How To Tell If Your Student Loans Are Private Or Federal

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I’ve noticed many borrowers have been asking “how do I know if my student loan is federal or private“? 

Since originally publishing this article, the federal student loan website has changed to www.studentaid.gov, and the NSLDS database website is no longer available to borrowers. 

However, the process for determining whether your student loans are private or federal remains the same, just with a different website to access federal information.

Studentaid.gov is now the site to begin with for FAFSA, federal Direct Consolidation, and applying for federal income-driven repayment plans. 

Signs That Your Loan Is Private

-Private student loans can generally be settled for a significant reduction when defaulted, federal loans in most cases cannot be. If you’re interested in learning about settlement for private loans, click here for a free evaluation

-A “charge-off” can only refer to a defaulted private student loan (unless a credit reporting program or credit bureau reports this incorrectly). 

-Navient services loans that are both federal and private (privately originated accounts are often called “Signature student”, “NaviRefi”, or similar). On Navient’s login portal, they tend to show all accounts in one place, making it difficult to tell them apart. I regularly negotiate settlements for less than 50% on these types of private accounts – contact me today to learn more

-Only private student loans can have a cosigner. Very rarely we will see federal loans with language about a “guarantor”, but this is uncommon. 

-Common private student loan servicers, lenders, and private refinance lenders include: Navient, Earnest (owned by Navient), AES, NCT, Keybank, Wells Fargo, Laurel Road, Citizens Bank, SoFi, Lendkey and many more. 

Signs That Your Loan Is Federal

-They are often called “Direct”, “Stafford”, “Subsidized/Unsubsidized”, “FFEL/FFELP”, or Parent Plus; however there are many other types – but these are the most common you will come across. 

-When defaulted they will be listed as “default”, “government claim”, or similar terminology on credit reports; but never as a “charge-off”(unless the credit bureaus or credit reporting program uses this terminology incorrectly to refer to a federal loan)

-Any reference to the Department of Education on a credit report or statement means that a loan is federal. 

-Common federal loan servicers, guarantors, and debt collectors include Great Lakes, Nelnet, PHEAA/FedLoan Servicing, Mohela, Navient, Pioneer, ECMC, and many more.

-If your loans are or were at 0% interest on forbearance during the pandemic, they are federal. If they were not, they could still be federal (FFELP) or they could be private or institutional.

Signs That Your Loan Is “Institutional”

-If your student loan is from an organization that includes a state name, or your school is listed as the lender, your loan is “institutional”. These are in many ways the worst of both worlds when compared to private and federal student loans, and are often backed by state bonds or the educational institutions themselves.

In some cases they can still be settled, but they have far less of an incentive to settle for anything significant due to how they are originated. They can be litigious as well. 

Examples include: – “NJHESC” “NYHESC”, “Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education (ACPE)”, and “Iowa Student Loan”.

To make things more confusing, these agencies can also be the guarantors for federal FFELP loans (but they will show up in studentaid.gov if that is the case – institutional and non-federal will not show up in studentaid.gov).

Still not sure? Continue to my original article about how to determine if your loans are private or federal… just keep in mind while reading that for any reference to go to the NSLDS or studentloans.gov, you’ll now just be going to the studentaid.gov website. 

One of the most common issues I run into working with potential private loan settlement clients student is trying to find out if the loans are federally or privately backed. It can actually be pretty difficult to find out, since some companies like Navient/Sallie Mae service federal loans but also originate their own private loans.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to verify whether the loans are federal or private. It’s important to know, since options for dealing with federal and private loans vary greatly.

The best way of determining whether loans are federal or private is to log in to the National Student Loan Database, at www.nslds.ed.gov. The Department of Ed. makes it clear that only individual borrowers are allowed to log into this site, not third party companies or financial advisors.

If you’re a financial advisor, you can request that your client take a screenshot, but you’re not allowed to log into this database with your clients information.

