Also note that if you’re mailing anything, you should send it by certified mail with a receipt requested. This way you’ll know whether your letter made it to the servicer.

What to expect after submitting your goodwill letter

Once you submit your goodwill letter, you should hear back from your creditor with a decision in a few weeks. If two to three weeks have passed without word, follow up via email or phone call.

As you know, there’s no guarantee that your goodwill letter will work. The decision to remove a negative mark from your credit report is entirely in the hands of your creditor.

If your creditor rejects your petition, you’ll have to accept the ding on your credit report and take other steps to boost your credit. But if they agree to repair your credit, you should see the delinquency removed from your report and your credit score increase as a result.

A higher credit score can make life a lot easier, whether you want to take out a loan, open a credit card or, in some cases, even rent an apartment. For student loan borrowers, a strong credit score also opens the door to student loan refinancing, a savvy strategy that lets you restructure your debt, possibly changing your monthly payment and potentially saving money on interest.

If your credit score rebounds and you want to take proactive steps to conquer your student debt, refinancing could be the answer you’ve been looking for, so long as you no longer need the protections that come with federal loans.

Either way, though, make sure to keep up with student loan payments so you don’t end up with a delinquent account dragging down your newly repaired credit score.

Resources

If you’re interested in exploring goodwill letters further — and the results that others have had — check out these websites:

  • Ed.gov: They cover disputes, what to do about them and how to go about rectifying them here.
  • ConsumerFinance.gov: If you have loans with a private lender, and your lender had reported you as late when you weren’t, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to see if they can help you.
  • myFico Forums: The forums on myFico are populated with helpful individuals that might be able to give you contact information for certain servicers. There are some people reporting success with goodwill letters, and they may be willing to share their letters with others upon request.

It’s worth the time to write a goodwill letter

If you’ve discovered that a late payment has been reported on your credit, and it’s because you fell on hard times or is inaccurate, it’s worth trying to get it erased. These dings on your credit are there to stay for seven to 10 years. That’s a long time, especially if you’re young and hoping to buy a house or a car in the near future. It’s a battle worth fighting.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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FedLoan Consolidation or Refinancing: Which Is Best for Your Student Loans?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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istock

If your FedLoan Servicing repayment isn’t going as you had hoped, you might be staring at two seemingly similar options: Both FedLoan consolidation and private loan refinancing would consolidate or group your federal education debt, making for a more straightforward repayment.

But that’s where similarities between consolidation and refinancing end. If you’re unsure about which to go with, read on for the details.

What to know about FedLoan consolidation

Consolidation involves taking out a direct consolidation loan to repay your original federal student loan debt, and it could solve a number of problems.

Most notably, you could make a single monthly payment to one servicer instead of a handful of them (if you have multiple federal loans serviced by various companies). Although that won’t save you any money, it could bring you much appreciated simplicity.

Through federal loan consolidation, you could also expect the following benefits:

  • Choose your new loan servicer, whether that’s FedLoan or a competitor.
  • Become eligible or retain eligibility for Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
  • Lower your monthly payment by switching from the 10-year standard repayment plan to an IDR plan.
  • Lock in a fixed interest rate (if any of your older federal loans were tagged with a variable rate).

The benefits aren’t bereft of fine print, however. When you consolidate loans you’ve already started repaying, for example, you reset the clock on any progress toward forgiveness via IDR or PSLF. Also, none of your private loan debt (if you have any) can be combined via a direct consolidation loan.

How to undertake FedLoan consolidation

If the pros outweigh the cons in your case, file your FedLoan consolidation application at StudentLoans.gov. According to the website, most applicants are able to complete the necessary forms in less than 30 minutes.

If you elect to keep FedLoan as your servicer, you can track your application progress via your MyFedLoan account. A resolution should arrive within four to six weeks.

FedLoan Servicing

What to know about student loan refinancing

When you consolidate your federal debt, your new loan’s rate will be a weighted average of your previous federal loans’ rates, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of 1%.

Via student loan refinancing, however, you could reduce the collective interest rate of your federal debt — and (unlike with consolidation) your private student loans, too — potentially cutting it by whole percentage points.

That’s the greatest difference between FedLoan consolidation and private refinancing — and it explains why many creditworthy borrowers save hundreds even thousands of dollars on interest when working with a private lender.

Say you have four federal loans with FedLoan Servicing worth $35,000 accruing interest at an average rate of 7.00%. Now say you have sterling credit and stable income (or a cosigner who does). By refinancing to a rate of 5.00%, you’d save $4,218 on interest over the next decade.

To be eligible for such savings, however, you — and your cosigner, if you have one — must submit to a credit check. Only applicants with strong credit gain access to the lowest rates advertised by competing lenders. This stands in contrast to consolidation, which has no such credit requirements, making it a more accessible option.

If you have the finances to qualify for refinancing, you could enjoy other benefits besides a lower interest rate, including:

  • Leaving the federal student loan system behind and starting fresh with a top-rated private lender of your choice
  • Selecting fixed, variable or hybrid interest rates
  • Lowering your monthly payment in exchange for lengthening your repayment term and paying more interest overall
  • Releasing the cosigner on your undergraduate private student loans

The cons, however, are just as consequential. In exchange for the perks of private refinancing, you’ll lose access to all federal loan protections. This includes mandatory forbearance (should you need to pause your payments), IDR programs and forgiveness programs like PSLF.

Because refinancing is irreversible once you sign your loan agreement, it’s wise to weigh these plusses and minuses in advance.

How to refinance your FedLoan debt

If you elect to refinance, you can initiate the process by shopping around for the  best possible loan terms. You might also delay your search to improve your credit or find a cosigner who can help you qualify for the very lowest rates.

Once you’ve selected a refinancing lender — whether it be a bank, credit union or online-only lender — it would pay off your FedLoan (and any other eligible education debt). Then your lender would issue you the newly refinanced loan as a fresh start on your repayment.

Try crunching some numbers on our student loan refinancing calculator to estimate your savings (or cost), plus your new monthly payment, when comparing lenders’ quotes.

Should you pick FedLoan consolidation or FedLoan refinancing?

If you have poor credit and no cosigner in sight, you might already have your answer. Consolidation won’t save you money, but it will simplify your repayment, and it’s accessible to all federal loan borrowers.

With strong credit, you might also have the option of refinancing on the table. Whether it’s right for you, however, is another story.

As you’ll see, picking between consolidation and refinancing for your FedLoan debt (or any other loans, for that matter) isn’t just about what you’ll get. It’s about what you’re willing to give up.

This chart might help you as you consider which strategy is best for your situation:

What’s your repayment goal?Do you need federal protections?Your better option is probably ...
Switch to a single monthly payment (for your federal loans only)YesConsolidation
Switch to a single monthly payment (for both federal and private loans)NoRefinancing
Reduce your interest rateNoRefinancing
Work with a new loan servicerYesConsolidation
Work with a new lenderNoRefinancing
Choose a variable interest rateNoRefinancing
Lower your monthly paymentYesConsolidation
Lower your monthly paymentNoRefinancing
Make income-based payments and work toward loan forgivenessYesConsolidation

If you’d like to switch loan servicers, have a single monthly payment and reduce your interest rate, refinancing could deliver all three benefits.

But if you’re not willing to yield your government-exclusive loan options (such as IDR and PSLF), then you could settle for two out of three: Consolidation would allow you to work with a new servicer and achieve a simpler repayment, but not lower the rate.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Andrew Pentis
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Andrew Pentis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Andrew here

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