How to Tell if Your Student Loans are Federal or Private (and Why It Matters)

If you’ve taken out student loans, it’s important to know that there are two types you can take out. You can borrow federal student loans directly from the U.S. Department of Education or take on private loans with a financial institution — or both.

Federal loans come with benefits that aren’t available to private loan borrowers, which is why knowing your loan type is crucial. Figuring out what type of loans you have is fairly easy. Read on if you’re wondering, “How do I know if my student loan is federal or private?”

How to find out if your loan is federal?

The majority of student loans are federal and come from the U.S. Department of Education. These loans have fixed interest rates, many repayment plans and might qualify for student loan forgiveness.

Many recent federal loans are called Direct Loans and are created by the federal government. Federal loans from before July 1, 2010 are part of the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. These loans might have been distributed by a private entity, like a bank. Although these loans are backed by the federal government, they might be held by a commercial lender.

That’s important to note because these loans might not qualify for all the student loan programs designed to make repayment easier. If you have multiple loans and meet certain requirements, you may be able to consolidate them. A Direct Consolidation Loan opens more repayment options as your loan will be part of the Direct Loan program.

To find out if your student loans are federal, take the following steps.

Check the Federal Student Aid site

The primary resource for federal student loans is the Federal Student Aid website, StudentAid.gov. To access financial aid and loan information, you’ll need to create an FSA ID using your Social Security Number. You’ll also need a phone number or email address.

Read more  How To Apply (& Get Accepted) For Real Estate Loans

Once you’re signed in, you can see any active loan balances listed on your Student Aid account. If you have loans shown, they’re federal loans. You’ll see the amount you owe as well as your loan servicer.

Contact your loan servicer

If you’re making payments to a loan servicer, you can contact them and verify what type of loan you have. For easy reference, these are the current student loan servicers for federal student loans:

  • EdFinancial
  • MOHELA
  • Aidvantage
  • Nelnet
  • ECSI

If you’re familiar with one of these names, you might have federal loans. Your loan servicer is who you should contact to change repayment plans or if you have questions about payments.

Review your billing statement

If you have a recent billing statement, your loan servicer will be listed. Look for the servicer name at the top of your billing statement. If the name matches with one of the loan servicers listed above, the debt is a federal loan.

Download Our New IDR Calculator

Identify private student loans

Unlike federal loans that are offered by the federal government, private loans come from private lenders. These can include banks, credit unions or other financial institutions. If you want to know if your student loan is federal or private, here’s how to identify a private student loan.

Check your monthly statement

Look at a recent billing statement for a company or lender name. If the lender on your statement isn’t one of the aforementioned loan servicers, then the debt is a private student loan.

If you’re still unsure about the type of debt it is, call the phone number that’s listed on your billing statement. Contacting the lender directly can offer insight about whether your student loan is a private or federal debt.

Request your credit report

Reviewing the information on your credit report can quickly help you answer the question, “How do I know if my student loan is federal or private?”

Read more  3 best quick loans for emergency cash

Your credit report lists all of your active credit accounts, including federal and private student loans. The report includes the name of the lender for each account and their loan amounts. With the lender’s name in hand, you can look up the name of the lender to verify if it’s a loan servicer or a private lender.

To get started, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and get your free credit report. Doing so won’t impact your credit score as there’s no credit check. While you’re checking on the student loan type you have, it’s helpful to confirm that your credit history looks correct. Errors and mistakes on your credit report can drag your credit score down. If anything looks wrong, take steps to dispute credit errors.

Common private student loan lenders

Private loans make up a small portion of unpaid student debt. According to Enterval Analytics, private loans account for about 7.30% of all outstanding student loan balances.

Despite the small percentage, there are a number of private student loan lenders on the market. Some of the most common private lenders include:

  • Sallie Mae Bank
  • Navient
  • Discover Bank
  • Citizens Bank
  • PNC Bank
  • SoFi
  • College Ave
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Ascent
  • Earnest
  • Funding U

Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list. However, if one of these names is familiar, you might have private loans.

What to do if you have both private and federal loans

In some cases, you might find that you have both types of loans. Each type of loan should be managed separately.

For example, monthly payments on federal student loans were paused the past few years thanks to the automatic COVID forbearance. However, private loans didn’t qualify for that benefit. Additionally, your federal loans might be eligible for student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, including the new SAVE plan.

Focus on repaying private loans

Private student loans don’t come with many of these generous perks. This is why it’s generally wise to focus on repaying private loans first. Of course, while prioritizing your private loans, you should continue making the minimum payments on all of your federal student loans.

Read more  How much can you borrow in student loans?

Federal loans offer more repayment flexibility than private loans. Let’s say you have both federal and private loans, and are struggling with loan payments. You can request to have your eligible federal loans put on an IDR plan with a lower minimum monthly payment — sometimes as low as $0. This federal program relieves some pressure and frees up more funds to go toward your private loans or other life expenses.

Consider student loan refinancing

Another way to make repayment more affordable is through student loan refinancing. When you refinance, you’re applying for a whole new loan — and that loan pays off existing federal or private education debt. It also typically comes with a lower interest rate.

If you refinance private loans, make sure you’re getting a lower interest rate and shop around. Refinancing lenders offer different fixed or variable interest rates, and have varying fees.

Refinancing private student loans can be a smart strategy to save on interest and choose different loan terms. It also doesn’t carry as much risk as refinancing federal loans since you’ll simply be working with another private lender.

If you have federal loans, however, be aware of how refinancing federal loans into a private refinance loan affects you. Doing so results in losing access to loan forgiveness and the many different repayment plans.

Get a custom student loan repayment strategy

If getting a handle on your student loans still feels confusing or overwhelming, get support managing your student loan repayment strategy.

Get a custom plan catered to your specific needs and situation with a Student Loan Planner consultation. You don’t have to navigate the complex world of student loans on your own and can get help from the experts.

Get a Student Loan Plan