To log into the NSLDS, you’ll also need to create an FSA ID if you don’t already have one. Luckily, you can set up your FSA ID on the NSLDS site as well. The FSA ID was created to replace the FAFSA PIN as a more secure login method. If you need assistance, click here to download my free FSA ID Setup Guide.

Once you’ve created your FSA ID, you can log into the NSLDS database which will show a detailed readout of your federal student loans. Since it will only show federal student loans, you can use the process of elimination to find out which loans aren’t showing.

If a loan doesn’t show up in the NSLDS database, nine times out of ten it will be a private loan. Very rarely, federal loans may not show up in the database due to some kind of reporting error. But usually you can deduce that any loans not showing up here will be private.

In addition to finding out what types of loans you have, the NSLDS database also provides a lot of data on your federal loans; including the history of your loans, who your loan servicer is, and dates of origination.

Another way to view your federal loans is through the studentloans.gov site. As with the NSLDS, the Dept. of Ed. has clear warnings that only borrowers themselves can log into this site. You will also need your FSA ID for this site.

The studentloans.gov site is where you can apply for Direct Consolidation and income-related payment plans, and it also shows a readout of your student loans.

A big difference between studentloans.gov and nslds.ed.gov is that the studentloans.gov site will show your interest rates, whereas the NSLDS does not. However, the NSLDS will show a more detailed view of your loans and provide more data. The studentloans.gov site will show more repayment options and includes a repayment estimator that you can use.

Another way to determine what types of loans you have is by accessing your credit report. You can get a free credit report annually at www.annualcreditreport.com

There are no strings attached – this is the free site to get your 3 bureau credit report that all US citizens are allowed to access once per year. It’s not always easy to tell federal from private loans on a credit report, but generally a federal loan will say “US Dept. of Ed” or something similar; while private loans will show up the same way as any other type of unsecured debt. 

If you see a “charge off” for a student loan, that means that it’s private, because this is a mechanism that only occurs with private student loans. A federal loan will list as defaulted or another related term if it is more than 9 months behind, but it will never say “charged off”.

For borrowers looking to settle their private student loans, it’s important to make sure the account you’re trying to settle is not federal; since they rarely settle for any significant reduction. 

For instance, if you want to settle Navient private student loans, you’d want to make sure that they are privately backed – since Navient services federal as well as originates private student loans. For other lenders, it’s easier to tell from a credit report whether they are federal or privately backed. 

For example, the National Collegiate Trust is strictly a private student lender. So is Chase, Wells Fargo, and Discover Bank. While those entities also serviced federal loans in the past, as of 2015 they are no longer registered as federal loan servicers. So any student loan you see for Chase, Citi, Discover, or Wells Fargo is most likely a private student loan.

On the flip side, NelNet, Great Lakes, Mohela and FedLoan Servicing are almost always federal loan servicers – although NelNet has begun to acquire private loan porftolios in the last several years. Besides Navient, there are other companies that service federal loans and private loans at the same time.

AES and ACS are two examples of loan servicers who handle both types of loans. That can make it difficult to figure out whether they are federal or private, but by following the steps outlined above you should be able to tell which is which.

Determining whether a student loan is private or federal is the first step to finding out how it can be modified or resolved. If in doubt, I always instruct my clients to use one or several of these verification methods so that we know for sure what type of loan we are dealing with.

Then you can formulate a strategy on how to move forward, since the options available for federal and private student loans are radically different.

The specific service that I offer is private student loan negotiation, and as the top non-attorney private student loan expert in the United States; I’m uniquely positioned to help you save thousands on your private student loans while making sure your settlement is executed correctly. If you’re interested in an evaluation, call my office today at 937-503-4680 or fill out my evaluation form here.

Find out more about my private student loan negotiator service here.

 


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About Andrew Weber, NACCC Certified Student Loan Counselor

Andrew Weber is a NACCC Certified Credit Counselor and a NACCC Certified Student Loan Counselor. He is the only certified student loan Counselor who specializes exclusively on private student loan issues in the US. He's helped over 2,500 borrowers drastically reduce their debts.

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